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  • 12 Early-19th-Century Literature
  • Ed Piacentino

Quantitatively and qualitatively the year's scholarship demonstrates that this period remains a viable and productive field for critical inquiry. Cultural studies are numerous and innovative and fill important gaps, especially in matters of race and social history, women and print culture, and transnationalism. Poe dominates again with a new edition of Eureka, two significant book-length treatments, and many substantive, critically varied, and innovative essays. In African American literature a new biography on Harriet Jacobs and a collection of essays on Hannah Crafts's The Bondwoman's Narrative (2002) are significant additions in this fertile field. Among women writers Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Lydia Maria Child continue to elicit the most attention. Essays on Native American writers, new biographies on Longfellow and Henry Timrod, and an illuminating book on antebellum Southern humor are also noteworthy contributions.

i Period Studies

Mary Loeffelholz's From School to Salon reclaims and thereby addresses a critical void by focusing on Lucretia Marie Davidson, Lydia Sigourney, Maria Lowell, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, showing how these lyricists represent the "differential possibilities" for women poets. Dividing her book into a tripartite structure—"Prodigy and Teacher; or, Poetry in the Domestic-Tutelary Complex," "Lessons of the Sphinx: Poetry and Cultural Capital in Abolition and Reconstruction," and [End Page 241] "The Conquest of Autonomy"—Loeffelholz demonstrates the stages of progression in women's involvement in poetry and the expansion of their cultural space, from "reading, reciting, writing, and publishing poetry in the didactic context and secondary schooling to reading, reciting, and publishing poetry in the emergent later nineteenth-century venues of autonomous high culture, like the salon."

Male gender configuration is the concern of David Anthony's "Banking on Emotion: Financial Panic and the Logic of Male Submission in the Jacksonian Gothic" (AL 76: 719–47) and Tara Penry's "Manly Domesticity on the Gold Rush Frontier: Recovering California's Honest Miner" (WAL 38: 330–51). Whereas Anthony discovers in the sensational narratives of financial failure following the panic of 1837 the emerging "debtor male," a victim of the anxieties spawned by an insecure economic system based on credit, paper money, and speculation and resulting in his disempowerment and submission, Penry's "honest miner," whose acquisitions were usually not great material wealth but lessons in how to live a better moral life in settled, civilized circumstances, affirms an "ideal of masculinity that turns the 'failed' western man into a successful white patriarch in an idealized economy based on racially exclusive friendships." Another stereotype, one clearly ethnically demeaning and indicative of racial identity, is the whiteface, used to designate Irish immigrants who migrated to the United States in the 1850s and whose development James P. Byrne explores in "The Genesis of Whiteface in Nineteenth-Century Popular Culture" (MELUS 29, iii–iv: 133–49). Byrne traces the development of this stereotype, first popularized in the whiteface minstrel shows and subsequently in print culture and employed by white working-class Americans to malign the Irish as "unfit . . . for self-government, the mark of US citizenship."

Cheryl J. Fish's Black and White Women's Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations (Florida) draws on archival documents such as unpublished letters, personal journals, and abolitionist periodicals and examines the travel writings of Afro-Jamaican Mary Seacole, free African American Bostonian Nancy Prince, and New England Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, showing in each of these women activists the importance of physical mobility in transporting them from their previously confined spaces and limited existences and enabling them to become engaged by the oppression and suffering of the disadvantaged and marginalized "other." [End Page 242]

Even more than race and its cultural contexts, the significant general studies this year, in keeping with recent trends in scholarly inquiry, address race and social history. John Ernest's Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861 (No. Car.), a book perhaps of more interest to antebellum social historians than to literary specialists, examines historical works, autobiographical narratives, speeches and articles from African American newspapers, and proceedings from national conventions for the purpose of recovering a counterhistory reflecting the circumstances of African American society before the Civil War...


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