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160 Canadian Review ofAmerican Studies Revue canaaienne d'etudes americaines Jared Gardner. Master Plots: Race and the Founding ofan American Literature 1787- 1845. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP. Pp. xvii+ 214 and bibliography and index. Jared Gardner's Master Plots provides a careful and convincing account of three crucial terms in American literary study: race, national identity, and narrative. Gardner argues that race functions as a founding concept in early American narrative not because citizens actively fear blacks of Indians (although they may), but because they fear becoming something so radically other from white Europeans that it can only be "imagined in terms of blacks of Indians" (4). This distinction between race and racialized identity proves crucial to the intricate, shifting tensions that Gardner then tracks between the concepts of racial and national identity as the two surface in American writing during the half century preceding-the American Renaissance. Gardner shows both how crucial slippages occur between racial categories-how, for example, the Vanishing American in Cooper's writing can have "less to do with historical Indians and fantasies of their preordained extinction than with a new set of anxieties about slavery and African Americans" (96)-and also how such slippages in turn can work, as is the case in Edgar Huntly, to bolster the notion of a nondistinct racial "other" or "alien" who must be subsequently exorcised in order to secure a stable national identity. With such compelling readings of the fluidity and variability of racial categories in early American narrative, Gardner's argument that the construction of a distinct national identity absorbs even those public anxieties without an explicitly racial focus and articulates them in racialized terms gains force and conviction. Master Plots therefore provides a useful historical framework for much American Renaissance writing and for the wealth of current critical work devoted to racial identity in nineteenth-century U.S. literature. According to Gardner, race, as opposed to other identity categories, lends itself particularly well to the metaphorical nature of narrative, not only because the new nation is often associated with racial others but because the idea of race encodes the narrative properties or origin and beginnings with which the developing nation is interested. While consistently convincing, Gardner's reading of the mutually constitutive relation between narrative and racial identity becomes most insightful in the final two chapters on Poe Book Reviews 161 and Douglass. Arguing that Poe's Narrative ofA1thur Gordon Pym explores the possibility of writing without racial difference, Gardner illustrates how entry into a "world of perfect whiteness" (149) signals the inevitable end of narrative for Poe as well as for his narrator. Douglass, on the other hand, tries to teach Americans how to be better readers of "the facts of racial difference" (180) so that they might not only find themselves subject to racial logic but might also understand how racial identities are "open to revision, emendation, and expurgation" (182). While Master Plots is in general meticulously crafted, it does leave the odd loose end. One wonders, for example, what exact distinction is intended when Gardner assets that Poe supports slavery both "as a southerner and as an individual" (129) or that Cooper moves "beyond the personal and psychological" to write "first and foremost a historical tale" (87). Likewise to assert that "the question of identity in Edgar Huntly is importantly national rather than (generally) human or (particularly) individual" (53) raises without resolving provocative questions that would, no doubt, constitute another project entirely. However, Gardner's impressive talents as a literary critic, historian and wnter combine to make MasterPlots a compelling account of the early American novel and the intricate associations between racial identity and narrative embedded within the evolving genre. Meticulously researched, carefully conceived, and well written, Master Plots offers a compelling account of the role racial identity plays in the formulations of national identity that precede , and Gardner would argue, inform canonical writing of the American Renaissance. Caroline Levander Trinity University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 160-161
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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