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Reviewed by:
  • The Female American by Unca Eliza Winkfield ed. by Michelle Burnham and James Freitas
  • Lorrayne Carroll (bio)
The Female American by Unca Eliza Winkfield Edited by michelle burnham and james freitas Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Editions, 2014 256 pp.

Broadview Literary Texts’ 2001 edition of The Female American afforded to early Americanists a convenient modern edition of this largely forgotten novel. In 1767, “Unca Eliza Winkfield” wrote “her” narrative about a young woman, the daughter of a Native American mother and English father, who is abandoned on a deserted island. With ingenuity, luck, and a found text, she learns to survive on the island; indeed, she thrives and eventually establishes a Christian missionary outpost there. This first-person recounting of “Winkfield’s” experiences contributes to the expanding [End Page 521] canon of “lost” texts and to the powerful intertextual constructs shaping early American studies today. Broadview’s first edition included an insightful introduction by its editor, Michelle Burnham, three appendixes (“‘English’ Sources,” “‘American’ Sources,” and “‘Reviews of The Female American”), and a comprehensive “Works Cited/Recommended Reading” section. Helpfully, Burnham’s 2001 introduction juxtaposed The Female American (1767) with Robinson Crusoe (1719) while drawing crucial distinctions between Daniel Defoe’s text and this “female Robinsonade.” The novel’s plot, its alleged female author, self-assured female protagonist, and philosophical and religious motifs, all supported by Burnham’s rigorous scholarly apparatus, made the 2001 edition of The Female American a key reading in variety of courses, from early American surveys to gender and global studies special topics.

In fact, the first edition succeeded so well in reintroducing the novel to modern classrooms that it engendered increased scholarly attention to the text, a happy outcome for all who look for new materials in our fields—and new ways to approach them. This second Broadview edition, published thirteen years after the first, opens additional modes of inquiry and interpretation with its revised introduction and, particularly, with its intriguing, supplementary sources. The pleasures of reading and teaching The Female American emerge from this edition’s insistence on a more capacious scope for early American studies, one in sync with recent scholarly emphases on transatlantic, global, and intersectional contexts of cultural production and consumption.

Comparing aspects of the two editions reveals salient changes in how we read and what we call early American literature. For example, in reviewing the appendixes in both editions, we find that the current text swaps narrow geographical rubrics (“English,” “American”) for broader literary-historical categories: “The Colonial Americas and Its Native Peoples,” “Ibn Tufayl and Autodidactic Castaways,” “Isolated Castaways,” and “Castaway Communities.” While some of the supplementary materials carry over from the first edition, notably the “American” sources in Thomas Hariot, George Percy, and John Smith and the “English” sources in Defoe, Peter Longueville, and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, their relocation under the new rubrics complicates their connections to the novel and provides greater interpretive and explanatory potential.

As Burnham and her coeditor, James Freitas, acknowledge, this second [End Page 522] edition “was inspired by the scholarship” that arose from publication of the first edition. They specifically note their debt to Matthew Reilly’s article, “‘No Eye Has Seen, or Ear Heard’: Arabic Sources for Quaker Subjectivity in Unca Eliza Winkfield’s The Female American,” and to Eve Tavor Bannet’s Transatlantic Stories and the History of Reading, 1720–1810: Migrant Fictions (2011), both of which appear in the substantial—and substantially expanded—”Works Cited and Recommended Reading” section, itself newly organized into primary and secondary sources. Appendix B resonates fully with these studies; it comprises six texts related to Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Tufayl’s twelfth-century text, written in Arabic and translated into Latin in the seventeenth century, was serially appropriated and refashioned by various eighteenth-century authors with divergent ideological goals. These Tufayl-based excerpts resituate The Female American and remedy the erasure of non-Western sources from our studies of early European works of “discovery” and colonization.

This second edition of The Female American, expanded by sixty pages, features a fascinating, revised introduction, one that further reveals to readers the elaborate intertextual and global aspects of the novel. Burnham and Freitas suggest...