Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2012-09-07 23:42Z by Steven

Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building (review)

The Americas
Volume 62, Number 2, October 2005
pages 280-281
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2005.0157

Nancy E. Castro
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building. By Debra J. Rosenthal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. x, 182. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

This study adds to the growing body of scholarship in transamerican studies that, as Rosenthal puts it, “rezones the hemisphere” (p. 1). Her specific contribution focuses on nineteenth-century U.S. and Spanish American narrative, specifically Andean and Cuban works. Its theme, like that of the 2002 critical anthology she co-edited with Monika Kaup, is race mixture or miscegenation, which Rosenthal deems “formative in the history of the Americas primarily in terms of cultural constitution, political organization, nation building, civil identity, and . . . literary expression” (Ibid.). “Racial hybridity,” she argues, “can be situated at the heart of the literature of the Americas” (Ibid.). In that literature, she explains, “mixed-race characters” “somaticize” novelistic dialogism by serving as corporeal sites where “competing discourses of race” meet (p. 11). Rosenthal rightly notes, as have others, “nowhere is the anxiety of miscegenation concentrated greater than in the female body” (Ibid.). Accordingly, women’s emplotment in scripts of cross-racial desire, marriage, and incest figures prominently in the book’s analyses.

The Introduction reviews the terms associated with hybridity in a New World context, explaining why, at the risk of anachronism and mis-translation, “miscegenation,” which implies both sexual union and social taboo, is most apropos for Rosenthal’s study. Chapter 1 reads representations of American Indians by Cooper, Child, Sedgwick, Jackson, and Twain alongside those in Mera’s Cumandá and Matto de Turner’s Aves sin nido, arguing that these authors “based [national] literary sovereignty on Indian-white racial mixing” (p. 18). This chapter brings the Andean literary movements of indianismo and indigenismo to bear on representational shifts in U.S. narratives of the 1820s and 1880s. The most compelling aspects of Rosenthal’s study emerge in this discussion: first, a keen attention to generic conventions and how their deformation or misrecognition adds new twists to authorial deployments of cross-racial themes, and second, an illuminating elucidation of incest motifs in literary mixed-race unions. The remaining chapters focus on black-white race mixture. Chapter 2 explores Whitman’s appropriation of temperance-novel conventions in Franklin Evans, which figures miscegenation as racial intemperance, “a dark blot on the U.S. character and a threat to a healthy U.S. C/constitution” (p. 68). Chapter 3 treats Cuban exile Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda’s distinctly feminist creole nationalism, apparent in her depiction of Sab, the mulatto namesake of her anti-slavery novel. Chapter 4 provides a lively discussion of Child’s manipulation of the discourse of botanical hybridity, the “language of flowers,” and the literary equation of women’s writing with flora to envision a mixed-race future for the nation in A Romance of the Republic. Finally, Chapter 5 illustrates how William Dean Howells’s generic realism runs aground on An Imperative Duty’s unwitting repetition of the “tragic mulatta” literary topos while contrasting it with Harper’s own appropriation of it in Iola Leroy.

Rosenthal’s book successfully highlights “kinships often difficult to identify when authors are classified exclusively according to national boundaries” (p. 143). Its refreshing juxtapositions render visible texts that are “culturally distinct but narratively analogous” (Ibid.), even if the examples are weighted on the U.S. side. Nonetheless, Rosenthal’s self-identified “appositional” method (p. 14, 21), which focuses on thematic and formal continuities, at times wants for historical contextualization. Rosenthal rightly asserts that “an understanding of race mixture’s impact on the hemisphere’s literary imagination is crucial” (p. 148), but such comprehension requires greater attention to period specifics than her book unevenly provides (Chapter 1 is strongest on this count). An acknowledgment, for instance, that Child’s romance is a Reconstruction text while Howells’s attempt at realism is decidedly a post-Reconstruction “nadir” artifact would have been relevant, as would some recognition that as the…

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The White Blackbird: Miscegenation, Genre, and the Tragic Mulatta in Howells, Harper, and the “Babes of Romance”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2010-01-07 22:40Z by Steven

The White Blackbird: Miscegenation, Genre, and the Tragic Mulatta in Howells, Harper, and the “Babes of Romance”

Nineteenth-Century Literature
Volume 56, Number 4 (March 2002)
Pages 495–517
DOI 10.1525/ncl.2002.56.4.495

