- Black and White Women's Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations
Using mobile subjectivity as her focus, Cheryl Fish analyzes travel narratives by three women of the Americas: Nancy Prince, Mary Seacole, and Margaret Fuller. This comparative project aims to uncover the meanings of travel for women who undertook journeys for the purposes of benevolent work or social reform rather than pleasure. Fish's choice of authors, texts, and genre situates her book within African American Studies, Women's Studies, American Studies, and the feminist project of recovering women writers ongoing since the 1970s. For example, Fish notes that black women are often excluded from studies of women's travel narratives and that the literary canon of black women writers in antebellum America is almost exclusively centered on the slave narrative. Fish's recuperative approach places her subjects in conversation with contemporary issues of social justice, postcolonial and global cultural studies, transnational feminisms, and feminist theories of space and place.
Mobility generates the hybrid genre of the travel narrative and the hybrid subjectivity of its author, Fish argues, and empowers her subjects to consider gender, race, domesticity, otherness, and geopolitical ideologies as they negotiate their identities in their texts. The involvement of these women in benevolent work and social reform enables a literal, geographical movement and dislodges the fixed standpoints of the dominant cultural narratives that attempt to stabilize [End Page 95] identity and self-presentation. Such mobility yields discursive openings through which these authors offer "significant critiques, warnings, and sassy visionary agendas on issues such as slavery, emigration, education, women's rights, medical practices, and the constitution of the family" (15). Fish also pays attention to the laboring bodies of her protagonists, consistently linking voice to embodiment.
In the first chapter of Black and White Women's Travel Narratives, Fish argues that Nancy Prince's pamphlet, The West Indies, and three editions of her book, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, accomplish "resistant truth telling" that demands social reform by drawing on (and revising) missionary, slave, and conversion narrative traditions (27). Prince constructs a mobile rather than a domestic body and redirects readers' expectations that she inhabit a maternal body with her spiritually-infused critique of American slavery. Fish completes her analysis in several small subsections, which offer a series of foci that never quite pins down her elusive subject but that offers a complex rationale for the inclusion of Prince "as a significant figure in African-American and American literary and cultural history" (64).
By considering the connection between Seacole's medical practice and her Afro-Jamaican roots in the Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, Fish similarly brings this freeborn Jamaican Creole woman of color into American literary studies. According to Fish, Seacole embraces, resists, and reconfigures the mammy stereotype as she travels as a "doctress" and a businesswoman in Panama and the Crimea during wartime. Furthermore, she parodies racialized and gendered constructions of identity to generate a hybrid subjectivity that is by turns humorous, critical, racist, outraged, conservative, and always engaged. Legacy readers will appreciate Fish's examination of the race and gender politics underpinning Seacole's relationship with Florence Nightingale.
Fish's third chapter considers Fuller's Summer on the Lakes, a hybrid text that has only recently been restored to its full length. Fish incorporates into her study Fuller's letters and journals written at this time and links Fuller's treatment of Native Americans and pioneer women to Fuller's own struggles with gendered embodiment, racial amalgamation, and emigration. If Seacole complicated the nineteenth-century artistry of travel-writing by focusing on the utilitarian aspects of her journeys, Fuller deforms the picturesque with the grotesque, particularly in her portraits of hybrid women, who challenged male narratives of frontier life. Fish's discussion of Fuller represents a shift in focus; here she draws on Lacanian feminisms and psychoanalytical views of the body and applies them to her thesis about mobility and hybridity.
Far from tracing a single metaphor throughout disparate texts...