J. Samaine Lockwood
Archives of Desire
The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism
University of North Carolina Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 22, 2017 Michael Amico
J. Samaine Lockwood, Associate Professor in the English Department at George Mason University, specializes in nineteenth-century American literature and gender and sexuality studies. In an hour-long conversation, we discuss her new book Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
New England has long presented an idealized sense of its past. Restored colonial homes, antique shops, white picket fences around town greens—these are some features you may associate with a conservative, even blinkered view of the past. But the reality is otherwise. Lockwood shows how the story behind this burst of regionalist pride, much the product of the late nineteenth century, is queerer and more women-centered than you could possibly have imagined. In her book, Lockwood argues that nineteenth-century women writers, photographers, and colonial revivalists presented the queer, unmarried daughter of New England as a figure crucial to remembering and producing US history, crucial to that history itself. These women include Sarah Orne Jewett, Alice Morse Earle, C. Alice Baker, as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, and many more. Their literary work, history writing, china collecting, and home restoration evinced a deep cosmopolitanism far exceeding the limits of any supposed provincialism of the New England spinster, both in their own time and in the past about which they wrote.
We talk about how the late-nineteenth century New England regionalists aligned themselves with colonial forms of dissent against monarchical rule, but also rule by men. They followed the trails of colonial women who once manned garrisons in times of war, as well as women who, after capture, chose to stay living with Indians. Much of our conversation talks about how the later women regionalists found roots in the past for their own forms of living intimately with women in the present, including in romantic relationships. A large part of our discussion also focuses on how the knowledge they produced of that past was largely found through the use of their bodies as historical instruments in the care of objects and spaces of a home, the tending of gardens, the wearing of colonial dress. Their bodily sensorium revealed similarities of experiences across time, including feelings of intense sexual pleasure as well as gender-based oppression. Ultimately, this work attuned people to how affective ties and material forms of everyday life (which include nature, objects, the space of a town and its buildings) structure each other in dynamic relationship. The preservation of historic homes and other open to the public and welcoming visitors today owes much to these women. Throughout our conversation, Lockwood and I continue to return to the fact that new possibilities for the ongoing American democratic experiment were to be found in the past as much as the present. The same is true today—if you learn to open your senses to the world around you.
Michael Amico holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. His dissertation, The Forgotten Union of the Two Henrys: The True Story of the Peculiar and Rarest Intimacy of the American Civil War, is about the romance between Henry Clay Trumbull and Henry Ward Camp of the Tenth Connecticut Regiment. He is the author, with Michael Bronski and Ann Pellegrini, of “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People (Beacon, 2013), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Nonfiction. He can be reached at [email protected].