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Harriet Prescott Spofford. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-04716. Narrative Revelations: Harriet Prescott Spofford's "A.mber Gods" Revisited RITA BODE Harriet Prescott Spofford possessed no ordinary imagination. In her own time, readers recognized the radical, unconventional quality ofher best stories. Her effect on Emily Dickinson, perhaps nineteenth- centuryAmerica's most formjdable imagination , suggests a power similar to that exerted by Dickinson herself. To Thomas 'Wentworth Higginson, their shared mentor , Dickinson wrote in 1862, "I read Miss Prescott's 'Circumstance ,' but it followed me, in the Dark--so I avoided her-."! Nonetheless, she asked her sister--in-law, "Send me everything she writes," and confessed to her, ''['Circumstance'] is the only thing I ever read in my life that I didn't think I could have imagined myself."2 Sophia Hawthorne found "Miss Prescott's" work too daring for the moralistic New England sensibility. She complained in a letter to Annie Adams Fields: She is so sultry, so unrefined in her way of de-scribing outright what never should be more than delicately hinted at-so indined to portray and blazon unlawful relations and sinful affections, that I blush to read and cannot [bear] to have Una and Julian read. For she has unmistakeably a magnificent fancy and creative power. And I doubt not she will work her way dear of an blemish by and by. But I wish she ESQ I II. 50 14TH QUARTER I2004 233 RITA BODE would spare the Atlantic her crudeness and her b[o]Id passion. 3 Our own time, too, has recognized Spofford's artistic defiance . In the introduction to his I989 collection of Spofford's tales, "The Amber Gods" and Other Stories, Alfred Bendixen sees in the title story a "shocking challenge to the values ofnineteenthcentury America."4 Next to the frequently anthologized "Circumstance ," "The Amber Gods" is Spofford's best-known work. This is not surprising, since it is, perhaps, among nineteenth -century American literature's most unsettling stories. "The Amber Gods" startles not only for Bendixen's reason but also for its Poe-like, Dickinson-like eeriness. It is, as Barton Levi St. Armand aptly states, a "posthumous reverie,"5 the revelation ofwhich at the story's end is truly "shocking." The three most significant critical commentaries on "The Amber Gods," those by St. Armand, Bendixen, and, most recently , Lisa M. Logan, all attest to the story's power. St. Armand and Bendixen both see it as female character Yone's story. Acknowledging the strength of Spofford's gothic, romantic sensibility , St. Armand finds the tale's force in Yone's "passionate declamation," which "challenges the reader to ascertain the nature of the spirit that tells it,"6 while Bendixen locates not only the story's controversy but also its merit in the foregrounding of a passionate, self-indulgent, aggressive female personality. Bendixen admires "Spofford's brave decision to make Yone the narrator as well as the central character ," and concludes that her voice "is the heart and soul of the story."7 In contrast, by examining the story's race and gender politics, Logan expands the focus onYone to include the "Asian imp" in a historical and theoretical context through which she argues that Spofford "relies on one form of essentialism to challenge another."8 All three, however, found their interpretations on the same basic premise: an unquestioning acceptance ofYone's narrative vision. In Logan's words, '''The Amber Gods' unfolds the story of its narrator, the beautiful, selfabsorbed , twenty-two-year-old Giorgione, who, with feminine wiles and a string of ostenSibly cursed amber beads, foils her cousin Louise's relationship with artistVaughan Rose and mar234 SPOFFORO'S "AMBER GODS" ries him herself. "9 Yone's narrative voice is certainly persuasive , but to allow it a too-exclusive authority is also perhaps to underestimate Spofford's artistry. My intent in this paper is a straightforward one. I argue that in Yone's first-person narration Spofford deliberately suggests the possibility of a double narrative. "While ostensibly telling one story, whose protagonist is the brilliant, extravagant Yone, Spofford provides indications ofanother, at the center ofwhich is the quiet, watchful Louise. Her story...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 233-267
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-11
Open Access
No
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