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Reviews 79 tion to Cather’s (and others’) questioning of domesticity. Despite disavowing essentialism, Romines variously reveals essentialist assumptions. For example, Romines writes that from the thirties, Cather’sfiction indicates that housekeep­ ing is “an inevitable portion of every North American woman’s potential heri­ tage” (my emphasis). Elsewhere, Romines implies that domesticity is an archetypally rather than historically constituted feature ofwomen’s experience when she likens fictional housekeepers to Hestia, Circe, Demeter, or Persephone. Had Romines clarified her theoretical assumptions and more fully ad­ dressed these writers’ critiques of domesticity, her study would be stronger. Nevertheless, Romines suggestively expands the scope of scholarship on the relation of American women’s writing and domestic culture. PAMELA WALKER Houston, Texas Letters of Catherine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife. Edited by Jennifer Moulton Hansen. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992. 317 pages, $32.50.) Born in Salt Lake City in 1855, Catherine Cottam Romney spent most of her childhood in St. George, Utah, where her family was sent by the Mormon church to settle the Dixie Mission. At age eighteen, after persuading her parents that she could not live happily without him, she married Miles P. Romney, a personable man of many talents, twelve years her senior, becoming his third wife. He was to have five. Thus, as an untried girl she made the commitment to enter into and uphold the church’s principle of polygamy. Such a marriage conferred unusual status upon the woman: she was a wife instead of thewife and therefore always a fraction less than halfof the marriage. Not every woman so joined could abide this unequal division and maintain harmony both with husband and other wives. Catherine Romney’s letters docu­ ment a marriage that prevailed, enduring to the end of polygamy as law and practice, choosing long exile in Mexico, ultimately, over renunciation. There has been endless curiosity about the principle which gave Mormonism its most peculiar manifestation, but this is not the book to satisfy it. Nearly all of these 170 letters were to family members to whom she was devoted. Separation from them, which began in 1881 when her husband was called to settle St. Johns, in the Arizona Territory, caused lasting pain. Written in mo­ ments stolen from the rigors of her demanding life, the letters were a stay against homesickness and the desolating sense of isolation. Part of Catherine Romney’scommitment to her marriage was to endure with as little complaint as possible, thus the determinedly cheerful and newsy content. In this way she was to build a record of her family’s external life. Something in the public nature of 80 WesternAmerican Literature a letter curbs revelations of emotional or spiritual conflict, or even mention of what, to the correspondent, may seem to be merely the mundane or vexing aspects of the writer’s life. A caring daughter or sisterwho fretted over the well­ being of distant family members would not add her troubles to theirs. Written during her adult years between 1872 and 1917, her letters contrib­ ute substantial information about Mormon pioneer life in her intelligent obser­ vations of people, places, and events. They have been gathered and edited by great-granddaughter Jennifer Moulton Hansen. Though not a trained histo­ rian, the editor has painstakingly provided explanatory textual material based on archival research, family records and correspondence. If her volume lacks the density and texture of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale, it nonethe­ less provides insight into another quietly remarkable life which has been pre­ served in the homely documents of her own writing. CORALIE BEYERS Logan, Utah William Saroyan: A Study ofthe ShortFiction. By Edward Halsey Foster. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1991. 174 pages, $21.95.) William Saroyan died in 1981. Each year since then, as the force of his presence recedes, it becomes easier to arrive at an accurate assessment of his work. This volume, divided into three parts, is a useful contribution to that endeavor. Part 1, which makes up halfof the book, is Edward Halsey Foster’s explora­ tion and explication of Saroyan’s short fiction, from TheDaring Young Man on theFlying Trapeze and Other Stories (1934) through the posthumously published...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 79-80
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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