Empire and the Literature of Sensation, an Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction

Article excerpt

Empire and the Literature of Sensation, an Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction Jess Alemàn and Shelley Streeby, Eds. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

Empire and the Literature of Sensation is a critical anthology of nineteenth-century popular, sensational literature that deals with war and empire-building by the United States-long before most history books date this activity, namely the Spanish-American War of 1898. This book demonstrates how much of the preceding century consisted of the enactment of Manifest Destiny doctrine and formalized issues of gender, race, and class that haunt us today, whether in the media activity supporting contemporary imperialism in Iraq or in the immigration debates in which the immigrant is cast as "other," as non-American.

The anthology builds naturally from the authors' work: Alemàn specializes in nineteenthcentury American and Chicano/a literatures, with a focus on the United States-Mexico War (184648) as an important intersection in the formation of Anglo and Mexican American literary and cultural identities. Streeby specializes in, among other areas, Sensationalism, Popular Culture, Inter-American Studies, and US Imperialism.

Indeed, Empire and the Literature of Sensation highlights five of the texts Streeby discusses in her earlier cultural study, texts not otherwise available or easily accessible. There are two pamphlet narratives in the early sensational market fictional autobiographical style which are first-person accounts of crossed-dressed females engaging in military actions, one reportedly by Sophia Delaplain and the other, The Female Warrior, by Leonora Siddons. There are two story paper novelettes by popular and prolific sensational male writers: Magdalena, The Beautiful Mexican Maid by Ned Buntline and 'Bel of Prairie Eden by George Lippard. The anthology concludes with one of the first of Beadle's dime novels, The Prisoner of La Vintresse, written by May Andrews Denison, one of many women constituting some forty percent of the dime novel authors in this era.

The editors provide an excellent introduction, establishing literary, historical, and cultural contexts for the readings and presenting their case that US imperialism generated domestic and cultural instability during the period of the American literary renaissance. …