Mary Peabody Mann's Juanita: Cuba and US national identity.
The case becomes clearer when Juanita is placed in the context of US-Cuban relations as they evolved during the nineteenth century. While its abolitionism seems out of place for a novel published after both US and Cuban emancipation, its representation of Cuba registers issues spanning its mid-century composition and late-century revision and publication. Mann likely thought the novel could speak to these issues both when she began writing and, perhaps even more so, when she returned to the novel. This is true particularly of such issues as they relate to the intersections between US slavery and expansionism. During the antebellum period, various US interests sought the US annexation of Cuba. Such projects were generally spearheaded by Southerners eager to enlarge the number of slave states. In its representation of such proposals, Juanita's criticisms of Cuban society often suggest the benefits Cuba might experience from union with the United States; the novel, though, rejects antebellum annexationism on antislavery grounds. However, the United States continued to entertain annexationist proposals and imperial ambitions during the postbellum period, after slavery's demise in the United States. These ambitions culminated in the Spanish-American War, when US expansionists successfully argued that the United States should become an imperial power and wrest colonial possessions from Spain. Mann's novel was published shortly before this climax. Mann likely decided to publish at this time because she believed the novel lent clarity to developing US-Cuban relations. Although the fact that she had written most of Juanita before the Civil War suggests that she only minimally revised the novel to attune it to postbellum concerns, she may have believed that it could function as a historical narrative that could explain the foundations of Cuban society to US readers. One of its definite postbellum revisions is its subtitle "A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago," an addition that signals the novel's generic status as a historical romance as opposed to an abolitionist novel. As historical romances explore how the past constitutes the present, the subtitle signals the novel's interest in bringing the antebellum past into conversation with the postbellum present. Therefore, while one is tempted to wonder whether the novel is an antebellum or a postbellum text, that question must be answered not according to an either/ or but, rather, a both/and approach: the novel is antebellum in sensibility, but it is repackaged to present that sensibility to postbellum concerns.
This essay is comprised of two sections. In the first, I argue that Juanita's relevance to US-Cuban relations must be seen in terms of how the novel constructs national identity. One of the most pressing debates regarding US imperialism, both during the antebellum period and leading up to the Spanish-American War, concerned whether or not the United States could be an imperial democracy. Critics of imperialism presented this project as contradictory: how could a nation with origins in anti-colonial revolution, one whose national ethos valorized political self-determination, become an imperial power? (See, e.g., Sumner.) This seeming contradiction was particularly apparent in the case of projects to annex Cuba, where by the beginning of the Spanish-American War, revolutionaries had long been fighting for their liberty; as such, Cuba could be supposed to be precisely the type of nation whose prerogatives the United States ought to respect. The typical imperialist response to this thorny problem was to present the matter as a question of national identities: Cubans, imperialists insisted, exhibited inherent proclivities towards barbarous, despotic political institutions. As such, they were incapable of establishing liberal institutions without the tutelage of the United States, a nation that had successfully established a liberal democracy. On the face of it, Juanita confirms this argument. Its historical narrative about Cuban slaveholding society figures Cuba as constitutionally averse to liberal democracy; by various contrasting mechanisms, it represents the United States as possessing the capacity for founding the liberal institutions that it needs to tutor Cuba. The novel thus follows a pattern of national identity construction and engagement with imperial contexts seen in many other US narratives about Spanish America. (3)
What becomes most curious about Juanita, however, is how it so frequently questions the celebratory national narrative it ostensibly strives to construct. The essay's second section will culminate in a discussion of the novel's awareness that the US South's slaveholding history renders easy distinctions between the United States and Cuba tenuous. This awareness frequently troubles its nationalism, which relies on representing Cuban slavery as a study in Cuban society's failure to attain the virtues supposedly espoused by the United States. I thus conclude that the novel is less certain and more anxious than it seems about the validity of its nationalist narrative and about that narrative's concomitant assumptions about US-Cuban relations.
Why bother with this argument? Most specifically, despite increased scholarly attention, Juanita remains an only partially understood novel. This paper seeks to fill this lacuna by providing a compelling framework for reading this text, which, despite certain aesthetic shortcomings, is a fascinating achievement that warrants much further study. More generally, the paper's discussion of the novel's anxiety over national identity takes a novel view of national identity formation. Despite contrary advocacy, scholarly approaches to this issue frequently remain committed to fixed identity categories and linear processes of identification, (4) but in Juanita we see such categories break down over the transnational relationship between the US South and Cuba. (5) Such moments warrant increased attention.
Juanita's Liberal Critique of Cuba and Its Construction of US National Identity
Before historicizing the novel in terms of annexation, it is necessary to analyze the US nationalism it deploys in its exploration of that context. The novel celebrates US nationality by figuring the United States as a liberal nation in contrast to Cuba, which it represents as averse to liberal values. Liberalism most generally posits committing to representative government; rejecting aristocratic prerogative; accepting a notion of a social contract between the government and the people; believing in inalienable, natural rights; and viewing these tenets as central to maintaining a capitalist order. Most basically, Juanita invokes this perspective by critiquing Cuban slaveholding society for failing to give slaves their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, it more particularly explores how Cuba maintains slavery by erecting systems of invisible power in which power does not operate transparently. Mann's favor for the virtues of transparency can be conceptualized in terms of liberal critiques of non-representative and thus non-intelligible power structures (see Bailyn on such critiques). As Nancy Ruttenberg writes, "the liberal-democratic state and subject are committed to the total eradication of invisible power as inherently despotic" (16); this claim confirms communicative transparency's centrality to liberalism.
