Book Reviews -- Sea Changes: British Emigration & American Literature by Stephen Fender

Article excerpt

This study is an admirable move into research materials which for too long have lain untouched by scholars, that is, diaries, letters/manuscripts and other such records. The author is very self-conscious in his use of these materials. He insists that they reveal a "real" side of the British-American character, and should, therefore, be taken as "literature," or at least as statements of culture. Most scholars of American "studies," whatever that is, accept this statement as being self-evident.

Fender's field is inquiry in the movement of the British to and from the New World. Interestingly, in the first half of the nineteenth century, "nearly twice as many people left British ports for destinations in the Empire as did for the United States," and "about one-third of those emigrating to the United States are known to have returned...to their point of departure." These points are demonstrated by the mountain of unpublished materials found in (mainly) British libraries.

These and printed sources suggest that the American experience, both out-migration and backmigration was both politicized and culturized. After all, going to the United States was a traumatic and costly experience, and people had to justify it both to themselves and to their friends and relatives in the Old Country. The resulting attitude, as is evident in literature and other publications, is that America is free of the old political and cultural hierarchy of Britain and citizens there can get a new shake in both areas. Franklin, Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, James and others demonstrated this in the conventional literature.

These attitudes, through a curious bit of logic, led to the anti-immigration sentiments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, resulting in the most notorious of all "No Irish Need Apply. …