- Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism by J. Samaine Lockwood
The debate has become exceedingly familiar, especially to readers of Legacy, yet literary histories of New England regionalism still tend to come in the rough form of attack or defense. On the one hand, regionalism depicts racially exclusive, nostalgic settings in the service of white nationalism and US imperialism (Amy Kaplan, Richard Brodhead, Sandra A. Zagarell, Elizabeth Ammons, and others). On the other hand, it crafts a feminist, queer aesthetics for revaluing otherwise marginalized desires and collectivities, particularly those experienced in the lives of unmarried women (Josephine Donovan, Judith Fetterley, Marjorie Pryse, Peter Coviello, and others). In her useful synthesis of this pattern, June Howard sums up the two positions as either “historicizing” or “celebratory” (380). Although J. Samaine Lockwood’s fantastic Archives of Desire does not aim explicitly to resolve this debate, it nevertheless helps us to recognize the inextricability and dependence of these two positions as an integral feature of regionalism’s relationship to New England and historicism.
Let’s start by looking separately at the book’s contributions to the “celebratory” and “historical” arguments. Lockwood describes New England regionalism as having an intimate relationship to the past, particularly the colonial past, which provided unmarried white women with opportunities to multiply the available forms of gendered, erotic, and communal possibility. Regionalists developed what Lockwood alternately names “queer historicism” and “intimate historicism,” sensual practices for experiencing the past that, through regionalism’s aesthetics, became generative practices of dissent within the present (3, 8). For an example of how this works, take Lockwood’s reading of Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, in which the cross-generational erotic attachment between the narrator and Mrs. Todd is expressed through their shared relationship with history. Lockwood traces the accumulating, layered associations the narrator experiences in relation to Mrs. Todd’s body, which traverse the natural world (the penetrating fragrance of plants), New England histories of dissent, classical models of female rebellion, the material colonial past of the Bowden family (embodied in the sensual pleasures of baked goods), and the witchcraft of colonial North America. For Lockwood, then, the pleasure experienced by the narrator in Mrs. Todd’s presence is in no small part a historicist pleasure. The erotic charge of queer attachment, generative as it is of new ways of thinking and feeling in the present, has been constituted by that attachment’s corporeal experience of the past, creating, as Lockwood argues, [End Page 397] “a historicity that claims belonging for unmarried white New England women’s embodied intimacies within various spatiotemporal registers, that writes a range of pleasurable, mobile relations into and on the record” (88).
Because Lockwood conceptualizes New England regionalism more as a practice than as a genre, she expands her archive far past the literary, incorporating historical research, staged photography, oil painting, illustration, home restoration, interior decoration, and the collecting of heirloom china. For me, part of the pleasure of the book came from her juxtaposed readings of non-literary and literary texts, as in her readings of Jewett’s Deephaven alongside staged photographs from an unpublished edition of the novel. The reconceptualization also allows Lockwood to incorporate a much larger cast than we typically associate with New England regionalism, including fiction writers Rose Terry Cooke and Annie Trumbull Slosson, visual artists Susan Minot Lane and Emma Lewis Coleman, and colonial historians C. Alice Baker, Alice Morse Earle, and Elizabeth Perkins. Moreover, Lockwood extends the periodization of regionalism. Rather than a minor form pushed aside by masculinist naturalism toward the turn of the century, regionalism in Lockwood’s view is an aesthetic mode that traveled into modernism, particularly in the fiction of New England writers Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Alice Brown.
Lockwood’s contributions to the historical arguments come in her focus on whiteness as a “racial historical legacy” that, when claimed, granted New England white women a...