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  • A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson
  • Raúl Coronado
A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson. Edited by Michelle Burnham. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2008. 320 pages, $21.95.

It's downright bewildering that a collection of Helen Hunt Jackson's diverse writings has not been published until now. Scholars have increasingly focused their attention on Jackson over the last two decades, producing biographies, a collection of her Indian reform letters, and studies that situate Jackson variously within postnational American studies (and its cognates, Manifest Domesticity, the transnational circulation and translation of Ramona [1884], and Native American reform), and yet no edited volume of Jackson's writings has ever been published. Now, Michelle Burnham has culled through Jackson's expansive oeuvre to bring us an utterly complex Jackson-as-author.

Most of the writings in this volume have not been republished since the nineteenth century, and for that reason alone, this collection is a gift to scholars, teachers, and the general reader interested in Jackson, nineteenth-century women writers, and reform movements. The volume is unencumbered by footnotes or lengthy introductions; instead, we get a concise, informative introduction, a useful timeline, a bibliography of original sources, a one-page list of recommended reading, and 293 pages of Jackson's poetry, short stories, travel writing, advice columns, and, of course, excerpts from A Century of Dishonor (1881) and Ramona. The collection is organized chronologically (1867–1887), which allows the reader to see Jackson's wide-ranging, varied interests.

The volume is "characterized throughout by a remarkably complicated cultural politics," writes Burnham (xi). And what a productive understatement that is. The nation as family emerges as a significant trope, from her early advice on parenting and corporal punishment to her columns on the United States as a needed parental figure for Native Americans. But several entries also capture the lives of Anglo-American women, on the East Coast and western frontier, as reservation teachers, mothers, and frustrated wives. As the volume progresses, the reader moves across the United States and lands upon California with its quaint Spanish missions and suffering Indians.

Scholars have peeled away the rhetorical devices in Jackson's writings on Native Americans, but no one has yet unraveled the aesthetic and political threads that depict the demise of a Spanish American empire that fell before it ever flourished and the meteoric rise of an American [End Page 197] empire. If missions had sought to interpellate Native Americans in order to incorporate them into the social world, the dominant Anglo world had no material or discursive place for them: they would be exterminated, hunted down like animals (Burnham unfortunately completely understates this). Indeed, as much as Jackson wanted the United States government to accept its parental role in helping Native Americans acculturate, her novel Ramona frustratingly closes with an implicit capitulation to this new world order. The novel offers no material or discursive space for Native Americans or Mexicans. They would have to abandon the missions, the ranchos, survive in the wilderness, and, if possible, escape to another social world that offered some kind of discursive space for their existence. How did she develop her political ethics? Do her writings on parenting and Anglo-American women reveal an ethics-in-the-making that crystallize in her Indian reform writings? Burnham's volume begs for questions like these to be addressed and will surely stimulate more research.

Raúl Coronado
University of Chicago


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pp. 197-198
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