When Mann examines invisible power and its consequences in Cuba, she does what one would expect from a sentimental novelist: she begins on the interpersonal and domestic levels. Here, the novel figures such power through the culture of silence that it views as a definitive Cuban socio-cultural quality. For example, as she acquaints herself to the island's social customs, Helen observes that Cuban propriety oftentimes requires silence. She learns that "it is not considered good manners to complain of one's neighbors and acquaintances" (7) and that "the decorum of Spanish society is to be quiet, instead of talkative, even in their dances, and especially when music is the entertainment" (16). Although these conventions might appear innocent matters of etiquette, Mann thematizes them to evoke a Gothic atmosphere of unease, distrust, and suspicion. This atmosphere undermines her characters' interrelationships, contentment, and health. For example, after Carolina, a visitor to the Rodriguez plantation, manages to woo Ludovico while the barrier of race and slavery stands between Ludovico and his true love Juanita, Isabella becomes uncomfortable about the tacit yet never explicitly represented misbehavior of her new daughter-in-law, and this uneasiness wreaks havoc on Isabella's health. In that she participates eagerly in the culture of silence to the point of committing unspeakable acts, the depraved Carolina epitomizes Gothic Cuba, and her entrance into the Rodriguez family contributes to its ruin.
Mann figures the negative effects of suppression of voice through the concept of separate spheres central to her time's sentimental liberalism. This idea is most associated with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, a work that clearly influenced Juanita. The view posited that the feminine domestic sphere of virtuous wives and mothers functioned as an educational space where children could learn the affective qualities necessary to live virtuous lives once they entered a potentially corruptive outside world. Similarly, it construes the domestic sphere as a regenerative space to which husbands could retreat following their incursions into the debilitating market. Writers like Mann believed that contaminating the domestic sphere could corrupt its educational and regenerative functions to dire effect (see further Mann, "Essay Three" and Cooper, esp. 155-60).
As Mann understands it, Cuba's etiquette of silence has precisely such an effect. Cuban conventions deny to women their ability to speak against vice and thus to exercise moral suasion, particularly in their primary role as moral educators of their children. Cuban mores thereby corrupt the domestic sphere by preventing women from benefitting family and community. Mann's characterization of Isabella is key here. Mann figures this studiously-if-reluctantly indifferent character as typical of Cuban matrons in her failure to fulfill her domestic role. As Isabella complains, "[w]e women cannot help" the problems of slavery (34); her statement points up what Mann represents as her failure to exercise moral suasion. In fact, she does exactly the opposite. She not only fails to inculcate proper values in those around her; instead, "[o]ne of Isabella's functions for her husband is to police both visitors and family, censuring them for protesting slavery; reluctantly, she does so" (Ard xiii). Without the corrective domestic space--indeed, with its inversion--that women like Isabella should provide, Mann suggests, the vice produced by a corrupt society, a vice embodied in Carolina, will go unchecked in Cuba. (6)
The novel further explores these issues by representing the clashes that occur when virtuous children confront the vices of their elders. The novel's children frequently say the things their parents would have them not; for instance, as he cries to his mother that he wishes Helen would take him away from Cuba, Carlito, a slave trader's son whom Helen takes under her wing upon her arrival in Havana and who later accompanies Helen to the Rodriguez estate, exclaims that he "won't live in a place where people are sold!" (22). Mann here invokes a sentimental tradition that posits that children possess a natural capacity for sympathy. This move's most immediate philosophic context is the transcendentalist view on innate divinity that informed Mann and Elizabeth Peabody's argument that kindergartens could cement children's innate virtues before those virtues were corrupted by society (Mann and Peabody 13); Juanita enacts this philosophy in frequent tableaux focused on children's education, which particularly focus on Helen's capacity to coax antislavery positions out of the children. More fundamentally, though, such passages signal the novel's liberal perspective, as John Locke and later liberals claimed that people respect natural rights in a state of nature uncorrupted by rapacious social conventions. Locke's claim reverses Thomas Hobbes's view that war characterizes the state of nature and that people must submit to a sovereign to protect themselves from their own depravity. When Mann suggests that children would reject slavery while their elders would accept it, she takes Locke's perspective, indicating that the children's reaction results from their proximity to the Lockean state of nature. Mann suggests, though, that without the benefits of a regenerative domestic sphere, children will not maintain these virtues for long.
The way in which Cuba's culture of silence quiets critiques of slavery points to the rub of Mann's emphasis on such strictures: Mann suggests that the same conventions that inflect polite and familial interactions also contribute to the maintenance of slavery. Illustratively here, Mann opens the novel by informing the reader about the horrors of the West African slave trade, noting that when slave catchers capture their prey, they must necessarily gag them because, if they do not, "[s]ome compassionate ear might hear and betray, for English vessels were occasionally nearing the coast for this very purpose" (5). Here, allowing the subdued Africans their voice could lead to action against slavery; the catcher thus quiets them.
