In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BookReviews 159 with more theoretically informed approaches or not, parallel arguments and insights provided by scholars within the broader context of southern Africa, India, Canada, and other regions of British colonial dominance could have provided the opportunity to more deeply investigate the issues she presents and the debates surrounding each. O'Brien, unfortunately does not permit complicating factors or potentially divergent interpretations to enter her narrative. To be fair, however, this is not what Dispossession by Degrees sets out to accomplish. Rather, as described above, it is a microstudy of a community in colonial Massachusetts in which a diverse refugee native population was rendered landless and invisible by British colonial reckoning and the mechanics of British colonial political-economy. The continuing legal and political debates at the end of the twentieth century regarding "Indianness" and cultural persistence, as evidenced in ongoing land-claims disputes in the former British Empire, attests to the importance and timeliness of the issues O'Brien raises. Within the parameters she sets for herself, this work succeeds in meeting its primary objectives and is worth reading by those interested in colonial New England as well as those seeking alternative strategies to assist them in constructing the colonial encounter elsewhere. Keith D. Smith University of Calgary Susan V. Donaldson. Competing Voices: The American Novel. 1865-1914. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. Pp. xxviii +218 inclusive of selected bibliography and index. In this study of trends in American fiction during the period of reconstruction and social change that followed the Civil War, Susan Donaldson describes the development of an increasingly diverse and contentious literary culture and discusses this aesthetic phenomenon as a synecdoche of broader social change. Particularly, she views the emergence of women, black, and immigrant novelists in the American literary landscape as part of the fracturing of pre-Civil War social hegemonies of patriarchy, whiteness, and class privilege, arguing that the novelists were part of a drive toward selfidentification and self-articulation by groups who previously had been excluded from mainstream public discourse. Donaldson suggests that the 160 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d etudesamericaines American novel of the period between 1865 and 1914 did more than reflect social change; she believes that this broadly popular and influential literary genre itself also helped to create postbellum America's "public sphere," a term she borrows consciously from the political analysis of Jiirgen Habermas. As a work of literary criticism linking itself to contemporary historical research into the politics of gender, class, and race in America, Donaldson's book deserves to be read with attention but also-unfortunately-with caution. Caught up in her project of explicating the development of the novel within the categories of race, gender, and class, Donaldson often turns those categories into a tyranny, using "whiteness," "blackness," and "maleness" as names of allegedly coherent value clusters and sometimes even as apparently monolithic concepts. For instance, she is capable of describing the turn of the century as "a time when the increasing diversity of American life, produced by urbanization, immigration, class differentiation, and the growing restlessness of white and black women and black men, was giving rise to a multiplicity of often competing and contradictory narratives" (100, italics added). She alleges the "white male novelists in turn-of-the-century America knew all too well that the growing presence of women in the public sphere and the literary realm-and the proliferation of their stories-would directly affect the artistic efforts of male writers, the social spaces they occupied, and even their very identities as men" (124). An irony of the book (and a serious weakness in its argument) is this readiness to assume the existence of sweepingly consistent class and gender behaviours and beliefs even as it describes a movement in the novel genre toward expressions of increasing cultural diversity and dubiety. The limitations of literary analysis based primarily on categories of gender and race are particularly apparent in Donaldson's readings of The Aspem Papersby Henry James andPudd'nheadWilson by Mark Twain. James creates a first-person narrator who is a cad and a fraud: a scholarly critic who, in trying to obtain the personal papers of a famous poet from...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 159-161
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.