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  • Early-19th-Century Literature
  • Michael L. Burduck

The phrase "feast or famine" accurately describes the state of scholarship on early-19th-century literature the last few years. One year scholars might find a rather sparse menu, whereas the next year sees a rather lengthy bill of fare offered to readers eager for a filling scholarly repast. This year, the overall number of noteworthy scholarly books and articles dropped noticeably, but fortunately for professors and students of this fascinating period of American literary history scholars have produced some noteworthy books and articles that offer important new perspectives on the period. Books on topics that include the role of working-class women in antebellum literary culture, female antislavery writers, African American children's literature, the role of magic in literature, and serial narratives stand as valuable additions to scholarship on the period. Important essays focus on science and technology in literary magazines, authors' rights, phrenology and race, humor and reform, and Lord Byron's interest in American literary culture. Although only one truly significant book on Edgar Allan Poe appears this year, a fairly large number of articles provide readers with keen commentaries on Poe's works. Perhaps this year's most significant publication, the second volume of the definitive biography of James Fenimore Cooper, merits a prominent place on scholars' bookshelves. Articles offer important critical perspectives on Cooper, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joseph C. Neal, and Rufus W. Griswold. Once again the number of books on African American writers drops off a bit this year, yet a new edition of Martin Delany's Blake, a fine anthology of [End Page 221] 19th-century black women writers, and a chapter on African American travel literature merit serious attention, as do a number of fine journal articles that address biblical influence; the relationship between slave narrative, film, and violence; and the transatlantic Romantic tradition as it relates to the reform-revolution debate. Unfortunately, fewer books and articles dealing with women appear this year, although some interesting book chapters and journal articles discuss such disparate topics as women writers' interest in food, science, the gothic, sexual indeterminacy, national origins, childhood, and temperance.

i Period Studies

Lori Merish's Archives of Labor asserts that working-class women played a significant role in shaping American literary culture in the 19th century. Merish examines works written by a wide array of women from different social strata including domestic workers, factory workers, prostitutes, and seamstresses, and she gives readers pause to rethink the role of gender and race in American society. Citing the importance of works written by white New England women factory workers, African American domestic workers, or Mexican women working in California, Merish challenges traditional notions of the close relationship between "whiteness" and the working class and convincingly reveals how women of all ethnic backgrounds participated in the class protest and dissent movement in order to, at least in part, help establish a cultural identity reflecting the diverse elements of the nation's culture. This superb study surveys pamphlet novels, labor periodicals, autobiographies, seduction tales, and theatrical presentations as it charts the course of often-neglected women writers. Yet Merish also discusses the works of some of the period's better-known writers, including Harriet Wilson and E. D. E. N. Southworth. Archives of Labor notes "a significant absence in the critical literature about class in nineteenth-century U.S. cultural studies," and this book stands as an historical recovery project "that aims to restore an important chapter in American women's literary history." Merish deftly illustrates how working-class women "waged class warfare" in order to help the nation rethink gender, race, and sexuality. In addition to focusing on working-class texts, Merish also considers how "canonical" writers influenced by popular working-class fiction, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables, closely scrutinize antebellum notions of property ownership. Convincingly viewing [End Page 222] antebellum literature as class dialogue, Archive of Labor helps readers see the importance of "the politics of sympathy" employed by women writers in the antebellum era and also illustrates how working women's texts contributed an important chapter to the history of sentimentality. Filtering her commentary through...


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