For Mann, the need to silence forbidden knowledge about slavery indicates a key aspect of the presence of invisible power in Cuba: with Cuban slavery, illegality is the rule. In 1817, England pressured Spain to abolish the slave trade in Cuba. While Cubans continued to own slaves, they could no longer legally capture and transport new ones. This treaty was unpopular in Cuba, as it hindered the slave-holding elite, who regularly needed more slaves due to the slaves' high mortality rate. The slave trade thus continued illicitly, and Cuba's legal system largely looked the other way. Mann represents these breaches as a corruption of law, such as when she explains that the slave traders have little to fear because "no troublesome English commissioner resided in the country, and the one in the city took no pains to inform himself of disobedience to the treaty, knowing that the Captain General received so much a head from the slaves, and was therefore specially blind and deaf upon that subject, which made his commission practically abortive" (7). As Mann points out in explaining such phenomena, in Cuba "Spanish law" is "violated by custom" (18). Mann sees slaveholding custom as creating a perpetual space of exception to transparent justice, one that allows vice to go unpunished; this commentary reflects her liberal tendency to criticize the presence of invisible power in Cuba.
Mann further examines the Cuban pattern of silencing slavery's horrors as the narrative brings Helen into contact with Cuban attempts to suppress those atrocities' verbalization. A major organizational feature of the novel, Helen's observations of slaveholding custom function to make apparent the invisible knowledge on which the system rests. For instance, in a striking passage, Helen and Isabella visit a neighboring plantation famed for its humane, efficient master, a German count. After viewing several parts of the plantation with approval, however, the ladies accidentally come across a scene that throws slavery's barbarity into utter relief: to train hounds to catch maroons, an overseer forces a slave to teach tracking dogs to hate blacks by having the slave torture the dogs while allowing them to taste the slave's flesh. Upon witnessing the ladies' horror, the plantation owner states: "'I beg your pardon, ladies,' ... 'but you know, my lady,' he said, apologetically addressing la Marquesa [Isabella], 'the white man is never bitten on my plantation. This training must be attended to'" (73-74). The Count's phrasing invests a system of plantation discipline in the indirect phrase "the white man is never bitten on my plantation." The phrase circumambulates its true significance: the white man is not bitten because the runaway slave must be bitten. It thus illustrates the tendency away from transparency so pervasive in Mann's conception of Cuban society.
These passages suggest the basis of the novel's liberal critique of Cuba: Cuba, for Mann, not only has no functional domestic sphere but also no functional public sphere, no procedural space to which the oppressed or conscientious can go to air their grievances. Such resistance is silenced here, and power operates on a seemingly incomprehensible level. Fixating upon the closed nature of a society premised on silence, Helen comes to see herself as a tool for disseminating the knowledge that Cuban society suppresses, musing at one point to herself that "[p]erhaps I may be a humble instrument for enlightening society upon this fearful topic" (36). Helen and Isabella's many conversations on the subject of slavery establish Helen's gadfly function. Despite her relatively progressive characteristics, her partial Cuban upbringing and marriage to a planter have trained Isabella to avoid talking about slavery's horrors. Helen, though, cannot help but to speak upon witnessing horrific incidents. In this sense, she serves as a foil to Cuban society by contrastingly illustrating its closed, incommunicative qualities. Helen is thus a synecdoche for the book as a whole, in that she enacts in miniature its project of revealing what for Cuba is forbidden knowledge. This project is intrinsically liberal because it criticizes and corrects Cuban society's lack of communicative transparency.
Mann's sense of Cuba's inability to establish liberal institutions reveals a racially constituted understanding of Cuban society. Many of the novel's statements on Cuban difference present Cubans as racially averse to liberalism due to their Spanish ancestry, as when Mann writes that "the decorum of Spanish society is to be quiet" (16) and other like statements. Anglo-American observers tended to construe such deficiencies in racial terms; although they acknowledged that Spaniards were Europeans like themselves, Anglo-Americans viewed Spaniards as inferior to Northern Europeans, and they viewed Cuba and other Spanish American nations as dangerously multiracial societies in which miscegenation further compromised the stock. (7) Mann reflects this tendency.
