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

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

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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.

Annotation: Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse’s “The Problem of Population and the Form of the American Novel” (2008)

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

Armstrong, Nancy and Leonard Tennenhouse. “The Problem of Population and the Form of the American Novel.” American Literary History 20:4 (Winter 2008): 667-685. Print.

In this article Armstrong and Tennenhouse argue that “novels written during the period of the early republic” resemble Barbary captivity narratives in that they “imagine a community in cosmopolitan terms” (668). The authors suggest that by examining these captivity narratives, it becomes possible to recognize how early American texts resist definition or interpretation from within a strict national framework. For instance, works such as Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive challenge “fixed national identities” and boundaries by ushering characters into a space of captivity in which “people… are defined, not so much by their nation of origin, or home, as by their encounters in a world produced by the circulation of goods and peoples” (672). In Armstrong and Tennenhouse’s perspective, this interaction within a cosmopolitan community, where individuals establish “kinship by trading women, goods, and information across the Atlantic world” becomes the quintessential feature of early American novels (674). The two also extend their argument further by considering the “problem of population… namely, the problem of containing the larger category of universal humanity within the smaller category of the nation” (676). In doing so, they discuss the evolution of the Barbary captivity narrative and its role in transforming the American novel into its “domestic” or “‘national’ form” (679). Ultimately, Armstrong and Tennenhouse’s analysis of the Barbary captivity narratives presents an intriguing framework for analyzing Margaretta’s period of confinement with Roulant’s mansion and, more broadly, Read’s attempt to address the “problem of population” through the structure and form of her novel.

Annotation: Jeremy D. Popkin’s “Facing Racial Revolution” (2003)

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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.

Popkin, Jeremy D. “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity Narratives and Identity in the Saint-Domingue Insurrection.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 36:4 (2003): 511-33. Print.

In his article Popkin discusses how the success of the Haitian Revolution deeply challenged Euro-American conceptions of race and the racial hierarchy itself. Whereas blacks were previously considered inferior, irrational beings, the insurrection showed that they could successfully organize to overthrow a white colonizing power and in effect seize one of Europe’s most lucrative colonial possessions at the time. Popkin specifically analyzes how first-person testimonies about the revolution reveal a crisis in identity as these authors struggle to reconcile their understanding of the Western “self” against the new black “other.” Because it was before inconceivable that blacks could even stage a revolution there was no formula for how to discuss or even think about it when it actually happened so writers needed to create conditions where it “became thinkable” (515). In his first-hand captivity narrative, Historick Recital, M. Gros suggested that “the real instigators of the insurrection were either the educated mulattoes or counter-revolutionary whites” (521). He asserted that the officials sent to St. Domingue deliberately acted passive because they wanted to spark chaos in the colony to demonstrate the inefficiency of the revolutionary party in France and precipitate the restoration of the monarchy. Popkin emphasizes, however, that Gros’ account also revealed that blacks could be just as skillful political and military leaders as whites, particularly with respect to Toussaint L’Overture. Popkin further notes that in Gros’ attempt to reach the highest ranks of administration and influence policy, he achieved “a position that required him to identify, at least to some extent, with the goals of a black-led movement,” as well as the black leaders themselves, who he recognized as generous, intelligent, and rational (518). Popkin also discusses how Michel Etienee Descourtilz’ first-person captivity narrative demonstrates a similar crisis in identity, where he encountered blacks who deeply challenged his preconceived racial stereotypes. While Descourtilz took comfort in his medical knowledge as evidence of the superiority of European science, like Gros, he was also deeply implicated in the black revolutionary movement as he helped the army resist French forces. Popkin ultimately contends that the most unsettling aspect of Gros’ and Descourtilz’s accounts is that they not only revealed how people of color could successfully repel a white colonizing power but also how they could manipulate whites into employing their knowledge about law and medicine to further their own revolutionary movement.

