Points: The Dash in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”
ABSTRACT: “Intimate Points: The Dash in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” proposes that the many dashes in the manuscript of Benjamin Franklin’s memoir serve an important rhetorical function, challenging the common view of editors that these punctuation marks belong to the text only insofar as Franklin did not have the opportunity to prepare it for publication. The dashes are fundamental to the text, I argue, not despite but because of their historical associations with the processes rather than the products of communication (both written and oral) and, more specifically, because of the rapport with readers they help to cultivate—a mode of thoughtful intimacy on which, Franklin believed, the success of his life narrative, and America itself, depended. A survey of changing ideas and practices of punctuation and their relation to the eighteenth-century rise of print culture contextualizes close readings of the Autobiography.LAUREL BOLLINGER, “Trauma, Influenza, and Revelation in Katherine Anne Porter’s 'Pale Horse, Pale Rider'”
ABSTRACT: In 1918, Katherine Anne Porter nearly died of Spanish flu, an experience that inspired her novella “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” which describes a romance cut short by the disease. While Porter’s story—particularly the romance—is fictionalized, historians and literary critics have taken it as fact, leading many critics to consider the text largely in terms of trauma. Yet such readings miss the narrative’s careful structure, centered on a religious vision experienced by the autobiographical character Miranda just as the disease reaches its climax. To highlight that vision, Porter bases the novella’s structure on the Book of Revelation and the apocalyptic genre more generally, yet her all-but-scientific discussion of flu symptoms means that even the apocalyptic genre cannot construct a clear meaning for pandemic flu. Her narrative thus fuses fact and fiction, the mythic and the scientific, in a hybridized genre that offers a uniquely modernist response to trauma.
JAMES MULVIHILL, “Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent as Secret History”
ABSTRACT: Commentary on Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800) has focused on the novel’s native Irish narrator, Thady Quirk, and its framing apparatus of editor, preface, notes, and glossary. Both devices—a humble narrator strategically placed in a prominent household and an accompanying meta-narrative of plausible textual origins—are the stock-in-trade of secret history. As a genre, secret history is amorphous and pervasive, taking many forms and treating many different subject-matters. What all secret histories share, however, whether or not they even call themselves secret histories, is a characteristically subversive position relative to constituted power and to the official narratives by which power validates itself. This essay considers Edgeworth’s best-known novel as a form of secret history, examining it in the context of secret histories published in England from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century.ALEX PITOFSKY, “Unseen Academy: John Knowles’s A Separate Peace ”
ABSTRACT: American school novels usually examine prep-school life in highly skeptical ways. One rare exception is John Knowles’s A Separate Peace (1959). Instead of raising doubts about exclusive private schools, Knowles carefully shields his fictional academy from criticism. First of all, he keeps the Devon School and its routines offstage throughout the novel. Second, when the students in A Separate Peace suffer physical and emotional trauma, Knowles makes it clear that Devon should not be held responsible. Knowles’s efforts to turn the reader’s attention away from the school have a paradoxical effect. On the one hand, they weaken A Separate Peace by making its main setting vague and remote; on the other, they help to explain the novel’s enormous popularity. Because Devon never comes into sharp relief, readers are free to fill the space Knowles leaves vacant with their most idealized notions about elite private academies.