That said, while there is certainly racial prejudice at play here, that prejudice is not--significantly, as we will see--essentialist. The notion of "race" the novel operates with is not the blood-based form of the polygenetic theories that were becoming prominent during the mid-nineteenth century but rather the environmentalist notions that had been more dominant in the eighteenth century (see Horsman and Jordan on this shift). Helen often muses on the evident contrast between the beauty and luxuriance of the Cuban physical environment and the horrors of slavery that happen in proximity to that beauty. At a loss for a better way to explain the striking divergence, she concludes that the environment must have a great deal to do with the difference between the people who live in Cuba and the more liberal, freedom-loving people of her homeland:
Helen felt, when she looked abroad on the festal world of that fair clime, that only in such lands could this crying sin exist--that in her own wintry one, where man is condemned to pass many of his days shut up in houses, and where inclement seasons bring their own peculiar suffering, this one added to the rest would be more than poor human nature could bear, even among the spectators and perpetrators of the iniquity. (156)
In that climate more so than blood corrupts here, Juanita emphasizes nurture over nature as the constitutive force in the individual's potential. The corruptive physical environment fuels a similarly pernicious cultural environment. If environment shapes human type, human type shapes culture, which in turn cements type. As Mann suggestively writes,
Vegetation clothed the earth there [outside Cuba] as here, but here its rank luxuriance, where untamed, typified the unbridled sweep of human propensities, while the curbs and restraints that a certain measure of civilization imposed upon it only concealed the fens and marshes that were the product of a decay as pestiferous to the physical as the corruptions of the heaven-born passions are to the moral atmosphere. (49)
The passage suggests a metonymic, reciprocal relationship between physical and cultural environment; the interplay of these two elements powerfully shapes those under their influence.
Mann exhibits these ideas by showing how Cuba has corrupted several of the novel's characters. Isabella, after all, grew up and was educated in New England, having all the benefits Helen experienced, and these qualities showed strongly during her early years. Yet, her marriage and acculturation to her husband's way of life has made a difference for the worse. In depicting how Isabella descends into Cuban vices despite having been given ample opportunity to adopt US values, it might seem that Mann is making an essentialist slight on Isabella's character by showing how blood will eventually show. However, other examples suggest otherwise. The characterization of the German count, for instance, is illustrative. He has grown up and been educated in Northern Europe and has Nordic blood; if the novel followed a strictly blood-based definition of race, the count would have a naturally Germanic energetic individualism and love of liberty. One is tempted to believe that Helen has something like this in mind when she expresses her hopes that the Count will be a model slaveholder. However, her reasons seem environmentally based, hinging on her belief that his upbringing in a more liberal environment will have made the difference (72). This reasoning, indeed, coheres with the finally environmentalist spin on the case, as Helen sadly finds that Cuba has corrupted the Count; his blood, in the end, is for naught.
While Mann thus emphasizes the corruptive power of Cuban society, her emphasis on human mutability conversely suggests that individual Cubans can improve if they escape Cuba. Isabella, again, is key here: having spent some time in New England as a child, she has values superior to her Cuban compatriots because her US education has somewhat inhibited her acculturation to Cuban slave-holding society. While Cuba's influence on her has made her domestic habits far from what Mann sees as the ideal, they are also far from the depths of what Mann views as the most degraded of Cuban mores. As Mann writes, "Isabella had brought with her, from her old New England life, impressions and principles regarding the education of children that her Cuban life had never corrupted" (41). For instance, rather than have a slave attend to her children during the "trying scenes and precious hours" (41) of their formative years, she, along with her staunch New England governess, raises and teaches them herself. Thus, while she often fails to do so properly, she at the same time places relative importance on morally educating her children. She believes that she would be remiss in this duty if she were to allow untutored slaves to teach them, which would, not coincidentally, more powerfully inculcate the children's sense of the master-slave differentiation. She follows this path, Mann suggests, because she has had the educational opportunities necessary to transcend typical Cuban limitations. By the same token, in its conclusion, in which Helen takes Isabella's children with her to New England to complete their education, the novel cements its sense of the potential for personal reformation in more benevolent climes by suggesting that individual Cubans may improve if they can escape the island's malign influence. That influence, in both Cuba and New England, remains both climatological and cultural; implicitly linking New England's cold to its virtues, Ludovico declares that "I am going to the States to live; there is one part of them at least where there is no slavery, and I will brave the cold for the sake of turning my back upon it. I would not stay here if I were you, Miss Wentworth. I know you think we are cruel and wicked people. I do" (59). And, indeed, one assumes that the cold will prove quite beneficial for Ludovico and his siblings after they resettle at the novel's close.
This transformative move to New England is significant to Juanita's project. By showing the improvement of Isabella's children in New England, Mann makes clear the contrast that drives Juanita's nationalism. The novel's criticisms of Cuba's oppressive climate do not function solely as an attack on a faulty social and political system but, also, as a statement on the United States. Cuba serves as a stage where an opposition between US liberalism and Cuban aversion to liberalism plays out to illustrate US superiority, a stage where that superiority can be held up with greater focus. Here, Helen metonymically represents US values, values Mann sees as being particularly present in New England but which more generally characterize the US national narrative the novel invokes. Mann emphasizes this function by representing Helen as a lone, vital voice of liberalism in a desert of aristocratic, slave-holding Cuban vice. While the States themselves mostly remain outside the narrative's field of vision, Helen's presence constantly reminds us that Juanita functions just as much to celebrate US values as it does to oppose those of Cuba. When Isabella's family moves to New England late in the novel, this oppositional relationship becomes most apparent, as Isabella's children, formerly corrupted by slave-holding society, improve in a more benevolent US locale. The United States becomes the cure for Cuban-acculturated vice, a process that points up US virtues. While Helen ostensibly saves the children, the novel's geographical typology also bears notice here. The children find themselves away from hellish Cuba and firmly in the Promised Land upon their arrival in New England. This typology, tied to the novel's environmental understanding of difference, confirms the novel's nationalism.
