Sullen Fires Across the
Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism
Newman argues that Romanticism was a definitively international cultural movement, and that most literary scholarship examining the period has been deformed by rigid disciplinary boundaries that follow national borders. Nevertheless, a critical assessment of transatlantic Romanticism as national agon was established by Harold Bloom and others, beginning in the 1970s. A second wave of scholars, including Stephen Fender, Paul Gilroy, and Richard Brantley, reversed this assessment in the 1990s, emphasizing instead the absolute transnationalism of literary production during the period. Finally a third wave, including Richard Gravil and Paul Giles, has emerged that synthesizes the strengths of its predecessors, setting a new standard for empirical cultural analysis that is freed of nationalist distortions but closely attentive to the power of nationalism as one of the most fundamental structures of identity during the Romantic century. The essays in Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic have moved beyond the simple notation of literary influence or ideological parallelism to perform a functional taxonomy of transatlantic Romanticism. Taken together, they help explain why the movement developed at different times and rates in different places around the Atlantic. Romanticism was a complex and multivalent response to, and articulation of, the combined and uneven rise of capitalist social relations. The first two sets of essays focus on literary nationalism and gender and nationalism. The third explores the rich cultural history of literary exchange between England and Latin America, pointing out new directions for the field.
Joselyn Almeida argues that "the Spanish American nexus that connected London, Kingston, and even Dublin with Spain, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa has been largely overlooked." She sets out to demonstrate the workings of this nexus by reconstructing Simón Bolívar's tremendously complex and canny self-fashioning for British and South American participants in London's multilingual magazine culture. Alternative versions of a biographical sketch of Bolívar appeared in the January 1823 numbers of the New Monthly Magazine and Variedades. Both articles were vetted by José Blanco White, but the second acknowledges Bolívar's 1810 visit to London, while the first suppresses this image of the great liberator's political ties to imperial Britain. Similarly, Bolívar's "Jamaica Letter," written in Kingston in 1815 and published in The Jamaica Quarterly and Literary Gazette in 1818, "aims to create a textual alliance between Britain and Latin America" and "uses the language of abolition as a critique of empire to gain sympathy for the Latin American cause." In short, Almeida demonstrates that transatlantic Romanticism will not have been fully constituted as a field until we recognize that because "intercultural exchanges cross linguistic borders" as easily as geographic ones, we cannot "invoke the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, and ignore the crucial presence of Hispano-Americans, whom Romantic authors themselves acknowledged."
In this essay, Jen Camden locates the erasure and then the return of secondary heroines, such as Louisa Grant in James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers, as part of a larger narrative pattern of forgetting in the nineteenth-century novel. Specifically, she examines Ann Radcliffe's A Sicilian Romance (1790), Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811), and The Pioneers to argue that each novel “forgets” a heroine, only to have her return at the end in a puzzling and uncanny “return of the repressed.” Rather than understanding this return in psychoanalytic terms, however, she examines these heroines in terms of competing ideals of national identity and femininity. Specifically, she shows that the primary heroines in these novels represent a socially-visible “sensibility” that represses the more invisible “sense” represented by the secondary heroines. In turn, these novels evoke readers' sensibilities, either to enforce or, in the case of Austen, to question the role of sensibility in shaping the national identities of England and America through literary heroines. In this way, she demonstrates that the transatlantic transmission of the figure of the forgotten heroine is illustrative of the cultural work performed by the novel as a genre in both England and America.
Although the nineteenth-century romantic novel in Brazil is intensely concerned with the creation of a national identity, this has little to do with the reproduction of a local reality. The early Brazilian novel seems rather to build a national identity through its relationship with novelistic models imported from Europe. This appropriation, however, is highly selective and avoids the dogmatic adoption of any given model: it is rather based on the freeplay among different models in a kind of game in which none of them is supposed to be taken seriously. In this game, the Brazilian nation is seen—or rather imagined—as an in-between place characterized by indefinition. At the same time, the analysis of two primordial Brazilian novels, Joaquim Manuel de Macedo's A Moreninha and José de Alencar's Lucíola, shows that this in-between space is connected to the indefinition of a paradisiacal place of origin and to the innocence of childhood, which appear as two essential values in the way the Brazilian nation is imagined in its formative stages by its writers.
In British and American maritime novels, commanding seafaring figures illustrate the ways that Romantic-era writers understood the links among manliness, feeling, and political organization. Friendship, in particular, provides an effective metaphor for both the organizing power of heroic individuals and the patriotic bonds that unify citizens. This essay compares the relationships among sailors in Walter Scott's novel The Pirate (1821) to the instances of intimate friendship among heroes in The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea (1823) by James Fenimore Cooper. In Scott's romance, piracy and democracy isolate worthy men from the histories and national traditions that make individual enterprise meaningful. Cooper responds to this conflation of democracy with piracy by imagining that, in the Revolutionary-era US Navy, the natural feelings of men in groups produce a smoothly-functioning meritocracy. Through scenarios that dramatize how republican men among men will faithfully recognize the merit of one another because—as good citizens—they love each other so much, in The Pilot Cooper stages the improving effects of US social relations upon institutions inherited from Britain. Both writers stress the relationship between manliness and meritocracy, but only Cooper trusts that the innate appeal of American white manhood will ensure the sustainability and justice of democratic social relations.
