- Early-19th-Century Literature
This year the number of noteworthy studies dealing with early-19th-century American literature dropped off considerably. Despite the dearth of groundbreaking scholarship, scholars and students of the period will find various books and articles worthy of consideration. As in recent years, fewer significant book-length studies appear. Many works focus on cultural issues, and numerous commentators discuss individual authors prominent during the period. Topics such as the importance of world history in the works of the period’s major writers, the role of preaching in the development of the novel, and the relationship of science, free love, and feminism serve as the basis for some thought-provoking studies. Persuasive essays discuss race, print culture, gender, urban disorder, and the public reaction to the Mexican War. Two important books on Poe appear this year, and various articles provide useful insights into Poe’s works. Washington Irving’s works serve as the basis for a number of articles dealing with stage productions of his works, his interest in slavery and genocide, and his use of China in his tales. An important book places the travel writings of John Lloyd Stephens in the context of American nationalism and Manifest Destiny. Once again, African American writers appear prominently in this year’s scholarly efforts. One study investigates Native American intellectual life, and useful articles comment on indigenous notions of “the cosmopolitan” and survivance respectively. Not surprisingly, the period’s prominent women writers attract the attention of various scholars. Investigators provide valuable commentary on Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet and [End Page 215] Louisa Jacobs, Fanny Fern, Julia Ward Howe, Lydia Maria Child, Paulina Wright Davis, Caroline Dall, and Catherine Maria Sedgwick. A fine collection of essays examines how William Gilmore Simms uses the theme of warfare in his antebellum and postwar fiction, and an intriguing article relates how notions of disability, abnormality, and slavery play key roles in one of Simms’s most reactionary novels.
i Period Studies
Patricia Jane Roylance’s Eclipse of Empires: World History in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (Alabama) examines how the history of imperial eclipse figures prominently in the writings of various authors during the period. American writers’ concerns regarding social problems including race, class, gender, religion, and economics reflected authors’ awareness of earlier civilizations’ dissolution and how the downfalls of various historical empires might serve as harbingers of American social and moral decay. Roylance studies texts including James Fenimore Cooper’s The Water-Witch and The Bravo, William Hickling Prescott’s Peru, Washington Irving’s A History of New York, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and ably demonstrates how 19th-century Americans fretted over the possibility of national decline. Viewing the future of the United States as precarious and uncertain, authors employed the histories of Venice, Peru, Spain, and the Netherlands as well as the Ojibway to illustrate “the surpassing of a great civilization by an emerging power: for example, Incan Peru being conquered by Spain, the Ojibway ceding dominance to the French, and Venice being replaced by New York as a global commercial force.” Focusing primarily on the early to mid-19th century, Roylance notes how interest in world history “soared to great heights in the first half of the … century,” and she posits that many people in the country believed that studying world history might help the nation avoid the mistakes that doomed past empires. International history provided a context for addressing intranational concerns that plagued America at the time. Ethno-racial identity played a significant role in many writers’ sense of “the foreign,” and Roylance demonstrates how writers such as Irving and Longfellow represent areas including New York and the upper Midwest “as controlled by groups clearly alien to their own English-speaking Anglo-American U.S. culture: the Dutch, the Ojibway, and the French.” The number of different empires discussed in [End Page 216] imperial eclipse narratives “corresponded to a matching array of social problems facing the United States in the nineteenth century.” Roylance convincingly addresses the nation’s self-consciousness about its position in the world and how this self-reflection “inspired an engagement with other moments in world...