This essay examines the second of two virtually unknown texts coauthored by Frances Whipple (Green McDougal) and Elleanor Eldridge, both of Providence, Rhode Island: Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge (1838) and Elleanor's Second Book (1839). Whereas the Memoirs exclusively chronicles Eldridge's life and misfortunes, Elleanor's Second Book contains only an abbreviated biography of its eponymous African and indigenous heroine. After its biographical opening section, Elleanor's Second Book shifts to several stories about white women representing a variety of class locations. These characters are juxtaposed against the “colored” Eldridge, as Whipple, Eldridge's de facto amanuensis, conforms to Rhode Island's rhetorical institutionalization of a black-white racial binary. This label and Whipple's condescending and unguarded use of racist terminology and stereotypes of black and indigenous people expose the differences that the two women bring to their collaborative project. Whipple's ambivalence about her literary subject becomes apparent in the descriptions of Eldridge she offers through the narrator and white female characters in Elleanor's Second Book. The essay argues that despite the rhetorical failures in both texts that ensue from Whipple's complicated race politics, contemporary scholars of American literature should not ignore the biographies' sociopolitical and economic underpinnings, as the latter provide crucial insights into the study of early African American literature as well as early U.S. women's literature.
Skip Nav Destination
Joycelyn Moody; Frances Whipple, Elleanor Eldridge, and the Politics of Interracial Collaboration. American Literature 1 December 2011; 83 (4): 689–717. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1437189
Download citation file: