In Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia, Ann McGrath inventively explores intimate interracial relationships "across colonizing boundaries" between European-descended settlers and Indigenous peoples during the early republican periods of U.S. and Australian history (xiv). Building on Richard White's work, McGrath calls these relationships a "marital middle ground" that "presented a fundamental challenge to the social, sexual, and colonizing dynamics of settler colonialism" (25, 2). McGrath argues that marriage forms both a subject and a lens for historical analysis as a "bamboozling crossroads of gender, race, class, and colonialism" that is "imagined, embodied, concrete, enacted, and lived" (9). Her examination of the "politics of intimacy" attends to how colonizers attempted to order and control heterosexual relationships in their efforts to define the nation– state and its national character and how Native people strategically asserted and managed Indigenous marriage practices to navigate the effects of colonialism. Thus intermarriage becomes in McGrath's analysis [End Page 587] "an enactment of transnational sovereignty" (11), an ideological and performative practice that destablized operations of power within colonial contexts.
McGrath's work represents a provocative example of transnational scholarship. There are two levels to the transnational approach characterizing this book. The first level is her recognition that the United States and Australia represent "inherently transnational ground" in which colonial contests played out across "multiple geopolitical borders" within the boundaries of the defined nation–state (6). This is an important acknowledgement that can work against the tendency to subsume or erase Indigenous histories within American history or Australian history. The second level of McGrath's transnational approach has to do with "expanding historical vision beyond a single nation–state" (5). While this is a conventional definition of transnationalism, McGrath's application is less typical. McGrath finds in the U.S. and Australia a common tendency to draw a firm line between colonized and colonizer pasts and a similar obsession with regulating marriage during the nations' early national periods. Instead of performing comparative analyses, however, McGrath employs "a strategy of juxtaposition" wherein she "put[s] together and tease[s] out a selection of emblematic narratives." When such narratives are considered side by side, she promises, "fresh perspectives emerge" and "each will unsettle the other" (5). In practice, this methodology strains to present a cohesive argument. The truly substantial differences between the U.S. in the 1820s and early twentieth-century Australia sometimes threaten to undercut the author's conclusions, for example. Similarly, the divergences between one scenario wherein missionaries and the colonizer nation control and legislate interracial relationships to disadvantage Aboriginal people and another where Cherokees construct marital policies constraining intermarriages to protect land holdings from colonial intrusion task the reader's ability to bring the two narrative threads together in a meaningful way. Although McGrath's readings of both U.S. and Australian histories are often compelling, the value-added benefit to examining them in relation to each other does not emerge as clearly as one might hope.
When focusing on the American side of the Pacific, McGrath's argument proceeds primarily through extensive consideration of two prominent intermarriages between Cherokee political figures and Euro American women: the now-familiar story of Cherokee Phoenix editor Elias Boudinot and Harriett Gold's controversial engagement and marriage in [End Page 588] New England in the 1820s, and the less-known story of Chief John Ross and the teenage Mary Bryan Stapler, whose 1840s epistolary courtship and eventual marriage followed upon the death of Ross's first, Cherokee wife, Quatie, during Cherokee removal from their homeland. McGrath concludes that both marriages "show us how, out of deep emotions, transnational couples renegotiated and reimagined settler-colonizer nations" (369). Additionally, McGrath examines the Cherokee Nation's imposition of constraints on intermarriages—which she characterizes as "prosegregation" (163)—in the period preceding removal.
In chapters on Australia alternating with the ones on the United States, McGrath traces in a more complicated fashion the legacy of Aboriginal Protection Laws in Queensland and missionary...