It is in the context of constructing national typologies that the novel's appeals to realism must be read. The novel uses a documentary, ethnographic approach in its aforementioned observations of Cuban slave-holding custom. These observations function mimetically, which should not be surprising in a novel whose subtitle signals an interest in "Real Life in Cuba" (see Ard xx and Lazo, "Against" 188). The reader receives third-person, seemingly objective representations of interactions among slaves; of overseers' suppression tactics; of the absence of open communication--the list could go on. The novel, in its project of verbalizing Cuban society's silences, poses these descriptions as representative of all plantation life in Cuba, as, in other words, typical of and particular to Cuban society. This documentary discussion of Cuba, however, is as much interested in the United States as it is in Cuba. The numerous contrasts between the two ensure that all representations of the island reflect back on the United States. The novel's documentation of Cuba, in effect, is documentation of Cuban-US difference, a documentation of opposed national identities--Cuba's committed to slavery and therefore opposed to liberalism, the United States's committed to liberalism. Documentary realism, thus, provides Mann with a rhetorically powerful manner of constructing national difference.
Juanita and the Other within the Nation
The novel puts its conception of the liberal United States as a safe haven for Cuba's unfortunates to use in a seeming argument for annexation. This argument coheres with others like it, particularly as they were forwarded during the buildup towards the Spanish-American War. Juanita, though, frequently undercuts its celebration of US national identity by anxiously meditating on the import the US South poses for the nation. The novel figures this issue through its association of the South with Cuba. For most of the narrative, the South remains tensely on the margins of the novel's focus on Cuban slavery. It comes most squarely into view at the precise moment when one might expect the novel to express the greatest confidence about US nationality--when the novel's characters muse on the annexation question. Here, annexation's roots in slavery politics bring the similarities between the South and Cuba squarely into view. The anxiety the novel evinces in these moments suggests its uncertainty regarding the United States's success in fulfilling its ideals.
Further background on Cuban annexationism is necessary here, as Juanita complexly engages with historically specific debates on the issue, debates that roared from the antebellum period of the novel's composition to the postbellum period of its publication. Many in both the United States and Cuba favored annexation, especially from the 1830s on. The island became the most prosperous sugar colony in the New World after the Haitian Revolution ended Saint Domingue's status as such. Many in Cuba and the United States thus desired to free Cuban sugar markets from autarkical Spanish tariffs. Many in the United States, moreover, saw control of Cuba as essential to national security, worrying that an unstable Cuba could either fall prey to a rival European power or become another Saint Domingue. Finally, prior to the Civil War, many US Southerners and Cubans--and this, as we will see, is key for Juanita--agreed that the two societies were natural bedfellows because of their shared commitment to slavery. In the antebellum period, annexationist speculation ranged from the Polk administration's proposals to purchase the island from Spain to illicit attempts to forcibly "liberate" the island. The most famous such latter incidents were led by Narciso Lopez, a former Spanish military officer who from the United States organized multiple failed attacks on Cuba in the early 1850s.
Annexation remained a major issue during the latter half of the nineteenth century. With its desirability to slaveholders no longer at issue, there was less overt desire to annex the island in the years following the Civil War. During this period, the US government adopted a "no-transfer" policy, stating that it would not interfere with Cuban sovereignty as long as Spain controlled the island. This arrangement satisfied US fears of both European encroachment in the hemisphere and Cuban independence. However, many in the United States believed their nation would inevitably possess Cuba. The situation came to a head in 1898, when the United States intervened in Cuba's insurgent revolution for independence. Ostensibly acting on behalf of the revolutionaries, the United States in fact leagued with Cuban elites who feared the egalitarian Cuba libre movement; these elites supported annexation as a means to suppress the underclasses. While the United States did not annex Cuba after victory against Spain, it exercised sovereignty over the island for many years through the Platt Amendment and other measures.
While all of these issues inflect Juanita's discussion of annexation, the most significant to this abolitionist novel is annexation's relation to slavery. The place of Cuba in debates over slavery was fraught. Expansionists in both the free-soil and pro-slavery camps desired to control the island, and whether or not it would continue to maintain its slavery system after annexation was a matter of debate. However, although we should thus avoid easy generalizations about this issue, one may safely assume that many in the United States believed the island was more desirable to pro-slavery forces. Lars Schoultz identifies non-slavery-based rationales for annexation as "subterfuge for a southern effort to acquire more slave states" (19), and it is difficult to imagine Cuba not becoming a slave state after annexation. Moreover, figures like Lopez were pro-slavery, and the sugar planters were annexation's most vocal Cuban proponent. Lastly, Lopez and the Cuban planters were widely represented as such in the United States (see Chaffin; Cruz-Taura; Lazo, Writing; Opatrny; Perez, Cuba and the United States; and Schoultz, esp. 13-33).
