This essay reconsiders the relation between novel and state by examining the circulation of the story of Joaquín Murieta, a Gold Rush-era borderlands bandit. First novelized in John Rollin Ridge’s 1854 The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Joaquín story would be retold in a series English, French, and Spanish adaptations published in California, Paris, Madrid, and New York. I trace the story’s movement through these locales, focusing on the novels’ varying engagements with the history of public punishment in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The Joaquín novels published in the borderlands are distinguished from those published elsewhere by their scenes of theatrical address, which recall elements of the punishments the historical U.S. state staged to dramatize its authority in the territories annexed from Mexico in 1848. Yet I argue that there is here no simple homology between literary and political forms, for these novelistic punishment scenes publicize the details of initial U.S. efforts to establish sovereignty in such a way that, paradoxically, they reveal just what the state would hide: the limits of its authority. These Joaquín novels thus complicate accounts of the nineteenth-century novel that find the genre’s form to reproduce the perspectives of dominant political institutions.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 391-417
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.