While Popkin focuses on how first person narratives “represent not only the construction but also the deconstruction of the autonomous white male personality” with particular regards to race, I am interested in examining how Sansay’s Secret History differs as a female account of the revolution, one written from the perspective of an American woman who writes about captivity from a detached position (527). I believe her novel offers a means of analyzing the fraught gender relations between men and women in St. Domingue as well as white women and women of color, which Popkin largely overlooks in his own article.

Annotation: Karen Weyler’s “A Speculating Spirit” (1996)

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

Weyler, Karen A. “‘A Speculating Spirit’: Trade, Speculation and Gambling in Early American Fiction.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 207-242. Print.

In this article Weyler argues that popular American novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play an important role in shaping “public economic discourse” (208). These works not only attempt to reconcile competing desires for material improvement with republican values, but also contribute to the “gendering of the American economic system” by figuring trade as a uniquely “masculine prerogative” (208). Weyler therefore draws a distinction between male and female responsibilities in the new nation. She asserts that while women are charged with remaining “sexually and emotionally chaste,” men have to confront the challenge of being “economically virtuous—meaning that they must balance self-interest and public interest” (208). Ultimately, it is this conception that men need to acquire capital through “virtuous trade” that pervades the politco-economic philosophy of early American novels. Weyler asserts that in response to the inherent problems within trade, namely, the selfish individualistic “ethics” it proposes as well as the material “importation of luxury goods,” novelists of the period strove to distinguish virtuous trade from “gambling, speculation, or inheritance” (210, 208). These authors emphasized the importance of “industry” for achieving successful business ventures and represented the “productive fruits of trade” as not only individualized gains, but patriotic symbols of “America’s trading freedom” (223). These qualities, among others Weyler describes, allowed novelists to set virtuous trade apart from the quick, often self-destructive profits gained through gambling, speculation or inheritance. Her article therefore provides unique insight into the way early American novels represent the nation’s role within the international market, but my research on Margaretta; or, The Intricacies of the Heart offers an opportunity to intervene in Weyler’s argument. Whereas she concerns herself with texts in which males dominate the global economy and trade is largely successful for industrious characters, Read’s novel diverges from these conventional narratives. In Margaretta we are introduced to a chaotic and unpredictable international market, in which males, regardless of their diligence or honorable intentions, emerge as victims of trade. Ultimately, it is this masculine colonial economy that our heroine successfully infiltrates to rescue her lover from the whims of the market, thereby implying a vital role for women in the circum-Atlantic world.

Annotation: Elizabeth Barnes’ “Politics of Sympathy” (1997)

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

Barnes, Elizabeth. “Politics of Sympathy.” States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 1-18. Print.

In the “Preface” to States of Sympathy Barnes claims that her goal in this book is to explore “not Europe’s dreams about America but America’s dreams about itself” (ix). By examining the intersections between “sociopolitical discourses” and “popular literary themes” of the early republic, she asserts that what concerned writers of the period was the very process of “imagination” (ix). For her, “[s]ympathetic identification—the act of imagining oneself in another’s position” became the means for individuals to recognize the “interdependence between their own and others’ identities” necessary for establishing a coherent national identity (ix). She elaborates on this notion of sympathetic identification in her chapter on the “Politics of Sympathy.” In order for sympathetic discourse to be effective, Barnes argues that there must be a connection, a sense of “familiarity” evoked through texts and felt by the reader (2). As a result, many political and literary discourses of the time were built around the concept of “family,” converging private domestic issues with public concerns (2). Ultimately, it is this appeal to sympathy through familial bonds that, Barnes suggests, provides the foundation for democracy. One of the most provocative claims she presents in this chapter involves her explanation for the prevalence of themes of incest and seduction in early American novels. Unlike, scholars such as Anne Dalke, who treat these themes as evidence of social unrest and public anxieties about dissolving class boundaries, Barnes argues that “incest and seduction represent the logical outcome of American culture’s most cherished ideals” (3). In a nation where sympathetic bonds are stressed and boundaries between “familial and social ties” are collapsed, “incest and seduction become the unspoken champions of a sentimental politics designed to make familial feeling the precondition for inclusion in the public community” (3). This account for the overwhelming interest in incest and seduction in early American novels will compel me to reexamine my own analysis of how these themes function in Margaretta. Barnes’ conception of the central role of women in the formation of a “national sensibility” will also help me develop my argument on Read’s eponymous heroine and her effort to construct a coherent American national identity (13).

