The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange

The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange

The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange

The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange


The transatlantic crossing of people and goods shaped nineteenth-century poetry in surprising ways that cannot be fully understood through the study of separate national literary traditions. American and British poetic cultures were bound by fascination, envy, influence, rivalry, recognition, and piracy, as well as by mutual fantasies about and competition over the Caribbean.

Drawing on examples such as Felicia Hemans's elaboration of the foundational American myth of Plymouth Rock, Emma Lazarus's ambivalent welcome of Europe's cast-off populations, black abolitionist Mary Webb's European performances of Hiawatha, and American reprints of Robert Browning and George Meredith, the eleven essays in this book focus on poetic depictions of exile, slavery, immigration, and citizenship and explore the often asymmetrical traffic between British and American poetic cultures.


Meredith L. McGill

LITERARY CRITICS HAVE COME LATE to the study of nineteenthcentury writing in transatlantic context. As Bernard Bailyn details in his indispensable overview Atlantic History: Concept and Contours early modern historians have been engaged in an often contentious reframing of their subject since the mid—twentieth century, when postwar enthusiasm for NATO and other alliances, combined with the ambitious scope of Annales-school history, made the Atlantic community newly visible as a political, economic, and cultural unit. The fields of economic, political, and intellectual history have been transformed by this shift from describing the parallel evolution of nation-states to analyzing the interlocking currents of transatlantic exchange. Assuming a scale of analysis broad enough to encompass the entire circuit of production, from the harvesting of raw materials to the trade in finished goods, Atlantic history has illuminated the fundamental interdependence of Atlantic economies, particularly as they were caught up in the growth of the slave trade. Atlantic history has richly documented the effects of transatlantic exchange and the migration of peoples on everyday life, even in communities far removed from the coastal cities, and has insisted on the importance of New World settlement to the consolidation of European identity.

Until relatively recently, however, students of nineteenth-century literature and culture have been content to write national histories that rarely, if ever, intersect with one another. Although literary critics have addressed the great themes of Atlantic history, recognizing the importance of transatlantic trade and the transformative effects of the forced and voluntary migration of peoples, they have done so largely from within the confines of nationally framed literary traditions. This is in part owing to the limits that historians themselves have established for the Atlantic paradigm. The formative works of Atlantic history generally draw to a close at the turn of the nineteenth century with the American, French, and Haitian revolutions and give way to histories that focus on nation-building and imperial expansion. And yet the belated development of transatlantic approaches to nineteenth-century literature has less to do with their potential relevance than with the considerable dragweight provided by the . . .

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