Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Rhetorical Drag: Gender, Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History/Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800/claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South/Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature

Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

Rhetorical Drag: Gender, Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History/Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800/claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South/Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature

Article excerpt

Rhetorical Drag: Gender, Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History. By Lorrayne Carroll. (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2007. Pp. ix, 251. Illustrations. Cloth, $28.95.)

Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800. Edited by Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine E. Kelly. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Pp. 263. Cloth, $59.95.)

Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South. By Catherine Kerrison. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xiii, 265. Illustrations. Cloth, $45.00.)

Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature. By Ivy Schweitzer. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xi, 276. Illustrations. Cloth, $49.95; Paper, $19.95.)

Reviewed by Lucia McMahon

The study of women reading and writing and their gendered relationship to print culture and the literary public sphere has been the subject of much recent scholarship by literary critics and historians alike.1 Scholars have uncovered numerous and varied instances of women's contributions to and participation in the republic of letters, as well as analyzed how prescriptive representations of women and gender shaped historical and literary landscapes. The four books under review each contribute to this growing historiography by exploring, in their own ways, the place of women and gender in the print culture of the colonial and early national periods. Taken together, these books examine literary representations of women and gender in print, the appropriation of women's voices by male authors, prescriptive and advice literature directed at women, the experiences of women as readers and writers, and various expressions of women's cultural productions. As they point to new directions in the scholarship, these works illustrate how gender has shaped women's experiences of reading and writing, as well as the formation of larger literary and public spheres.

Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature examines how "masculine" ideals of friendship have informed American social and political life. Ivy Schweitzer details how classical, Christian, and Enlightenment ideals of friendship operated in colonial and early national print culture. "Perfect" friendship was based on rationality and mutuality, and was freely chosen and entered into by mutual consent. As a political and social model, friendship promised equality, affinity, and mutuality-ideals that resonated strongly with early national Americans. The "language and governing structure" of the Articles of Confederation, for example, reinforced the political uses of friendship. As Schweitzer notes, "Despite the colonies' differences of size, population, and importance, the Articles bound them as political equals in 'a firm league of friendship'" (111). The language of friendship embedded in the Articles attempted to demonstrate that some differences could be transcended in the name of friendship; yet Schweitzer also explores how other differences-namely gender and race-proved more intractable and insurmountable. Through close readings of works by John Winthrop, Hannah Webster Foster, James Fenimore Cooper, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Schweitzer examines how the seemingly "natural" categories of race and gender operated in discourses about friendship.

In each of her case studies, Schweitzer reveals how writers posited the masculine, egalitarian ideal of friendship against the gendered hierarchy of marriage. Both friendship and marriage operated on the ideals of affection and mutual consent, but a critical distinction remained in place. Friendship rested on (perhaps required?) parity and likeness between individuals; whereas marriage retained (perhaps required?) gender differences, and by extension, male hierarchy. Even married couples who subscribed to the emerging ideal of "companionate marriage" found it difficult to realize its egalitarian principles in a culture that reinforced men's economic and political control over women. …

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