Reflecting this antebellum ideological conflict, Juanita displays an ambivalent stance on annexation, one that, as we will see, points to ambivalence regarding the celebrations of US national identity in which it often engages. With the novel's setting in the antebellum period, several of the characters discuss the annexation proposals of the time as, on the one hand, an attractive possibility for the island, and Mann's third-person narratorial commentary often supports their suggestions. Although the narrator laments the "difficulty ... of making innovations among a people so nationally ignorant as the inhabitants of the Spanish Colonies," she concludes that such difficulties could be overcome through annexation (201).
That Mann views as positive the effects that Cuba would experience if the United States, in the typical figuration, adopted the island as its ward coheres with how the novel represents Cuban difference as a matter of environment and how it construes the change that Isabella's children undergo when they arrive in the United States. Although annexation would not alter the island's physical environment, which, as we have seen, for Mann contributes to its despotic, vicious culture, it would alter its cultural and political environment; the alteration might thus not be perfect, but it would be for the better in Mann's view. Annexation and the education of Isabella's children are, indeed, analogous here; just as Helen provides Isabella's children with the education in New England values necessary to subvert the pernicious effects of the children's inculcation in Cuban slaveholding culture, so, too, does annexation facilitate a national imperial education premised on the United States tutoring Cuba in the maintenance of liberal institutions. (8) This is the best way to think of Mann's imperial model, considering her novel's thematic interest in education. If not for Mann's environmentalist emphasis on human mutability, this imperial education would not be possible. Mann's understanding of Cuban difference in terms of nurture as opposed to nature facilitates viewing Cubans as, despite their acculturated evils, having the potential to improve under the fight conditions.
Those conditions are premised on annexation. Warranting particular remark in the narrator's aforementioned statement is the use of the word "innovation," which trades upon a contrast between the open and the closed that the novel's liberalism often invokes. Cuba's closure to innovation, freedom, and communicative transparency, so emphasized in Mann's liberal critique of the island's culture, can only, the narrator suggests, be opened by union with the more liberal United States. Indeed, Mann writes, "[n]o hope of such a change existed, except in the possibility of annexation" (201). This necessity is pointed up in a passage in which Mann writes that the Cubans desired annexation because they "were descendants of the very Spaniards who tyrannized over them, and gradually learned to hate the mother-country, which showed such rapacious greed, and so little sympathy for their true interests" (208). Mann here implicitly likens the Cuban creoles' relationship to Spain to the US Founders bristling under the reign of an illiberal English crown. However, the analogy is as invested in exhibiting how Cuba and the United States are different as in how they are similar, as it also suggests that Cuba cannot help itself in the same way that the young United States did. Whereas the Founding Fathers fought for their liberty, Cuba merely chafes, like a discontented child, under a tyranny that would likely continue to exist if the island exercised self-sovereignty after being freed from the Spanish yoke. Not ready for the self-government emblematized in the novel's comments on "innovation," Cuba needs the United States; the United States is a genial friend who Cuba must call on for stability.
In that Mann assumes that Cuba will attain freedom only through US intervention, the novel reflects the typical US imperialist move to mask self-interested territorial motives by associating annexation with the spread of liberalism. This move addressed the ideological problem of defending imperialism in an ostensibly anti-imperial nation by equating the self-interested goal of establishing US sovereignty and thus ending Spanish mercantilism with the rhetorically more attractive goal of spreading liberty. To recognize the ideological sleight of hand here, it is worth remembering that many annexationists desired to cede little agency to Cuba; whereas Cuba sought statehood and political self-determination, many annexationists--although not necessarily the Southerners who wanted more slave states--wished to make Cuba a territory without national self-representation. The tendency to view Cuba as incapable of liberal democracy without the United States's help fuels an ideological formation that denied Cubans the right to self-government. If this view had its way, Cubans would not have attained the sovereignty they desired. While we often think of how the United States viewed Cuba as a ward in terms of the politics of 1898 and afterwards, (9) such thinking has antebellum roots that surface in Mann's representation of her characters' understanding of Cuban prospects in the 1830s.
Of course, Juanita is not exactly an antebellum text, and readers must consider why Mann chose to revise and publish an antislavery novel so long after slavery had been abolished. As I stated in opening, Mann's choice to publish Juanita in the 1880s suggests that she believed the novel had something to say to the late-century moment. With abolition no longer at issue in either the United States or Cuba--Spain introduced proto-abolitionist measures in 1878 and abolished slavery in 1886--Mann's concern must have been the continuing question of US-Cuban relations, including the prospect of annexation. The novel was, after all, published not many years prior to 1898. Its suggestions of Cuban illiberality speak to the increasing fervor with which many from the United States at the time argued for annexation as a moral imperative. Mann's indication that there was little hope for Cuban uplift without the United States's assistance resonates, for example, with essayist Edmond Wood's 1901 claim that good government had "never been successfully exercised [by] any people of Spanish origin or training" (67) and that because "every one of the fifteen Latin American republics has had many domestic revolutions, the conclusion is reasonable that Cuba is not free from the same tendency" (73). Much like such interventionist cries, Mann's novel introduces annexation not as a question of territorial acquisition but, rather, in terms of the altruistic imperative of caring for a weak and "nationally ignorant" neighbor island by helping Cuba establish liberal institutions.
