Academic journal article Early American Literature

Mary Howard's Mark: Children's Literature and the Scales of Reading the Pacific

Academic journal article Early American Literature

Mary Howard's Mark: Children's Literature and the Scales of Reading the Pacific

Article excerpt

Nineteenth-century American literature's most memorable tattooed body is undoubtedly that of Queequeg, Moby-Dick's Maori harpooner. A key member of the famously diverse crew of the Pequod, Queequeg is also, as Paul Lyons has pointed out, a figure through which Melville "imagines, for a moment at least, the lives of an Anglo-US citizen and an Oceanian as twinned, through processes that are at once intimate, and nested within larger historical, economic, and political structures" (1). In that moment in "The Monkey-rope chapter," Queequeg and Ishmael are "wedded" together by a whaling rope, an image that Lyons harnesses to illustrate the "bound-togetherness" of US and Oceanian history (2). (1) This "bound-togetherness" has received increased attention in the past years as American literary studies has turned to the Pacific, though perhaps not yet with the attention to "Oceanian institutions, perspectives, humor, and ways of knowing (and narrating)" that Lyons calls for (2). Nicholas Thomas, a historical anthropologist of the Pacific whose work explores the complexities of exchange and circulation between the Pacific and Europe in the context of colonialism, might use a slightly different term for a similar idea: entanglement. (2) In a sense, this term too conjures Melville's whale lines connecting Queequeg and Ishmael, and undulating across the Pacific to the United States. (3)

Moby-Dick is, of course, a famously long book. And the Pacific is a notoriously large oceanic region. And many of the other texts that emerged from early European encounters with the Pacific were, as Michelle Burnham has recently pointed out, both large and long. In her survey of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Pacific travel writing and subsequent discussion of the dynamics of trade and time within narratives of state-sponsored European expeditions in the region, Burnham notes a temporality of "prolonged promise" that combines "patient duration with impatient expectation" ("Trade Time" 431). "Temporal prolongation is materially evident," Burnham adds, "in the most obvious feature shared by the vast majority of these travel books: their size.... [T]hey were bulky and heavy; they were wide, tall, and thick; and they typically consisted of multiple volumes" (433). The scale of the region being explored finds a corollary in the size and length of the material texts resulting from that exploration.

Moby-Dick and lengthy travel narratives structure our thinking about nineteenth-century US literary encounters with the Pacific, but in what follows I explore US entanglements with the Pacific through a text defined by a radically different scale and narrative pace. The Little, but Affecting History of Mary Howard was published by the Sandbornton Press [sic] in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, in 1836. The sixteen-page chapbook is less than four inches high--a small book for small hands (see fig. r). It tells of an angelic young girl who lives with her parents in England. When Mary is orphaned she is taken to New Zealand, where she is tattooed by "the son of a New Zealand Chief" before eventually returning to England. Decades before Melville wrote Queequeg into existence, the marked Mary Howard appeared in rural New England.

Whereas Burnham reads across a subgenre of Pacific travel narratives to "identify ... some of its textual and narratological features" (430), I move outward from one tiny, dense children's text to show how its entanglement with other genres such as captivity narratives brings the Pacific home to the domestic spaces of New England. It brings the Pacific home in the sense that it puts bodies marked by Pacific encounters into small New Hampshire hands at the same time that it shows how another, distant settler nation emerges in US contexts. In other words, Mary Howard reveals transpacific circulations of bodies and narratives beyond those of sailors, sea captains, and state-sponsored expeditions as it conjures indigenous and female bodies that move around the Pacific. …

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