- Feminist Interventions in Early American Studies
This collection offers readers "interventions" that transform a field long dedicated to reappraisals of male-authored canonical texts. The seventeen essays, together with Mary C. Carruth's cogent introduction and a useful bibliography, provide scholars and students of early American studies, women's studies, and gender studies new materials to read and, crucially, new ways to read them. As Carruth opens the volume, "Although feminist scholarship is thriving in the field of early American studies, no critical collection showcasing feminist perspectives has yet emerged" (xiii). This book is the welcome and much-needed remedy for the egregious omission.
Carruth explains that Sharon M. Harris's 1999 essay "Feminist Theories and Early American Studies" is republished here as a foundation to the collection because it "refuse[d] to subsume feminist practice, along with women's history and literary production, under the presumably broader field of early American studies" (xiii). Fittingly, Harris's essay appears first, and its arguments for a transformative feminist critical praxis presage the work presented throughout the book. Following suit, the remaining contributors model a set of practices that include recovering and reconsidering women's texts as well as developing theoretical frames and hermeneutics based on questions of power and privilege.
Contributors Angela Pulley Hudson, Lisa M. Logan, and Michele Lise Tarter confront these concerns by focusing on little-known texts and investigating the interpretive issues that arise from their specific rhetorical forms. Tarter reads several letters and diaries of eighteenth-century women who answered spiritual calls to travel as Quaker ministers, and she argues that the writings represent a powerful nexus of claims about the women's work: They challenge conventional familial and maternal roles and assert the moral authority necessary [End Page 160] to teach southern Quakers that slaveholding is both abhorrent and inconsistent with Quaker beliefs. Hudson examines the scant facts and robust legends regarding Mary Musgrove, "Georgia's Creek Indian Princess," to make evident the anxieties that emerge when white cultural institutions use Native American figures to construct regional identity. Because Musgrove left no diaries or letters, Hudson reviews legal petitions and contextualizing documents to argue that Musgrove functions as a critical component in any understanding of the politics and legacy of Indian removal. Logan's investigation of A Narrative of the Life, Occurrences, Vicissitudes, and Present Situation of K. White and other similar tales supposedly written by women includes a subtle reading that uses queer theory to reveal theoretical connections between cross-dressing and authorship. While recovering these unfamiliar texts, each contributor urges readers to understand the important cultural work performed—in their own moment as well as ours—by these documents.
Reconsideration of major writers emerges from Tamara Harvey's astute comparative study of Sor Juana and Anne Bradstreet and from Sarah Rivett's and Mary C. Carruth's complex arguments concerning Mary Rowlandson. Such reinterpretations of better-known texts within feminist frames generate a broad array of topics and theoretical approaches that appear throughout the collection: masculinities (Anne G. Myles, Angela Vietto), identity (Margo Echenberg, Karen A. Weyler), racial formations (Valerie Babb, Betsy Erkkila, Marion Rust), agency (Mary Rose Kasraie and Jennifer J. Baker, both on Judith Sargent Murray), and embodiment (almost all). Each essay explicitly or implicitly critiques patriarchal structures—unsurprisingly, several contributors consider the public/private continuum—and evince a complex understanding of the processes that shape the institutions wielding it. Ivy Schweitzer's essay on Catharine Sedgwick exemplifies this complex and convincing work of feminist critical practice. Entitled "Imaginative Conjunctions on the Imperial 'Frontier,'" Schweitzer's compelling reading of Hope Leslie situates the novel within transatlantic discourses on race and travel writing while seamlessly interpolating a discussion of Jonathan Edwards's version of spiritual masculinity. As do several of the contributors, Schweitzer brilliantly advances the feminist agenda called for in Carruth's introduction and Harris's essay as she explains the multiple meanings and contexts of the novel.
While the collection is intended to encompass the field of early American studies, its content...