However, Mann is finally not so confident about annexation. In tension with her annexationist sentiment is her sense that annexation is not so much a matter of the spread of liberal values as it is of illiberal Southern interests. During a conversation about annexation between Helen and Ludovico, the narrator cynically points out that "[l]ittle did the friends then know that the responsible wish for annexation, which the States had so clearly expressed, had far different objects in view in forming that wish. To extend the area of slavery was their aim at that day" (214). This passage establishes a connection between Cuba and the US South, as it associates annexation with Southern interests in increasing the number of slave-holding states. Mann's association of Cuba with the South reflects an antebellum cultural tendency among proslavery Southerners to envision a shared history between themselves and Cuba and among abolitionist New Englanders to find this connection troubling. Far from expressing confidence about the role of annexation in the nation's liberal mission, New Englanders such as Mann expressed concerns that annexation might in fact amplify illiberal tendencies within the nation (see Guterl, esp. 447). This connection would have been extremely apparent to Mann due to her belief in the physical environment's influence on character and likely consequent awareness of the similarities in environment between Cuba and the US South. While Mann believed that environment could be overcome, she certainly did not believe it could be overcome easily.
One might reasonably opine, though, that Mann viewed these concerns as a thing of the past when she prepared to publish the novel in the 1880s. When she writes that "[l]ittle did the friends know ... [that t]o extend the area of slavery was [the] aim [of antebellum US arguments in favor of annexation] at that day," we see one of the few clear pieces of evidence of Mann's postbellum revisions. In the phrase "at that day," Mann looks back at antebellum annexationism from a post-emancipation moment. Mann here implies that the situation is different in the 1880s than it was in the antebellum period; the "at that day" clearly differentiates the past from the postbellum present of Mann's eventual publication of the novel. From this postbellum perspective, annexation likely seemed more appealing to Mann. Slavery was no longer at issue, so the principle impediment to Mann's vision of expansion as a liberal project was gone. It seems probable that Mann chose to publish the novel in the 1880s because she was then more confident than she formerly was that its representation of Cuba could affirm the moral necessity of annexation. Mann thus resembles other antislavery liberals--Frederick Douglass, for example (10)--who advocated postbellum expansion after opposing it prior to the Civil War.
That said, to view Mann as exhibiting such a direct shift in her perspective on annexation is still to belie her equivocality on the issue. Despite having the opportunity to do so while undertaking her revisions, Mann hardly evokes confidence regarding the propriety of annexation. This continued ambivalence suggests that annexation still troubled Mann. The text is unable to forget annexation's origins in attempts to expand Southern slavery, and, thus, representing annexationist ideas becomes a reminder of that history. The novel's generic qualities are significant here. While Mann originally composed Juanita as an abolitionist fiction, its late publication makes it a historical novel, as its subtitle makes clear. Therefore, the novel is an exercise in thinking about the past's influence on the present. However, it is not typical in this regard. Whereas in most such texts the writer confidently knows, so to speak, how the story ends, this is not the case in Juanita. Mann knew that slavery was over, but the novel's consideration of annexation broaches issues yet to be resolved. The novel, thus, does not attain closure and separation from the past. In considering that past, it anxiously approaches a history of sectional strife over slavery and liberalism. Even while the novel attempts to transcend that history by imagining how postbellum annexation may, in fact, legitimately serve the United States's liberal mission, this history poses questions the novel cannot answer regarding whether a liberal United States can incorporate Cuba. What if the annexation of an island with a history of illiberal propensities compromises US values? What if it strengthens lingering illiberal Southern interests? The history of association between Cuba and the South thus troubles the novel, with the renewed late-century prospect of annexation serving as a reminder of the South's past. It signifies, finally, sectionalism's challenge to the nation's liberal self-conception.
Ultimately, by considering Cuban annexation and associating Cuba with the US South, Mann undercuts the contrast by which she attempts to imagine a US national identity. Mann's denunciation of the US South becomes anxiety over the presence of an Other within the nation, an uncertainty regarding who is who in the differential national schema she has constructed (see Rodriguez 7 on such uncertainties). This anxiety should not be read as outright skepticism on Mann's part regarding whether a US identity that accommodates the South exists; we should not, in other words, reduce Mann's understanding of Southern-New England difference to regionalism. While the novel displays such regionalism at times, Mann's choice to develop national identity vis-a-vis one of the States's hemispheric others suggests that the novel focuses on national as well as regional difference or, more specifically, the implications that regional difference poses for national identity. Moreover, Mann emphasizes that slavery is a national rather than a regional problem, as when her narrator points out that "the northern portion of [Helen's] country proved to have been deeply involved in the pecuniary gains of slavery, and therefore blinded to its heinousness" (26). This statement suggests that Mann was unable to displace New England's investment in slavery onto the South. Resolving the tensions between the regions was not so easy for her. Indeed, Mann would not have failed to notice during her stay in Cuba that Northerners invested in and ran Cuban plantations." In this sense, although her failure is attributable to her acculturated Cuban-ness, Isabella must also be seen as an embodiment of Mann's perception of New England's inability to distinguish itself from the US South and Cuba, considering that Isabella's education in New England fails to enable her to remake Cuba. Mann's sense of these issues would have made it impossible for her to displace concerns about the nation's illiberal investment in slavery onto the South as a distinct entity with no ties to or implications for the larger nation.
