Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Solving an Intertextual Manuscript Mystery for Women's History: The Case of Hannah Mather Crocker's Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston

Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Solving an Intertextual Manuscript Mystery for Women's History: The Case of Hannah Mather Crocker's Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston

Article excerpt


University of Notre Dame

With her collaborator Sarah L. Houser, Eileen Hunt Boning was awarded the 2012 SSAWW Edition Award for the new edition of Hannah Mather Crocker's Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. The award was established to honor excellence in the recovery of American women writers.

And in libraries it can happen that several ancient manuscripts are bound together, collecting in one volume various and curious texts. (366)

William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, 1980

Hannah Mather Crocker penned her Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston in the last decade of her life, during the 1.82os, in an attempt to share her knowledge of her home city's history from its Puritan founding to the present "rising generation" (Crocker 2). The 459-page bound manuscript contains two versions of her history of Boston (written circa 1822 and 182.6) and an appendix of related literary and historical documents (mainly composed in the 1.82os). The three parts of the manuscript were bound in one leather volume at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGs) in the late nineteenth century after the manuscript was acquired in 1879 from the estate of John Wingate Thornton. (1) The volume is in Crocker's hand except for a few items pasted onto the pages, probably by a later, unidentified editor and largely in the last pages of the appendix. As a coeditor with Sarah L. Houser of the first comprehensive published version (also the first scholarly edition) of Crocker's manuscript, I found the appendix particularly fascinating for the puzzle it poses. Could this stash of documents tacked to the back of the book be related to the two versions of the Reminiscences, as well as to the author's broader oeuvre? Or is it merely what it seems to be--a personal scrapbook intelligible only to the woman who wrought it?

Because the appendix appears at first glance to be a disparate collection of papers written by Crocker and others, it has contributed to scholarly misunderstanding of the Reminiscences as a whole. The Reminiscences has been called "a bulky compendium," a "commonplace book," and a "sprawling miscellany" because its appendix looks like a random assortment of poems, letters, drafts, clippings, and family papers (James 407; Post xviii, xlvi). Upon closer scrutiny, however, the appendix reveals itself to be connected on multiple levels to the narratives of her history of Boston.

For my work as the primary annotator of the volume, the appendix became a kind of encoded coda. By tracing the authorship, sources, and context for each item in the appendix, I was able to piece together a narrative about Crocker's work as a feminist political poet and about the place of women's public speech in the early political history of Boston (Botting, "Theorizing"). (2) In the study of the 168-page appendix and its relation to the first two sections of the Reminiscences, I found a bounty of material for contemplation of some of the seemingly disparate yet interconnected fields of contemporary literary, political, and feminist theory: the postmodern idea of intertextuality, the post-Enlightenment ideas of publicity and the public sphere, and the feminist critique of women's partial citizenship in modern democracies (Bennett 1-39; Eastman 52-82; Gustafson 41-70).

First, Crocker's Reminiscences is a self-consciously intertextual work. By intertextual, I follow Umberto Eco and other postmodern literary theorists who use the term to describe texts that refer to other texts in the development of their own narratives and arguments (Name 522). According to Eco, all books refer to other books, not only as historic sources but also as literary elements of the story presently being told (Name 286, 522). Crocker's Reminiscences is intertextual in both senses--the historical and the literary.

These two aspects of intertextuality are best illustrated by looking at the poetry in the volume. …

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