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Creole Subjects in the colonial Americas: empires, texts, identities.

The authors in this collection of essays explore the impacts of Creolization on the identities and texts created by Creole elites in the early Americas. Taken together, their essays offer a complex comparative analysis of various aspects of Creole America, specifically the many resonances and points of convergence in Spanish and British early America.

Of the eighteen chapters in the book, five should be of particular interest to Legacy readers as they focus on or discuss writings by women. A sixth chapter, "Gender and Gossip in Criollo Historiography: Juan Suarez de Peralta's Trat-ado del descubrimiento de las Indias y su conquista (1589)," by Kathleen Ross, discusses gendered discourse, and its attention to the relationship between textuality and gender conventions, although focused on the work of a male writer, will be of significance to scholars of women's writing.

The collection begins with an engaging and thorough introduction by the editors, Ralph Bauer and Jose Antonio Mazzotti, that outlines the book's arguments, defines key terms, and offers a useful overview of the major issues that structure academic considerations of Creolization. Its presentation of the history of literary and cultural criticisms of Creolism, as well as the terminological and bibliographic notes, will be especially useful for scholars interested in pursuing further study.

Relevant to Legacy readers is the last third of Carlos Jaregui's essay, "Cannibalism, the Eucharist, and Criollo Subjects." Jaregui details how poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz recodifies the symbolism of the New World cannibal. He argues that she articulates a Creole consciousness, manifested in her free appropriation and use of cultural images and ideologies from both the Old World and the New World.

In "Barefoot Folks with Tawny Cheeks: Creolism in the Literary Chesapeake, 1680-1750," Jeffrey H. Richards explores what he "call[s] a Creole imaginary" (136), in which writers construct particular images of Creole culture for consumption in Europe. In addition to discussing the works of James Revell, Ebenezer Cooke, and Thomas Craddock, Richards also considers Aphra Behn's 1689 play, The Widdow Ranter. It takes place in the early Chesapeake Bay area during Bacon's Rebellion, the 1676 revolt of English settlers in Virginia. Richards argues that despite Behn's brief time in Virginia, she manages to construct an accurate portrayal of elite Creole life. In particular, her play captures the crucial and significant factor of enhanced female mobility in the New World. As the main character explains, women in general, and widowed women of property such as she, are valuable--"the best Commodity" in the New World (142).

In "Sor Juana Criolla and the Mexican Archive: Public Performances," Stephanie Merrim explores the impact of what she calls the "Mexican discursive tradition" on Sor Juana's work (196). Sor Juana is often the focus of broad analyses such as transatlantic or transcultural discussions that place her in conversation with European concerns, yet, as Merrim points out, she was cloistered in Mexico for more than half of her life. Consequently, although she was certainly exposed to transnational literature, she was also very much aware of the contemporary literature of the Mexican baroque period.

Jim Egan's essay, "Creole Bradstreet: Philip Sidney, Alexander the Great, and English Identities," considers poet Anne Bradstreet as a Creole writer. Unlike other New World writers, Bradstreet draws primarily on classical--not New World--imagery. While Egan's close analysis of the poet's articulation of an alternative New World identity in her work is compelling, beyond noting that others have explored the importance of gender in Bradstreet's literary production, he does not consider the topic. Given that gender is a major component of the poetic voice in so many of Bradstreet's poems, the omission here seems problematic

Ross's essay on gendered discourse, "Gender and Gossip in Criollo Historiography," demonstrates how, in constructing his histories, Juan Suarez de Per-alta tended to characterize the early periods of Spanish colonialism through the feminized discourse of gossip. This style contrasts with the language used to describe the later triumphal period, which draws upon more masculine language and imagery.

In "Female Captivity and 'Creole' Male Identity in the Narratives of Mary Rowlandson and Hannah Swarton," Teresa A. Toulouse argues that scholars have overlooked the fact that the two captivity narratives seem to have responded to profound shifts in colonial politicaJ and cultural authority during the period in which they were produced. She claims that the men who were involved in the composition, transcription, and/or production of both narratives, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather, use representations of female captivity to assert a male Creole identity that authorized their political authority and legitimacy.

Although only five of the essays are explicitly about women's writings, the entire collection engages with feminist perspectives. As Sharon M. Harris has argued in "Feminist Theories and Early American Studies," "|M|any ... issues central to feminist perspectives also have significance for inquiries in the field [of early American studies], including theorizing social and political complexities; sexualities, body politics, and constructions of difference; processes of historicizing; cultural and literary translations; colonization and imperialist practices; authority and authorization; domestic relations (personal and national); print, orality, and censorship; changing divisions of labor; kinship and family structures" (86). If most of the other essays in the collection do not directly address writings by women, they do consider issues in which gender is a foundational concern. For example, in discussing male writers, both Susan Scott Parrish and Sandra Gustafson illuminate the crucial roles played by textual documents in the negotiation and production of elite Creole American identities. Parrish discusses the Creole ambiguities manifested in William Byrd's History of the Dividing Line and Secret History of the Line, wherein Byrd simultaneously appropriates and deconstructs metropolitan discourses of mapping and naming. And Gustafson revises traditional readings of James Fenimore Cooper's early Leatherstocking Tales by comparing his work to that of contemporary Latin American writers. Such a hemispheric focus complicates the artificial rigidities required by nationalist paradigms.

The editors of Creole Subjects in the Colonial Americas have created a useful and intellectually stimulating collection of essays. While some readers may take issue with the collection's relatively narrow focus on Creole elites within Spanish and British early America, it nonetheless offers a wonderful starting point for further explorations of Creolism in the Americas.


Harris, Sharon M. "Feminist Theories and Early American Studies." Early American Literature 34.1 (1999): 86-93.

Edited by Ralph Bauer and Jose Antonio Mazzotti. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. v + 503 pp. $75.00/$27.50.

Reviewed by Nicole N. Aljoe, Northeastern University
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Author:Aljoe, Nicole N.
Publication:Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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