Debra J. Rosenthal, Associate Professor of English
John Carroll University

In this essay I construct a literary genealogy that situates William Dean Howells in the middle of a call-and-response literary conversation with popular women writers about race, gender, and genre. Since Howells correlated racial questions with realism, his only novel that treats intermarriage, An Imperative Duty (1891), offered Howells an opportunity to deploy his presumably objective, scientific, realist knowledge about race in order to challenge women’s romantic miscegenation plots found in Margret Holmes Bates’s The Chamber over the Gate (1886) and Alice Morris Buckner’s Towards the Gulf (1887), two novels that he had recently read and reviewed. Yet the tragic mulatta stereotype, a stock figure of romanticism and sentimentality that was resistant to scientific discourse, ruptures Howells’s goal of representing the figure according to the tenets of realism. In Iola Leroy (1892), Frances Ellen Watkins Harper cunningly recasts the tragic mulatta stereotype both to critique Howells’s project and to represent the potential of black womanhood. Knowledge of Bates and Buckner can change critical conversation about the influence of women writers on Howells, the understanding of the role of the racialized woman in his fiction, and his conception of the link between the romantic mulatta and realist representation. Likewise, Harper takes issue with Howells’s supposed ironic sophistication about race, and in Iola Leroy she rewrites many of his views in order to show the ways that miscegenation is at once a novelistic and a national problem.

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Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-21 03:07Z by Steven

Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. and Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, and Nation Building

University of North Carolina Press
October 2004
192 pages
5.5 x 8.5, notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN:  978-0-8078-5564-5

Debra J. Rosenthal, Associate Professor of English
John Carroll University

Race mixture has played a formative role in the history of the Americas, from the western expansion of the United States to the political consolidation of emerging nations in Latin America. Debra J. Rosenthal examines nineteenth-century authors in the United States and Spanish America who struggled to give voice to these contemporary dilemmas about interracial sexual and cultural mixing.

Rosenthal argues that many literary representations of intimacy or sex took on political dimensions, whether advocating assimilation or miscegenation or defending the status quo. She also examines the degree to which novelists reacted to beliefs about skin differences, blood taboos, incest, desire, or inheritance laws. Rosenthal discusses U.S. authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Walt Whitman, William Dean Howells, and Lydia Maria Child as well as contemporary novelists from Cuba, Peru, and Ecuador, such as Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Clorinda Matto de Turner, and Juan León Mera. With her multinational approach, Rosenthal explores the significance of racial hybridity to national and literary identity and participates in the wider scholarly effort to broaden critical discussions about America to include the Americas.

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Mixing Race, Mixing Culture: Inter-American Literary Dialogues

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Canada, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2009-10-21 02:07Z by Steven

Mixing Race, Mixing Culture: Inter-American Literary Dialogues

University of Texas Press
6 x 9 in.
324 pp., 4 photos, 1 chart
ISBN: 978-0-292-74348-9
Print-on-demand title

Edited by

Monika Kaup, Assistant Professor of English
University of Washington, Seattle

Debra Rosenthal, Assistant Professor of English
John Carroll University

Over the last five centuries, the story of the Americas has been a story of the mixing of races and cultures. Not surprisingly, the issue of miscegenation, with its attendant fears and hopes, has been a pervasive theme in New World literature, as writers from Canada to Argentina confront the legacy of cultural hybridization and fusion.

This book takes up the challenge of transforming American literary and cultural studies into a comparative discipline by examining the dynamics of racial and cultural mixture and its opposite tendency, racial and cultural disjunction, in the literatures of the Americas. Editors Kaup and Rosenthal have brought together a distinguished set of scholars who compare the treatment of racial and cultural mixtures in literature from North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America. From various angles, they remap the Americas as a multicultural and multiracial hemisphere, with a common history of colonialism, slavery, racism, and racial and cultural hybridity.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • I. Mixed-Blood Epistemologies
    1. Werner Sollors, Can Rabbits Have Interracial Sex?
    2. Doris Sommer, Who Can Tell? The Blanks in Villaverde
    3. Zita Nunes, Phantasmatic Brazil: Nella Larsen‘s Passing, American Literary Imagination, and Racial Utopianism
  • II. Métissage and Counterdiscourse
    1. Françoise Lionnet, Narrating the Americas: Transcolonial Métissage and Maryse Condé‘s La Migration des coeurs
    2. Michèle Praeger, Créolité or Ambiguity?
  • III. Indigenization, Miscegenation, and Nationalism
    1. Priscilla Archibald, Gender and Mestizaje in the Andes
    2. Debra J. Rosenthal, Race Mixture and the Representation of Indians in the U.S. and the Andes: Cumandá, Aves sin nido, The Last of the Mohicans, and Ramona
    3. Susan Gillman, The Squatter, the Don, and the Grandissimes in Our America
  • IV. Hybrid Hybridity
    1. Rafael Pérez-Torres, Chicano Ethnicity, Cultural Hybridity, and the Mestizo Voice
    2. Monika Kaup, Constituting Hybridity as Hybrid: Métis Canadian and Mexican American Formations
  • V. Sites of Memory in Mixed-Race Autobiography
    1. Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Living on the River
    2. Louis Owens, The Syllogistic Mixedblood: How Roland Barthes Saved Me from the indians
  • Coda: From Exoticism to Mixed-Blood Humanism
    1. Earl E. Fitz, From Blood to Culture: Miscegenation as Metaphor for the Americas
  • Contributors
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Read the entire introduction here.

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