Protected: Annotation: Matthew Pratt Guterl’s “The American Mediterranean” (2008)

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Annotation: Rosemarie Zagarri’s “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Zagarri, Rosemarie. “Introduction.” Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 1-10. Print.

In her “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash Zagarri discusses how the American Revolution transformed popular opinion about the role of women in politics and “initiated a widespread, ongoing debate over the meaning of women’s rights” (2). While females were unable to participate legally by “voting and holding public office,” she reveals that they nevertheless helped shaped the character of the young nation through informal channels, whether by organizing themselves or influencing their husbands and sons (2). Ultimately, the contributions females made during the Revolution appeared to herald a similar revolution for women in terms of political status and rights, a development often neglected by historians and scholars. Zagarri demonstrates how the formulation of “republican wife” or “republican mother” creates a space for women in the political life of the young republic, albeit one that remains consistent with the “gender status quo” (5). Those women who attempted to step beyond the confines of domesticity to actively pursue politics were denounced as “female politicians” and seen as a threat to the moral and social order of the new nation (5). Therefore, while the American Revolution did open up new possibilities for women and even brought debates about women’s rights into the public arena, the backlash was quick to come. New discourses emerged encouraging women to return to hearth and home, and serving the nation from within the domestic realm was once again seen as their most productive and practical use. Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash attempts to shed light on this period in history, to examine the “rapid shift in perceptions, and self perceptions, of women’s political role” (9). In my discussion of Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta I hope to examine how the epistolary novel, though published in 1807, continues to explore the themes of women’s rights and reinforces the prominent role women played in shaping American national identity.

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

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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.

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)

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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: 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: 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: 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.