The (Other) American Traditions: Nineteenth-Century Women Writers

By Joyce W. Warren | Go to book overview

JOSEPHINE DONOVAN


Breaking the Sentence: Local-Color Literature and Subjugated Knowledges

LIKE MANY OF THE PROTAGONISTS in nineteenth-century women's local- color literature, Miss Lucinda, in Rose Terry Cooke's 1861 story of that tide, is an eccentric middle-aged spinster who lives happily in a separate, marginal rural world. Her main companions are her animals, and her main occupation is tending them, her house, and her garden. The story is set "in a State in these Disuniting States," evincing the regional-versus- federal dialectic central to local-color literature.1

Cooke's treatment of Lucinda's story is satirical, suggesting that her principal audience was a federal or national one, that of an urbane Bostonian, and indeed the story was first published in the Atlantic Monthly. Cooke claims, however, in an opening apology that her sympathies are with commonplace rural people like Lucinda. "I have the same quick sympathy for Biddy's sorrows with Patrick [i.e., with Irish immigrants] that I have for the Empress of France. . . . So forgive me . . . patient reader, if I offer you no tragedy in high life, no sentimental history of fashion and wealth, but only a little story about a woman who could not be a heroine" (151). Yet Cooke's satirical attitude indicates a distancing from her subject, suggesting that she is viewing her from the perspective of an outsider, one who sees herself as wiser and more knowledgeable, and Lucinda as ignorant and quaint. A modern critical reader may, however, wish to resurrect the ethos of Lucinda, counterposing it against the disciplinary knowledge endorsed by the author that would colonize Lucinda and her world in a process of normalization.

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