Nineteenth-Century Prose

Home » Volume 48 1 & 2 (Spring/ Fall 2021)

Volume 48 1 & 2 (Spring/ Fall 2021)

Abstracts

Ryan Burt, “Anthropology, Allotment Policy, and the Autobiography of Charles Eastman” (1-44)

This article demonstrates how Dakota writer Charles Eastman’s autobiography From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916) draws on and questions ethnographic discourses that shaped federal policy and public opinion toward Native Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using his own “ethnographic” aesthetic, Eastman challenges the way evolutionary ethnographers cast tribes as societies “from the deep woods” and far outside of “civilization.” Upending this suspect developmental narrative, one that undergirded assimilative Allotment Policy, he asserts the value of Dakota and indigenous cultural practices. In so doing Eastman plants the seed for a “third space of sovereignty” for Native communities.

Douglass Madison Furrh, “The Know-Nothing Party in Herman Melville’s Late Fictions” (45-72)

The Know-Nothing Party—a radicalized, nativist, Anglo-Saxon wing of the disintegrated Whig Party—won a series of resounding victories across the nation during the 1854 elections, but nowhere was the Know-Nothing ticket more successful than in Massachusetts, Melville’s home state. In fact, “all state officers … all the congressmen, all the members of the state senate and all but three members of the lower house bore the Know Nothing stamp” (Mulkern 1). That Melville was aware of and depicting Know Nothing politics in his later fictions is made obvious in his final novel the ConfidenceMan (1857) when an alarmist character in the chapter on “The True Character of the Herb Doctor” states, “I shrewdly suspect him […] for one of those Jesuit emissaries prowling all over our country” (142). In this essay, I look at the Know Nothing Party, its nativist and white supremacist features, and their representation in Melville’s Moby Dick, Benito Cereno, and “The Piazza.”

Lindsay Katzir, “Learning by Heart: Grace Aguilar’s Ideal Jewish Education” (73-104)

Anglo-Jewish theologian Grace Aguilar (1816-47) is known for her affinity for Christianity and her universalist approach to the Bible, leading scholars to assert that her works elide doctrinal differences between Judaism and Christianity. But in response to the formation of missionary groups that sought to convert Jews to Christianity, Aguilar produced several educational tracts, The Spirit of Judaism (1842), The Perez Family (1843), The Women of Israel (1845), and The Jewish Faith (1846). Conversion societies targeted Jewish women and children, those Jews who were most likely to be unschooled in religious texts and traditions, and so Aguilar also reached out to women as the most receptive to her message. Because the commandment of Torah study is incumbent on men only, formal orthodox Jewish educational frameworks for girls were a rarity as late as the early twentieth century. Aguilar saw this gap in education as an opportunity to create new leadership roles for women and new educational experiences for girls. In her nonfiction prose, she argues that the cornerstone of Jewish education should be the Bible, rather than the Talmud or other rabbinical texts, as is customary, because the Bible is Judaism’s most universally accessible book. As a result, Aguilar’s work on the Bible helped to launch women’s leadership in vernacular, Bible-centered, and faith-centered public education for Jewish youth. This article argues that she adopted a Christian vernacular in an effort to distinguish Judaism from Christianity, and it shows how each of Aguilar’s educational tracts communicates the importance of education to Jewish continuity.

Jingjing Zhao, “The Nature of Civilization: Emily Brontë’s Essay, ‘The Palace of Death’” (105-115)

This essay primarily focuses on the depiction of Civilization in one of Emily Brontë’s Belgian essays, “The Palace of Death.” By positioning Civilization as the intimate ally of Intemperance, Emily Brontë has inserted a considerable twist into the essay’s main narrative plot, which bespeaks the author’s own contemplation on the the nature of civilization in relation to humanity’s demise. By conducting a detailed analysis of the relevant paragraph of the essay, as well as linking it to the related themes in the author’s novel and in one of her poems, I explore Brontë’s subtle understanding of the nature of human civilization and the essence of modern progress, as well as her cautionary warning toward the future path of humankind.

Colleen Shuching Wu, “‘Words Are Finite Organs of the Infinite Mind’: Emerson’s Paradoxical View of Language” (117-141)

Emerson’s writing is not only about content but also about language. In this essay, I examine Emerson’s paradoxical ideas about language in relation to how he writes. According to Emerson, language is a symbolic system that aims to achieve an ideal unity between nature and thought, which in turn leads to his claims about the limits of language. Nonetheless, his claim of the limitations of language is contradicted by what he performs with words in a text, as he allows contradictions and redefinitions to be created in varying contexts. Emerson’s essayist is free to search and is not bound by the absolute, so that the more essayists search, the more they violate and betray what motivates and justifies the search—i.e., the functioning of language as a symbolic system that should aim for the union between nature and the mind. Emerson allows a thought to be revised, redefined, contradicted, or replaced in his essays, but his view of language suggests no such possibility. What he performs with words in essays thus goes against what he claims about words. This contradiction speaks to the very dilemma in which he situates himself and thus indirectly explains his writing style—a style that goes against what he himself sets forth, a style that allows a text to shift, to question definitions and concepts, to challenge systems of thought, and even to go against itself.

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