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

FRANCES HARPER, CHARLOTTE FORTEN, AND AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY RECONSTRUCTION Carla L. Peterson As literary critics, we have found the task of reconstructing Reconstruction daunting. We are still hard-pressed to account for the literary moment that lies between the American Renaissance on the one hand and American realism on the other. In his 1993 book Cultures of Letters: Scenesof Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America, Richard Brodhead has suggested one approach to analyzing the literature of this postwarperiod. According to Brodhead , postbellum culture reorganized the literary field by encouraging "new sorts of internal differentiation within the American literary system"; these distinctions reworked existing configurationsof "high" and "low" cultures located on either side of the prewar "domestic or middlebrow world of letters." For many antebellum authors writing was often conceived as a "tutelary activity" that centered on the domestic household and promoted a middle-class ethosof "disciplinary intimacy" through which those in authority relied on love and moral influence rather than corporal punishment to regulate the American home. In contrast, the postbellum world of letters came to promote highcultural literary values embodied primarily in the new "quality" monthlies — the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Scribners Monthly Magazine, and Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine—that flourished from the 18505 on. These magazines encouraged the development and institutionalization of new aesthetic interests: a "cosmopolitan and classical production" derived from Europe and a home-grown "vacation art," both of which were addressed to a newly emergent leisured elite. In elaborating his cultural history,Brodhead examines the postbellum fiction of white women writers such as Louisa May Alcott and Sarah Orne Jewett. African American writing enters this history only belatedly in the form of Charles Chesnutts magazine stories of the late i88os. According to Brodheads chro- 40 : CARLA L. PETERSON nology of black authorship, Chesnutt was the "first" African American writer whose aim was "to have a literary career" and who "conceived of writing as a largely autonomous zone of verbal creation."l Such an interpretation profoundly misreadsAfrican American postbellum cultures ofletters whosewriters refused to disassociate literary career from political participation; they insisted instead that verbal creation could never be an autonomous cultural zone and that one of its current functions wasto intervene in and comment on the politics of national Reconstruction. Countering Brodhead s version ofAmerican literaryhistory,I propose to analyze the literary careers oftwoAfrican American women writers, Frances Harper and Charlotte Forten, from 1864 to 1878. Their Reconstruction writings point to interests that are intensely political; they indicate the degree to which both women were vitallyconcerned with questions of nationhood and turned towriting —in particular periodical publication —to ponder how African American men and women could work together to achieve full citizenship in the newly reconstructed nation. Indeed, the politics of Reconstruction were a vital concern to African Americans of this period. As Eric Foner has noted, Reconstruction represented a national effort to fulfill the ideals of democracy by granting citizenship to black Americans and protecting their right to reap its benefits. These efforts were implemented even before the wars end with the Emancipation Proclamation, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and establishment of the Freedmens Bureau. They were continued underRadicalReconstruction (1866-72) with the enlargement ofthe Freedmens Bureau, passage ofthe Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and deployment of federal troops in the South to protect blacks. But Foner also emphasizes the degree to which Reconstruction wasa complex process involving both the active participation of African Americans and the hostile opposition of southerners. Radical Reconstruction enabled the achievement of significant black political power as well as grassroots activism. These efforts toward racial equality were strongly resisted under Presidential Reconstruction (1865), however, asAndrewJohnson ceded authorityback to the southern states, instituted Black Codes, opposed the work of the Freedmens Bureau, and refused to protect black civil rights.After 1873, resistance became even more pronounced as a result of several converging factors: the continued mourning of the lost cause by southerners; a rising tide of conservative opinion among northerners willing to accede to southern sensibilities; and dominance of a national economic agenda culminating in an alliance between northern and southern capital. The demise of Reconstruction wasinevitable by 1874 with the ascendancy of a Democratic Party determined to dismantle black civil rights, AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY RECONSTRUCTION : 41 the rise of white mob violence in the South, and finally the withdrawal of federal troops from the region in 1877.2 Both Harper and Forten engaged these issues directly in their Reconstruction periodical publications; yet their writing suffered strikingly...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
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.