This essay seeks to reopen a transatlantic dialogue between Blake and Whitman, and illuminate a material point of contact (Whitman's tomb)through a close reading of these poets' rhetorical points of contact. The author focuses on Blake's engraving, "Death's Door," which served as a model for Whitman's tomb, Whitman's responses to Blake in his letters and notes, their shared status as prophetic poets, and their poetics of revision.
A comparison of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Robert Burns's "Tam O'Shanter" sheds light on the critical strategies the authors developed in adapting folk materials in a milieu awash with literary nationalism. Whereas literary nationalism is often intended to celebrate the native glory of an exceptional people, these works, drawing on the content and technique of folk legend, reveal the flipside of that project, illuminating the complex relationship between demons, demonizers, and cultural nation-making. Whereas Burns seems content to play with the dichotomies upon which the Scottish nation might be constructed—his hero comically impervious to any attempt to define a detestable other—Hawthorne seems more worried by a project that rests on such a strategy. The writers' attempt to forge national worship through folk legend and belief is considerably complicated, and subversively inspired, by the strange and mournful tales of the folk themselves.
While scholars of the British nineteenth century are already familiar with the rhetoric of otherness that characterized the writing of the Victorian empire in India and Africa, we are less accustomed to analyzing the rhetoric of sameness that characterized Romantic-era Britain's imperial interest in Spanish America. To begin to address the figure of cross-cultural similitude in Romantic British writing, this essay focuses on Robert Southey's 1805 poem Madoc, a Welsh-Mexican epic set in the twelfth century. The investigation starts with Edmund Burke's charges against Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, and uses Burke's plea for benevolent colonialism in India to understand the political context behind Madoc's celebration of "good" imperialism in Spanish America. While Southey's notion of benevolent imperialism worked to allay anxieties aroused by Britain's increasingly aggressive presence in Spanish America, however, the vision of natural moral rectitude it conjured up was fraught with contradictions. If the tacit agenda behind Madoc was to imagine how the ancient Britons could have conquered and colonized America more humanely than the Spanish, then the process of imagining this reality revealed uncomfortable similarities between sixteenth-century Spain and Romantic-era England. Even while the lessons of the Hastings trial weighed heavily on the British conscience, Britain was forwarding a policy of indirect rule and outright conquest in Spanish America. Madoc is thus as much the document of Southey's anxious struggle to exalt imperial protectionism as a unifier of conqueror and conquered as it is a tale of how Prince Madoc conquered Mexico, freed the native Hoamen from their Aztec tyrants, and founded a colony of "Welsh Indians." Southey's portrayal of "good" colonialism and Welsh-Mexican harmony ultimately exceeds its own rhetoric, revealing terrible violence on both sides, and requiring the annihilation of Prince Madoc's American progeny in order to purge Britain of its imperial guilt.
America's well-known quest for national literature began, as Benjamin Spencer relates, with the new republic's search for a surrogate British identity, making the great problem of American literature a problem of ontology—that is, a problem of being, as Poe observes, “a literary colony of Great Britain” (Poe 1044). For some nineteenth-century American thinkers, the unavoidable consequence of their colonial relationship with Britain was derivative literature: it was a question whether American literature exists or could ever be established. In this essay I'd like to offer another way of thinking about antebellum literary nationalism and America's obsession with literary independence by examining nationalism in John Louis O'Sullivan's Democratic Review, one of the most prestigious and influential magazines of the period. By shifting the issue of nationalism from writers and anxieties of aesthetic independence to anxieties about readers and ideological dependency, I hope to show how the Democratic Review introduced a particular brand of democratic personality and aesthetics which was reinforced by the literature printed in its pages. Antebellum nationalism, as it surfaced in Jacksonian rhetoric of the 1830s and early 1840s, acknowledged the aesthetic problem of originality and dependency, but it also turned to a separate, though related, critical concern: the popularity of British books and its effect on American readers. A material study of creative works in the Democratic Review alongside the writings of its editor O'Sullivan reveal a nationalist strategy that focused on combating British literary power over Americans. For O'Sullivan, national literature doubly counteracted British influence: by visualizing a morally distinct American identity determined by affective ties amongst its people and by fashioning a British Tory identity dramatically opposed to the American Democrat's. This essay explores O'Sullivan's vital contribution to Jacksonian nationalism through the assembly of authors like Hawthorne and a politicized literary charge that imagined Britain as the moral and sympathetic antithesis to the United States.
Vanity Fair's strong presence in the American market invites the dissolution of the monochromatic sentimentality that critics still too often expect of American women's novels at mid-century. The book's popularity provides an opportunity to examine what crtics and, presumably readers, valued about novels and why. LeFavour argues that Becky Sharp's "naturalness," and her explicit rejection of books and female self-improvement invite a reconconsideration of the naivite and simplicity critics have often assumed in their discussions of American domestic fiction. At the same time, debates over Becky's unconventional femininity draws attention to the contentious debates over the moral status of novels themselves and the kind of cultural work they performed.