Howell considers the arts of imitation and emulation as practiced by U.S. girls at the turn of the nineteenth century. He takes the best-selling novels and schoolbooks of Susanna Rowson as a starting point for reading a broad set of material-cultural artifacts, including embroideries, penmanship exercises, and recital performances. Although historians and literary critics have tended to deride such productions as “social accomplishments,”—as markers of a misogynist and antidemocratic ethos of “refinement”—this essay reads them as technologies of socialization. Aligning imitative and derivative aesthetics with sympathy and intersubjectivity, the essay argues that texts created by and for young women can offer critical insight into the twinned processes of individuation and deindividuation at the heart of “republican” theories of the subject. That is, it contends that “women's work” and the theories behind it afford not only an important purchase on preromantic genealogies of the self, but also more inclusive perspectives on the political history of the early United States.
Research Article|September 01 2009
William Huntting Howell; Spirits of Emulation: Readers, Samplers, and the Republican Girl, 1787–1810. American Literature 1 September 2009; 81 (3): 497–526. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2009-024
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