The way in which this association between the United States and Cuba undermines Mann's conception of national identity applies to both of the historical moments the novel speaks to; while the issue may seem to be more clearly a problem in how it relates to the antebellum, slave-holding milieu of the novel's composition, it also troubles the novel's postbellum publication context. We typically associate a more assertive, chauvinistic nationalism with the hegemonic liberalism of the late-century moment, a confidence produced by the nation's ostensibly successful navigation of the challenges posed by sectionalism and Civil War and its assumption of supposedly widespread (if unevenly distributed) pecuniary prosperity during the Gilded Age. Mann, as we have seen, in some ways conforms to this paradigm. However, her transformation of an anachronistic antislavery novel into a historical romance points to anxiety over the import of the history the novel represents, a history that implicates a supposedly liberal United States in leaguing with Cuba in slavery's defense. This anxiety amounts to an obsession with the problems history's claims pose for the United States's serf-conception. History serves as a reminder that the South continued to have an ambiguous relationship to the nation after the Civil War. Despite triumphal claims regarding the Civil War's resolution of the internal contradictions the early nation faced, many Southerners viewed themselves as a people apart from the nation. This is an age, after all, when white Southerners increasingly advocated returning to the racialized social and economic forms that predominated throughout much of the twentieth century. White Southerners, moreover, at this time increasingly romanticized Southern difference. Many Northerners, likewise, continued to view the South's legacy and identity as troubling to the nation's aspirations to nationally universal liberalism. At its most complex moments, Mann's novel registers these persistent dislocations of nationality.
AUBURN UNIVERSITY AT MONTGOMERY
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I am grateful to John Michael, Peter Zogas, my fellow-seminar members at the 2010 Dartmouth Futures of American Studies Institute, and the two anonymous referees for Studies in the Novel for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this essay.
(1) See esp. Cooper and Lazo "Against" for recent scholarship on Juanita. See Elbert, Hall, and Rodier; see also Marshall for more general reassessments of Mann. Despite her significant intellectual contributions to nineteenth-century US intellectual culture and reform agendas, Mann has until recently been viewed as a peripheral figure in her milieu of illustrious family and friends, which included her husband Horace Mann, her sister Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, her other sister Sophia's husband Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.
(2) On the novel's composition and publication history, including Mann's reasons for delaying publication, see Ard xvi and Marshall 527, who indicate that Mann outlined the novel while in Cuba in the 1830s, completed a draft by 1858, and made final revisions in the 1880s. For general biographical information, see Ard, Luiggi, Marshall, and Velleman. Tharp's older biographies (1950 and 1953) are also useful, but they contain inaccuracies.
(3) A growing body of scholarship (e.g., Gruesz 210) attests to how metropolitan US writers have long had a conflicted relationship with Spanish America, one bespeaking fascination, guilt, repression, and fear. White (76) considers this phenomenon's role in the emergence of US nationality in the nineteenth century. On this issue as a lacuna in the scholarship on the period, see Gruesz 210 and White 77-78. See also Brickhouse; Cabanas; DeGuzman; Goudie; Perez, Cuba in the American Imagination; Rodriguez; Streeby; and Wertheimer.
(4) I have in mind both traditional, exceptionalist approaches to US literature forwarded by the Myth-Symbol School, as well as more recent work that questions the exceptionalist assumptions of the Myth-Symbol School while retaining its reliance on fixed identity categories. See Levine, who critiques both approaches (Dislocating 19) and instead advocates that we attend to the "'unknowingness" of literary nationalism (2).
(5) Approaches that explore transnational issues such as US-Cuban interaction increasingly predominate in US literary studies. See, e.g., Boggs, Fishkin, Gruesz, and Saldivar.
(6) Cooper argues that "Mann ... offers a critique of the cult of domesticity, with its oppressive limitations for both white and black women" (146). While there is some truth here, I would revise this claim and suggest that the novel does not so much critique domesticity per se as it does corrupt Cuban domestic conventions.
(7) See, e.g., DeGuzman's (esp. xxvii) commentary on Anglo-American views of the Spanish as an "off-white" people, as well as Ard xxiv and Guterl 447 on Anglo-American perceptions of the racial complexity of Cuban society. On the related Black Legend, see DeGuzman; Gibson; Greer, Mignolo, and Quilligan; Juderias; and Retamar.
(8) Mann, thus, can be seen in the terms developed by Kaplan, in which imperialism is conceived as a domestication of the foreign.
(9) See Perez, Cuba in the American Imagination, and for historical context, Cuba and the United States.
(10) On Douglass's perspective on imperialism, see Levine, Dislocating 179-236 and Michael 201-34.
(11) On Northern investment in slavery, see Perez, Cuba and the United States 24-25. See Marshall 273-74 on Mann's awareness of this matter.
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|Author:||Havard, John C.|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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