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The Beautiful and the Doomed: Essays on Literary Value


Miroslawa Buchholtz

The book addresses the problem of literary value in North American literature, children’s literature, film and poetry. Chapter One: The Ennob(e)led focuses on institutions which are instrumental in attributing value to literature: literary critics (e.g. D.H. Lawrence) and award givers (e.g. the Swedish Academy). It explores W.B. Yeats’s, T.S. Eliot’s, Czesław Miłosz’s and William Golding’s lives with the Nobel Prize. In Chapter Two: The Forgotten homage is paid to four authors who lost popularity, or never enjoyed it: Lorenza Stevens Berbineau, Frank Stockton, Charles Chesnutt and Conrad Aiken. Chapter Three: From Margin to Mainstream compares various Chinese, Japanese, First Nations’ and other ethnic voices in Canadian children’s literature. Chapter Four: From Mainstream to Margin juxtaposes scholarly pursuits with cinematic praxis, and cinematic praxis with political activity.


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Chapter Two: The Forgotten


2.1. From Travail to Travel: An American Working Woman Abroad It is doubtful that Lorenza Stevens Berbineau (c.1806–1869), Maine-born domestic servant and household manager working in Boston, imagined her writing as memo- rable enough to be worth publishing. The occasions on which she wrote were im- portant to her, she was literate (more or less), she inherited the habit of keeping a diary from New England Puritans, and so she wrote, without bothering what poster- ity might think about her. Her diaries were studied by P.A.M. Taylor (1986) and Thomas Dublin (1994), but it took a century and a half before her private account of travel to Europe appeared in print accompanied by a study which explains not only Berbineau’s but also our times. This essay deals with a specific editorial project and with a shift in class and gender identity to which the project testifies. Published for the first time in 2002, the travel diary of Lorenza Stevens Berbineau, housekeeper for the Lowells, who were a wealthy Boston family, is a product of female bonding across time and space, proving in itself the lasting effect of the shift. In 1851, at the age of roughly forty-five, Berbineau accompanied the Lowells on their six-month grand tour of Europe. She returned to Boston with a travel diary – an exceptional piece of writing in the sense that it is one of the very few surviving working-class travel diaries of the antebellum United States (Kilcup 2002: 2). Constituting part of the Francis...

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