The Land before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860

The Land before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860

The Land before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860

The Land before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860

Synopsis

To discover how women constructed their own mythology of the West, Kolodny examines the evidence of three generations of women's writing about the frontier. She finds that, although the American frontiersman imagined the wilderness as virgin land, an unspoiled Eve to be taken, the pioneer woman at his side dreamed more modestly of a garden to be cultivated. Both intellectual and cultural history, this volume continues Kolodny's study of frontier mythology begun in The Lay of the Land.

Excerpt

Not only a firm purpose, a clear insight, a brave soul, and a true moderation are needed to effect the desired change in the social and political position of woman, but a positive knowledge of all that relates to her past condition.

--Caroline Healey Dall, in The Una (1855)

The purpose of this study is to chart women's private responses to the successive American frontiers and to trace a tradition of women's public statements about the west. the attention accorded letters and diaries should not suggest that this is a study of the daily lives of pioneer women, however. Nor should the analysis of three centuries of published materials suggest that I have attempted any definitive literary history.

Although I have made extensive use of letters and diaries composed between 1630 and 1860, I have not attempted a revisionist history of the westward movement as seen through the eyes of women. Such a history is nonetheless long overdue, and I sincerely hope my chapters may encourage further work toward that end. in that event, my contribution may be the reminder that white women began as pioneers to this continent in the seventeenth century. Only by acknowledging the fullness of that history will we be able to grasp the continuities linking later generations with what had gone before.

The formal literary materials treated here were chosen not for their literary character or putative excellence (questionable criteria, at best), but for the light they cast on women's developing literary response to the fact of the west. Even familiar writers and genres are examined apart from the critical categories that currently define them. Thus, transcendentalism does not govern my reading of Margaret Fuller, nor does Puritan piety account for the appeal of the first Indian captivity narratives. I focus, instead, on . . .

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