- Editors’ Introduction
With its 2016 issue, Reception returns to its open-topic format following last year’s special-topic issue devoted to cultural diversity and cross-cultural reception. This (re)turn, however, also marks a continued attention to crossings. Although transnational and trans-cultural reception has both a long history and an increasing contemporary prominence because of globalization, it is an area of audience activity that has been severely underexplored in literary, cultural, and media studies. Two of the articles in this issue, accordingly, offer advances in that direction by examining transnational relations between texts and readers across the Atlantic. In doing so, they intersect with another form of crossing: the trans-Atlantic and hemispheric turn that has occurred in American studies over the last decade. That hemispheric and transnational exploration is central as well in the third article in this issue, Alma Kuhlemann’s analysis of audience engagement and Chilean female detective fiction. In this issue’s final article, Matt Seybold includes discussion of a different kind of crossing involving, not geographical boundaries, but temporal ones—again a rich vein needing further exploration.
A particular historical instance of transnational and trans-Atlantic reception constitutes the subject of Vanessa Steinroetter’s “Soldiers, Readers, and the Reception of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in Civil War America.” Drawing on archival manuscripts and print sources, including book reviews and works of fiction, Steinroetter examines the phenomenal popularity of Hugo’s novel during the 1860s in the United States and the reasons for it, particularly among soldiers in both the Union and Confederate [End Page 1] armies. At times reading different translations pitched to different regional audiences, combatants as well as civilians responded to Les Misérables by finding in its treatment of French struggles for freedom and equality different themes and forms of representation that enabled those American readers to come to terms with their wartime experiences. As Steinroetter points out, Hugo’s novel also provided individual readers an opportunity to unite in actual reading communities.
In “Dominican Literature and Dominicanness from a European Perspective” Rita De Maeseneer offers another view of trans-Atlantic reception, but one seen from the European side of the telescope. More specifically, this article focuses on the European reception of translated prose narratives by Dominican authors. Concentrating on responses since 2000 in Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Holland, De Maeseneer reveals a substantial diversity in the way Western European audiences conceptualize and categorize Dominican literature. Not only do these conceptualizations operate “within broader categories of Caribbeanness, Latinoness or Latinamericanness,” but they also challenge conceptions of literary centers and peripheries, linkages between language and nation, and the notion of an overarching category of Spanish American literature.
Returning us to the western side of the Atlantic, Alma Kuhlemann’s “Detecting a Feminist Reading Model: Clues in Marcela Serrano’s Nuestra Señora de la Soledad and in Responses from her Women Readers” explores the detective fiction of the Chilean novelist Marcela Serrano with a focus on the relation between reading and her representation of the female detective protagonist of Nuestra Señora. The novel and its protagonist can be seen to serve as a mediating device and source of validation for female desire among women readers. Besides being enacted through the representational structures of the novel itself, Kuhlemann shows how this mediation was at work in responses to the text by a group of adult women readers in Uruguay. Reading across national boundaries, these women found in Serrano’s novel both a model for engaging gender issues and a validation of female agency.
Continuing this American orientation but directing attention back to the United States is Matt Seybold’s “Quite an Original Failure: Melville’s Imagined Reader in The Confidence-Man.” Approaching Melville’s final novel as a text whose reception was both “cursed” by its critical and commercial failure in the 1850s and subject to twentieth-century critical interpretations that have repeatedly sought to recover it through various allegorical readings, Seybold examines the way The Confidence-Man anticipates its contemporary reception and employs a “series of increasingly antagonistic metafictional episodes” that encourage and frustrate modern allegorical interpretations, while...