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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Fall 2016 Issue 4.2

Individual, Institution, and Society: Religion and Political Economy in Harriet Beecher Stowe

David Weimer

This article discusses how Harriet Beecher Stowe and her contemporaries envisioned the present and future of society in terms of the institutions of religion and political economy. Drawing on the rhetoric surrounding the disestablishment of the state church in Massachusetts, on the political economy of Francis Wayland and Francis Bowen, and on Stowe’s fiction and essays, I argue that an overemphasis on the individual in Stowe’s thought has eclipsed how Stowe—and many others—depicted society through institutions. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe weighs the family and the voluntary church against slavery and the economy as institutions in order to illustrate a society purified of slavery’s detrimental influence precisely through the institutions that criticism on Stowe has neglected. Put bluntly, we need to read Stowe’s novel in terms of Tom’s cabin and not just in terms of Tom as an individual martyr. Only by investigating such institutional thinking about society in the nineteenth century, I suggest, can we understand the relationship between religion, literature, and society in the wake of the secularization thesis.

Drawing the Short Straw: Casting Lots and Cannibal Democracy in Antebellum Maritime Literature

Jacob Rama Berman

The essay analyzes antebellum American accounts of drawing straws in the context of American democracy’s rhetorical claims. The game of drawing straws links bodies in perverse formulas of inter-dependence; black and white, cabin boy and captain, man and woman. However macabre the outcome of the game may be, the formulas themselves contain modes of relational thinking that both expose the limits of democracy and express its possibilities. Reading across a varied archive of Anglophone sea narratives, shipwreck accounts, and first hand relations of ritual straw drawing, I theorize the way in which these texts conceptualize democracy within a complex racial and compromised juridical environment. I focus on sea lotteries where “one must die for the preservation of the rest.” Though that formula of survival reads as a kind of devil’s bargain of democracy, it also rhetorically buries the voice of the eaten and incorporated on top of whose bones democracy is built. It is the perspective from the bottom of the food chain that I aim to resurrect. The eaten and incorporated are best positioned, I argue, to express how sea lotteries become vehicles for articulating antebellum anxieties about democracy and the expanding American body politic.

Hawthorne's English Material: The Civil War in Our Old Home

Anita Durkin

Our Old Home extends Hawthorne’s early skepticism and resistance to rigidity in context of and registering a deep anxiety about the Civil War and its destruction. Through its well-remarked division of the material and the ideal along nationalistic lines, whereby all that is English is flesh and blood and all that is American is abstract and theoretic, the volume engages and ultimately critiques the too rigid adherence to principle that Hawthorne reads in the “patriotic” enthusiasm of his contemporaries. The war looms for Hawthorne as an apocalyptic force, sustained by uncompromised ideals, and Hawthorne addresses it on a philosophical level in Our Old Home.

Boarding House Fiction and the American Family in the Boarding-House of the Seven Gables

Erin Sweeney

With the rise of separate spheres ideology in the first half of the nineteenth century, cultural venues from Webster’s American Dictionary to prominent magazines that published dozens of anti-boarding-house stories attempted to redefine “family” to more closely fit the ideal of the single family household by excluding boarders and lodgers. In contradistinction, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851) expands the possibilities for family in the intimate domestic-commercial space of the Pyncheon mansion, which has been converted from a private dwelling into a boarding-house that shelters lodger Holgrave Maule. A comparison between Hawthorne’s novel and “Taking Boarders,” T. S. Arthur’s 1851 cautionary tale about the publicity and danger of boarding, shows how Hawthorne evokes and then diminishes key concerns of boarding-house fiction to offer the model of the extended and extendable American boarding-house family as an alternative to foundational Pyncheon ideas of aristocratic blood-based kinship or to social relations based on the purely economic relations depicted in the cent-shop.

What's Mine: Involuntary Expressions, Modern Personality, and the Right to Privacy

Monica Huerta

This essay uncovers the curious inclusion of the phrase “casual and involuntary expressions” in the first legal treatise arguing for a right to privacy. Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren’s 1890 Harvard Law Review article used these unpredictable and almost-undetectable movements to reinforce the need for a new right to be called “privacy” and to distinguish privacy from extant legal protections in response to the pressures of a new media environment. If the point-and-shoot camera could “take” expressions a person did not know she was making, it called into question the extent to which those expressions were ever really her own, and if they were, it instantiated a new sense of what expressing might mean. My reading first shows that the article transformed the question of whether photographs captured, shaped, or created expressions on faces into a legal question by equating one’s involuntary expressions with “personal expressions” covered by copyright. This essay reorients our sense of what privacy protects and what a privacy right might still mean in our contemporary moment, by arguing that instantaneous photography structured both the right to privacy and a sense of modern personality through foregrounding one’s involuntary expressions.

Joaquín's Head: Theatrical Punishment, Public Address, and Novelistic Politics in the United States–Mexico Borderlands

Timothy Donahue

This essay reconsiders the relation between novel and state by examining the circulation of the story of Joaquín Murieta, a Gold Rush-era borderlands bandit. First novelized in John Rollin Ridge’s 1854 The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Joaquín story would be retold in a series English, French, and Spanish adaptations published in California, Paris, Madrid, and New York. I trace the story’s movement through these locales, focusing on the novels’ varying engagements with the history of public punishment in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The Joaquín novels published in the borderlands are distinguished from those published elsewhere by their scenes of theatrical address, which recall elements of the punishments the historical U.S. state staged to dramatize its authority in the territories annexed from Mexico in 1848. Yet I argue that there is here no simple homology between literary and political forms, for these novelistic punishment scenes publicize the details of initial U.S. efforts to establish sovereignty in such a way that, paradoxically, they reveal just what the state would hide: the limits of its authority. These Joaquín novels thus complicate accounts of the nineteenth-century novel that find the genre’s form to reproduce the perspectives of dominant political institutions.

Yearning to Breathe Free: Emma Lazarus's Queer Innovations

Zachary Turpin

This article reintroduces fifteen uncollected poems by Emma Lazarus. Besides their being largely forgotten, these poems—particularly “Carmela,” “Dolores,” and “Three Friends”—will be of interest to scholars for dealing openly with queer desire. Until now, Lazarus is thought to have written only one explicitly queer poem, “Assurance,” a work that stayed in manuscript until long after her death. These three “new” poems indicate that Lazarus was comfortable with publicly expressing and exploring same-sex attraction, suggesting that it is time to acknowledge Lazarus as a queer poet. More generally, this group of uncollected pieces gives a clearer picture of the middle period of Lazarus’s career—just prior to the moment, in or around 1880, when her poetry begins to engage more directly with Judaic life and culture. Here, Lazarus moves beyond her rather tentative early style to a more assertive, complex, and creative mode of writing. By bringing these uncollected pieces back into critical conversation, I hope to encourage a fuller engagement with Lazarus’s growth toward freer sexual expression and artistic maturity.