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7 - Gendered Atlantic: Lydia Sigourney and Felicia Hemans

from PART I - 1800–1840, AMERICAN POESIS AND THE NATIONAL IMAGINARY

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 January 2017

Gary Kelly
Affiliation:
University of Alberta, Canada
Jennifer Putzi
Affiliation:
College of William and Mary, Virginia
Alexandra Socarides
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, Columbia
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Summary

The British poet Felicia Hemans, already celebrated in her own country, began to be published in the United States in 1826, just as the American writer Lydia Huntley Sigourney was achieving national recognition. Sigourney was soon being called “the American Hemans,” and continued so for the rest of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. There were reasons for this: both writers achieved prominence during the onset of modernity as a field of struggle between different interests in the Atlantic world, and their work participated in this struggle, at a time when the roles of women and women authors continued to be controversial. This essay examines that participation in terms of the circulation of Hemans's and Sigourney's poems in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world and representative comment on it on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth century.

For present purposes, I understand modernity as a relentlessly changing social-cultural discourse and set of practices that mediated and enabled modernization. Modernization I understand as an accelerating social, economic, cultural, and political transformation that was a field of struggle between contending interests, from social groups through regional formations and nation-states to empires. Modernity centered on a model of self-reflexive personal identity that was ostensibly created, nurtured, and repaired in “pure” or disinterested relationships of intimacy, domesticity, sociability, community, and nation. This modern subject was supposedly better able to manage modernization's more intense relationships of risk and trust, to disembed from customary relationships and networks and re-embed in modern ones, to manage the increasingly abstract systems from banking to government and education to empire, and to negotiate modernization's new chronotopes or representations of time and space. But if the Atlantic world was the cradle of modernization, it was also the cockpit, as different versions of modernization contended for domination within nations and within the Atlantic world as a whole – versions serving different forms of state organization, from European absolute monarchies through British constitutional monarchy to American constitutional republic. Their differing interests and forms of modernization periodically impelled these Atlantic states into wars, notably the American War of Independence, the French and Napoleonic wars, and the British-American war of 1812–1814, which in turn intensified modernization within the combatant nations.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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