Current Issue Article Abstracts

Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2022


On Our Cover: William Sharp's illustrations for John Fisk Allen's Victoria Regia; or, The Great Water Lily of America (Boston, 1854)

Pleasure Reading

Rereading Anne of Green Gables for the First Time
Johanna McElwee

The Volatile Truth: Terrence Malick's Thoreauvian Cinema
Jonathan McGregor



Crayon, Looking: Washington Irving and the Queer Sublime
Chip Badley

This article explores the gender and sexual politics of the picturesque and the sublime, two aesthetic categories that predominate Washington Irving's writing. I focus on three of Irving's "sketch books" written under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Crayon: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819–20), Bracebridge Hall; or The Humourists, A Medley (1822), and Tales of a Traveller by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1824). Whereas the picturesque envisions a form of personhood rooted in aristocratic wealth and biological reproduction (from which, as a bachelor, Crayon is excluded), the domain I designate as the "queer sublime" locates, in the emotions associated with the sublime—terror, thrill, astonishment, fear, and the pleasure of annihilation—the very contours of Crayon's and Irving's male painters' visceral response to other men. As depicted in a sequence of tales from Tales of a Traveller, the queer sublime identifies a form of desire that disrupts the psychic boundaries between self and other and temporarily coheres via aesthetic philosophy. The article contributes to the literary history of sexuality by arguing that aesthetics helped organize nascent forms of queer desire and attachments prior to the so-called "invention of the homosexual" dated to the 1870s–90s.

Freedom Flora: Botanical Revision and Community in African American Friendship Albums
Katherine Isabel Bondy

This article explores the artist, teacher, and writer Sarah Mapps Douglass's multiple entries of botanical watercolors and poetry into the friendship albums of Amy Matilda Cassey and Mary Anne Dickerson. Douglass, Cassey, and Dickerson were all members of Philadelphia's "black elite." As free, middle-class African American women living in antebellum America, their albums and album entries have been critically considered for their displays of black female respectability and public-facing social networks. My own analysis of Douglass's botanical watercolors and poems, however, shifts focus from the public to the private, the exterior to the interior. Through close readings of Douglass's revisionary and citational practices in her entries, I re-direct attention to the imperceptible and immaterial qualities of her watercolors as figures of animation and freedom. I argue that Douglass's entries act as invitations to her African American female friends to turn toward their inner lives as sites of emancipatory expression, untethered by the oppressive restrictions of their outer worlds. By shifting attention to the internal life of both Douglass's flowers and the African American women they represent, I also draw out a more private network of African American female intimacy, support, and solidarity across differences in generation and geography.


Canon Anarchy: Lucy Parsons, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the General Strike in Black Literary History
Tim Bruno

Whom do we imagine as part of the general strike, and who imagined it? This essay rethinks W. E. B. Du Bois's limited vision of the general strike of the enslaved, which he implicitly depicts in Black Reconstruction as a men's story, by excavating the strike's Black literary history in the long nineteenth century. Doing so reveals the importance of the Black, Mexican, and Native American anarchist Lucy Parsons in theorizing and advocating the general strike decades before Du Bois. By juxtaposing Parsons with Du Bois, who wages and theorizes the general strike becomes much more expansive, and what the strike does becomes much more revolutionary. The implication for literary critics is significant: far from the niche concern of a few radicals, the general strike constitutes a recognizable and determining figure within Black literary history.

For the Love of Pleasure: Mary Ann Temple and American Erotic Fiction
Helen Hunt

This essay discusses Mary Ann Temple, a rare example of domestically-produced pornographic fiction from the mid-nineteenth century. As an erotic sentimental novel, Mary Ann Temple promotes the active sexuality of a white middle-class young woman. Told from Mary Ann's point of view, the female narrative voice articulates erotic desire and demonstrates how a young woman expresses sexual agency and achieve a happy ending. Most surprisingly, Mary Ann Temple cultivates same-sex desire between women. The plot uses voyeurism to represent feminine desire for women's erotic bodies, and it renders salacious female desire for another woman's erotic submission through a whipping scene. Furthermore, the narrative arc creates episodic sexual encounters that focus on kissing, breasts, and fondling while simultaneously refusing men's sexual satisfaction and ignoring male anatomy. This structure creates space for depictions of desire between women as well as lesbian-like identification within the heterosexual pornographic scenes. As a result, Mary Ann Temple represents queer female sexuality not as part of a lurid, subterranean erotic, but rather lodged in the heart of bourgeois femininity and the mainstream form of the sentimental novel. 

Realist Poetry and Paul Laurence Dunbar's Majors and Minors
Ariana Nadia Nash

Focusing on the previously unanalyzed structure of Paul Laurence Dunbar's 1895 poetry collection, Majors and Minors, this article argues that the division of poems between the two sections of the book performs, in the first section, an autocritique of idealist poetic conventions as impediments to addressing a living bodily reality, and announces, in the second section, a move toward a realist depiction of everyday life structured by socio-historical forces. This practice of realism in poetry is characterized by a focus on the individual as historical agent, a relocation of the spiritual from the religious to the everyday, an insistence on the value and creativity of dialect, and a racial indeterminacy that evades the kind of racist essentialism of which Dunbar and dialect poetry more generally have been accused. In this sense, this examination of Dunbar's realism takes up Elizabeth Renker's project of rediscovering nineteenth-century American poetry's contribution to realism but does so to refocus that project on poems that strive to depict historical forces in concrete terms. In turn, the claim that Dunbar's dialect poems are realist has a number of implications for theories of realism and their selective prose tradition.


