- The American Elsewhere: Adventure and Manliness in the Age of Expansion by Jimmy L. Bryan Jr.
In The American Elsewhere: Adventure and Manliness in the Age of Expansion, Jimmy L. Bryan Jr. explores how in the nineteenth-century "adventurism played a crucial role in defining alternative masculinities that countered the rational and industrious male and presaged the gendered and ethnic justifications of US manifest destiny" (6). Approaching the topic from a variety of angles, Bryan argues that the nineteenth-century romanticism this adventurism was predicated on can be distilled to four basic components: emotion, imagination, the elsewhere, and the individual. Ultimately, this nineteenth-century American adventurer "was an individual who intentionally sought perilous encounters in the elsewhere in order to incite emotional stimuli" (14).
While much of the book is focused on the imaginative, emotional, and sensory impetus for seeking adventure, one interesting component [End Page 329] of the book is the importance of narrative and mythmaking not only for adventurers, but also in the American consciousness. Particular attention is paid to the "adventurelogue," a genre that grew out of frontier adventurer's desire for storytelling. The genre, perhaps begun with Henry M. Brackenridge's Journal of a Voyage up the River Missouri (1816), "capture[d] the imagination of the American reading public, and cultural leaders took those stories and attached them to a burgeoning optimism toward conquest that would culminate in the chauvinisms that birthed the ideas of manifest destiny" (92).
More than just a look at prominent figures and storytelling, however, The American Elsewhere provides critical analysis of such diverse topics as art, romanticism, politics, direct democracy, racism, violence, domesticity, materialism, and frontier sexuality. While it never claims to do so, it would have been nice to see some gesture toward relevant connections between this historical period's construction of masculinity and modern forms. Many contemporary rituals surrounding masculinity (teasing, seeking feats to gain acceptance, boasting of one's exploits, etc.) seem to potentially have their roots in the template of these risk-taking, masculine adventurers. While the book cannot be faulted for not doing something it never claims to, it would have been thought-provoking to read the author's take rather than the reader having to infer a connection to contemporary American constructions of masculinity.
Ultimately, though, The American Elsewhere: Adventure and Manliness in the Age of Expansion is a fascinating and tirelessly researched examination of the adventurer's construction of American masculinity and exceptionalism. As an exploration of a certain place in time, readers of Great Plains Quarterly will particularly appreciate the multifaceted study of important texts, figures, and concepts of the frontier during the American expansion west across the Great Plains.
University of Nebraska–Lincoln