Annotation: Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s “The Secret History of the Early American Novel”

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This annotation was written in reference to may paper on Leonora Sansay’s <em>Secret History</em>, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. “The Secret History of the Early American Novel: Leonora Sansay and Revolution in Saint Domingue.” <em>Novel</em> 40.1/2 (2006): 77-103. Print.

In her article Dillon asserts that while Sansay’s attention to balls and dress may appear frivolous and wholly disconnected from the revolution that rages throughout the island, both the domestic and colonial political narratives intersect and overlap in important ways. She reveals how Clara’s attempt to liberate herself from her abusive husband strongly parallels the revolutionaries’ efforts to establish a free, sovereign black nation-state. Dillon demonstrates that in the novel, colonization not only stands for the racist institution of slavery and economic exploitation but also the oppressive patriarchal order of colonial society. She emphasizes that female liberation is achieved as an unexpected consequence of the Haitian Revolution and “when Mary and Clara flee Saint Domingue for Cuba, they repeatedly find themselves in the company of unhusbanded women who appear to blossom in the absence of men who previously controlled them” (92). Dillon suggests that the novel presents America as the site where this female utopian community can be finally realized. I argue, however, that Sansay leaves us in a troubling de-localized space of transition, ending with a similar voyage on the high seas that opens the epistolary narrative. While the success of the revolution in St. Domingue will culminate in the establishment of a new contained black nation-state, Mary and Clara traverse borders and multiple terrains, forming transatlantic connections with other women that deeply challenge the notion of such a closed system, where America, as the final destination, becomes figured as more a point of continuous encounter and “exchange” in the words of Tennenhouse.

Dillon further argues that the elaborate descriptions of colonial palaces, finery and balls, in the novel, do “not bespeak sustained delusion (or colonial nostalgia) so much as an astute analysis of the relations of production and social reproduction that stand at the core of colonial politics” (78). She distinguishes “production” as economic, referring to, for example, the manufacturing of sugar, whereas “social production,” refers to the creation and perpetuation of the social relations, practices, ideologies, and environment necessary to sustain capitalism. Dillon explains that according to Marxism, the capitalistic enterprise of colonialism compels a geographic separation between the site of production and social production, where the colony serves as the economic factory or engine for wealth, while the colonizing country consumes and replicates the social conditions that enable capitalism to persist. She demonstrates that in Sansay’s novel, however, this geographic distinction is lost entirely as St. Domingue emerges as a place of both sugar production and Creole social production as exemplified by the madras headscarf, which becomes a popular consumer good.

Dillon defines Creole as a European born in the colony whose social production is considered “illegitimate precisely because reproduction has occurred at the site of capitalist production (the colony) rather than at the site of consumption (the metropole)” (86). She suggests further that the Creole occupies a liminal space as a “native who is non-native,” which is strongly reflected in their culture as the madras headscarf was used to restrain the sexuality of indigenous females and banned in Europe (95). Dillon ultimately offers the term Creole as a more productive means of conceptualizing American identity because it deftly captures the country’s vexed position as both a colonizing power and a postcolonial “nation.” Rather than “Americanization,” which suggests assimilation to some retrospective, conceived notion of a collective “national” identity, “Creolization” does not attempt to deny or erase America’s historical implication in complex systems of colonialism.

In her article, however, Dillon too readily dismisses the importance of fantasy in Secret History in favor of a more concrete analysis of production and social production. I argue that the novel is very much shaped and predicated on a fantasy structure, where the French, for example, imagine that they will be able to easily suppress the black revolutionaries, where Mary continuously fantasizes about a blissful colonial past, and where the “nation-state” itself is revealed to be merely a fantasy.