James Monroe Whitfield's "The Vision": Apocalypse and the Black Periodical Press
Magdalena Zapędowska

The pessimism of James Monroe Whitfield's long, only partially preserved poem "The Vision" is possibly without parallel in antebellum African American literature. Mobilizing African American and broader American culture's preoccupation with the end of the world, Whitfield turns to allegory and apocalyptic prophecy to represent the massive scale of human sacrifice in a nation founded on enslavement and colonial domination. "The Vision" theorizes the regimes of oppression shaping the antebellum social order through what I term an apocalyptic aesthetic of annihilation, which emerges from the interaction of the poem's thematic, affective, and formal components. This aesthetic is concerned with imminent collapse of society and characterized by violent imagery, a tone of indignant despair, and an accelerated temporality conveyed by long, complex sentences and irregular, often inexact refrains. Serialized in Frederick Douglass' Paper and haunted by gaps resulting from the loss of its first canto, "The Vision" offers a chilling corrective to the newspaper's celebration of the progress of the antislavery cause, while the poem's prophecy of social destruction anticipates the possibility of its archival fragmentation.


Forum: Antebellum City Texts: Print Culture and Emergent US Urban Spaces

Brigitte Bailey


Intemperate Reform: Cripped Associations in Walt Whitman's Franklin Evans
Andrew Erlandson

Benjamin Rush's foundational work in temperance reform influenced early nineteenth-century reformers to associate democracy with the sober, able body. In the early 1840s, the explosive growth of Washingtonian Total Abstinence Societies, a working-class movement based out of Baltimore, began to shift temperance culture away from its earlier bourgeois formulations. Written for the Washingtonians, Walt Whitman's Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate (1842) attempts to refigure the relationship between the body and the body politic. Building upon work from disability studies and crip theory, this paper considers how Whitman's approach to the genre of the temperance novel and the underlying ideas of the movement were shaped by his relationship with his brother Eddy, a person with physical and mental disabilities. Through scenes set in a crowded and chaotic New York City, Whitman questions what role people with non-normative bodies and minds can have in a democracy. Through depictions of vulnerable, dependent, and abnormal bodies, Franklin Evans imagines a form of association that not only acknowledges but depends upon the embodiment of citizens to locate and address political, economic, and social systems in need of reform. 


Inverting the Urban Order—George Lippard's Philadelphia
Peter J. Bellis

George Lippard's novels reshape the space of Philadelphia in two different ways. For most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the city's image had been dominated by the geometric regularity of William Penn's plan for Center City. But Lippard shifts his focus outward, to the city's margins, to the working-class and ethnic districts of Southwark, Moyamensing, and Kensington. He also flips the spaces of the city's two-dimensional grid--onto a vertical axis--moving his narratives up and down inside a series of gothic interiors. Such remapping is an assertion of power: Penn's grid is an abstract "representation" of space that aims to control development and distribute the city's population; Lippard's novels, on the other hand, work to reclaim the city as "lived" space for its inhabitants. His interiorized Gothic conveys simultaneously the city's growing economic and residential segregation and the compression and overcrowding of its slums. The tangled plots of his fiction offer no through-lines of individual heroism or success; their excesses instead forcefully depict Philadelphia's socio-economic conflicts and the ever-widening gulf between classes.

New York and New Orleans: Abraham Oakey Hall and the Romance of the Capital City
Jennie Lightweis-Goff

This essay engages with a largely forgotten figure of nineteenth-century travel writing. Abraham Oakey Hall, who served as Mayor of New York City from 1869–1872, began his life with the hopes of being a writer. With family ties in both New York and New Orleans, he circulated between the two capitals of the nineteenth century, cities that are now regarded as ego-ideals for one another: the former the ever-moving 'capital of capital' and the latter the static repository of lost history. The Manhattaner in New Orleans (1851) locates the moment when these two 'new' cities were not opposites, but competitors. Hall uses his travelogue not only to promote Northern investment in Southern economies, but to persuade Americans to stake their claim in the formerly Latin city. He advocates a cash and land grab, a moment of wild acquisition before resources have been hoarded by a handful of entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, in nearly two hundred pages, he scarcely mentions slavery, the mechanism of capital acquisition in each of those industries. I argue for Hall's travelogue as a foundational text of neoliberalism–scarcely a new phenomenon, but the tried-and-true method by which capitalism elides the relationship between profits and human suffering.


Pastoral Escapes from the City: Alice Cary's Resistance to Patriarchal Romanticism in the New York Ledger
Ayendy Bonifacio

Nineteenth-century readers of the New York Ledger, the leading story paper of the time, regularly encountered Alice Cary's pastoral writing as metaphorical Romantic escapes from the cityscape. But Cary's writing did more than deliver pastoral reprieves to readers. Her Ledger columns also resist the patriarchal aestheticization of the pastoral and the rural. Via pastoral settings, Cary details how both nature and women denounce social standards of beauty and youth. In other words, the pastoral for Cary is anti-patriarchal. It is pure and beautiful not because it is young and youthful but because it is full of experience and knowledge, traits that she associates with feminine beauty. Ultimately, Cary's pastoral writing in the Ledger delivers readers outside of the city into a pastoral setting that definitively rejects patriarchal forms of Romanticism.