Site Update: Emergent Discourses

Hi all,

I just wanted to let you know that we recently added a new chatroll to Emergentia called “Emergent Discourses.” Feel free to post up questions, comments, suggestions or anything else you might want to say (hopefully related to what the blog is about). The chat is located on the right sidebar, but here is a link to it for those of you who are feeling lazy.

Anyway, we are just experimenting with the idea of having an open chat or forum where members can converse freely with each other rather than simply commenting on posts. Thanks everyone and I hope you enjoy using “Emergent Discourses.” 🙂

Annotation: Elizabeth Hewitt’s “Introduction: Universal Letter-Writers” (2004)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Hewitt, Elizabeth. “Introduction: Universal Letter-Writers.” Correspondence and American Literature, 1770-1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

In her introduction Hewitt argues that authors in America’s early nationhood “so often turn to the epistolary form” because it allowed them to “theorize the kinds of social intercourse necessary to the articulation of a national identity and a national literature” (2). She claims that the genre of epistolarity is unique in that it conveys the “utopian possibilities of American democracy” while also exposing the obstacles to attaining national union (6). For instance, Hewitt demonstrates how letter writing is an act that simultaneously emphasizes the individualism of the writer and the reciprocity of his or her relationship with the reader. Yet, this reciprocity in correspondence can also be a façade that obscures submission or discord (6). Hewitt’s fascinating analysis of the inherent contradictions in epistolarity and conception of letters as “a crucial site by which democratic theory passes into social practice,” ultimately provides an important framework for my examination of Read’s Margaretta as an epistolary novel (6-7). I will extend Hewitt’s argument on letters to a consideration of how the structure of correspondence in Margaretta, namely, the shift from a multiplicity of letters at the beginning of the story to the middle section dominated by the heroine’s perspective, lends itself to the re-imagining of a coherent American national identity.

Annotation: Joseph Fichtelberg’s “Heart-felt Verities” (2010)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Fichtelberg, Joseph. “Heart-felt Verities: The Feminism of Martha Meredith Read.” Legacy 15:2 (1998): n. pag. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Fichtelberg analyzes the “feminist implications” of Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. His argument relies heavily on a comparison between Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Read’s response to this text, “A Second Vindication,” as works that propose two distinct forms of feminism. While Fichtelberg identifies a number of disparities between each writer’s philosophy, he claims that “the largest difference… involves Read’s approach to reason.” Whereas Wollstonecraft views reason as a “clarion call to equality,” one that “renders all forms of slavery scandalous,” Read remains skeptical of the power of intellect to overcome “the fluctuations of fancy… the flights of imagination.” Instead, she views the “parental bond” as “irreducible truth,” a concept that Fichtelberg identifies as entirely adverse to Wollstonecraft’s brand of feminism. But rather than making a value judgment on either author’s viewpoints, he conducts a more nuanced reading of the political and cultural implications of these differences. His analysis of Read’s “Second Vindication” highlights the contradiction between “nature” and “custom” that lies at the center of her critique. Whereas custom refers to “unreflective [everyday] behavior” that “distorts the family,” nature represents the “‘qualities of the heart,’ those intrinsic values unaffected by ‘corroding’ social practices.” This examination of the fundamental oppositions that shape Read’s feminism will ultimately help me unpack her concluding passages to Margaretta.

Annotation: Bernard Duyfhuizen’s “Epistolary Narratives of Transmission and Transgression” (1985)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Duyfhuizen, Bernard. “Epistolary Narratives of Transmission and Transgression.” Comparative Literature 37:1 (Winter 1985): 1-26. Print.

In this article Duyfhuizen asserts that “All epistolary novels contain a double narrative: a narrative of the events and a narrative of the letters that precipitate or report the events” (1). He explores in particular, how this double narrative functions in a specific type of epistolary fiction, namely, Briefwechselroman, “whose distinctive features are an exchange of letters among multiple correspondents… and an editorial framework to transmit letters to the reader” (1). In addition to recognizing the “narrative of sexual transgression” that novels, such as Richardson’s Clarissa and Rousseau’s Julie relate, Duyfhuizen therefore asks us to examine the narrative of the letters’ transmission (2). Even though Read’s Margaretta does not perfectly fit the model of a Briefwechselroman, in that there is no clear tale about “how the letters become available to an ‘Editor,’” Duyfhuizen’s conception of the double narrative in epistolary fiction nevertheless provides a valuable framework for my analysis of the novel (10). Besides examining how the characters’ correspondence fuels a narrative of sexual transgression, I will conduct a formal analysis of Margaretta that focuses on the way Read organizes the letters within her novel as well as the moments in which she reasserts her authorial voice. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate how the double narrative in Margaretta actively participates in the re-imagining of a coherent American national identity at a time when economic crises and social unrest threatened the young nation’s very survival. In this way, I will prove the validity of Duyfhuizen’s claim that, “The double narrative of transmission and transgression… marks the power of personal texts to disrupt and reorder one’s existence” (26).

Annotation: Gretchen Woertendyke’s “Romance to Novel” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Looking Behind the Bedroom Door: Productive Sensationalism and Domestic Violence in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History.” See my prospectus here.

Woertendyke, Gretchen. “Romance to Novel: A Secret History.” Narrative 17:3 (2009): 255-73. Print.

In her article, Woertendyke asserts that Sansay’s Secret History stems from the 18th century British genre of the secret history with notable divergences. She explains that secret histories are Old World forms that connected tales of “political subterfuge, corruption and sexual scandal” to the private affairs and actions of political figures (260). Woertendyke provides Delariviere Manley’s The Secret History of Queen Zarah, and the Zaracines as one example of a secret history that introduces readers to “the uncomfortable intimacy between Queen Anne’s bedchamber and her governance of the nation,” where private and public history converge, mutually affecting and shaping each other (260). Woertendyke links Sansay’s Secret History with this tradition because of the author’s employment of real historical figures in the plot of her narrative and particularly, her bold confession that these letters are addressed to the former vice president Aaron Burr, a man who she had an actual affair with during her lifetime. Woertendyke critiques Dillon for analyzing Secret History as only a novel, insisting that Sansay deliberately compels readers to view her text as a “mixed genre” (257). Secret History calls attention to Sansay’s real sexual scandal with Burr as well as the real secret history of female oppression and exploitation often repressed beneath conventional conceptions of the Haitian revolution as a colonial race war. Woertendyke reveals that similar to Manley’s narrative, Secret History accentuates the intimate interrelations between the private and public sphere. She discusses how Clara’s body bears her private history of domestic abuse as well as the public history of colonization as General Rochambeau attempts to conquer her as well as the island, even imposing a trade embargo to prevent her escape. Woertendyke also notes that Sansay’s narrative diverges from the Old World form of secret history because of its “physical distance from a metropolitan center, and its temporal distance from the genre’s nearly comprehensive decline over half a century earlier”  (255). She emphasizes that Sansay’s broad geopolitical considerations offer readers a helpful transatlantic framework from which to consider the Haitian revolution. Woertendyke further suggests that temporally, Sansay’s Secret History introduces a new genre that conflates history and fiction in revealing ways. She, for example, narrates through the voice of two characters, Clara and Mary, to offer multiple perspectives on the various forms of oppression women face.

Like Dillon, Woertendyke concludes her essay asserting that the novel projects the possibility of realizing a feminist utopia in America but I would argue that Sansay’s ultimately resists such conceptions of a closed nation-state. I agree with Woertendyke that the historical allusions and references within the narrative compel an analysis of Secret History as something more than just fiction. She also touches on how Sansay depicts women committing extreme acts of violence against one other but I intend to elaborate on this point further in my own paper.