- Transatlantic Women: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and Great Britain ed. by Beth L. Lueck, Brigitte Bailey, Lucinda L. Damon-Bach
Transatlantic Women is an important addition to a recent wave of collections that have opened up nineteenth-century studies to a transatlantic framework. It joins the ranks of volumes like Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture (2006) and Margaret Fuller: Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age (2007), but where these earlier volumes [End Page 153] are structured around a single author, Transatlantic Women is more comprehensive in scope; it includes multiple genres and spans the period from 1830 to 1910 to cover an eclectic range of authors, including canonical figures like Stowe and Fuller as well as lesser-known writers like Anna Katharine Green and Louise Imogen Guiney. The essays in this volume grow out of a conference at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford in 2008, and they introduce a fascinating archive of primary material that yields real discoveries. These discoveries are not limited to literature: Libby Bischof’s discussion of the Women’s Rest Tour Association, for example, provides new insights into a Boston-based, intergenerational women’s travel network in order to highlight the therapeutic effects of travel as opposed to Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure.”
Brigitte Bailey’s introduction, “Transatlantic Studies and American Women Writers,” traces the genealogy of the transatlantic paradigm from the works of Robert Weisbuch and Christopher Mulvey in the 1980s to the works of later figures like Paul Gilroy and Paul Giles. Bailey’s introduction is especially valuable for its overview of the most recent scholarship in the field, and her overview ends by arguing that the “transnational” does not simply replace the “national” as a preferred term; the “nation” and the “transatlantic,” she claims, are mutually constitutive terms that must be understood dialectically. This is a very fine introduction, and I would add that one could also trace a feminist genealogy of nineteenth-century women’s transatlanticism in the scholarship of Elaine Showalter and Nina Auerbach, both of whose work has moved back and forth across the Atlantic with insight and ease. The more recent emphasis on the transatlantic reflects on dominant paradigms and contests the terms “Englishness” and “Americanness,” and it expands the contexts and boundaries of literariness. Robin Peel’s contribution, for example, reads Emily Dickinson’s poetry alongside antebellum geological textbooks.
“Travel,” understood both literally and metaphorically, provides the central rubric that structures the volume. The first part of the book centers on travel as an experience of social encounters, where travel writing plays a prominent role as a hybrid genre that incorporates elements from fiction, journalism, and letter writing. At the start of her essay on Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home (1841), Lucinda Damon-Bach acknowledges that despite its popularity in the nineteenth century, Sedgwick’s travel writing has received little critical attention. Damon-Bach points out that rather than focusing on tourist sites—which was already a clichéd convention at the time Sedgwick was writing—Sedgwick instead describes her meetings with prominent British women writers such as Joanna Baillie, Mary Russell Mitford, and Harriet Martineau. Damon-Bach notes that Sedgwick was interested in how professional women writers negotiated between their intellectual lives and the routines of daily life, an interest personified by Mitford, who illustrates a model of female “genius” in a “humble home.”
The first half of the book also explores how women writers grappled with their literary celebrity while travelling in Britain, how they balanced the public demands of successful authorship with the private modesty required of middle-class femininity. Sarah Klotz explores this theme with particular acuity in her chapter on Frances Osgood’s balancing act between poetic authority and feminine modesty. There are also three chapters devoted to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1853 journey to Britain, which she took immediately after the success of Uncle Tom’s...