English, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in CHOICE, vol. 44, no. 1 (September 2006), p. 144. Copyright (c) 2006 American Library Association. Used by permission.


Rossetti (St. Xavier Univ.) argues that representations of characters as “primitives” in late 19th and early-20th century literary texts served to “limn the boundaries of American Identity.” Much like Walker Been Michaels in Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (CH, Mar’ 96, 33-3775), she focuses primarily on ways that literary representations seek to constitute the national family as white in the face of increasing numbers of ethnic and racial others. Rossetti brings an interesting set of nonliterary texts to this conversation, namely writings by late-19th- and early 20th-centruy sociologists and other cultural analysts, and the juxtapositions these provide allow interesting readings of such authors as Norris, Dreiser, O’Neill, Eliot, Cather, and Fauset. However, the author’s broader claims – about how attention to the primitive breaks down article boundaries between naturalism and modernism as literary movements – are week and poorly conceptualized , and her engagements with published criticism on the authors she labels of “modernist” are sometimes exceedingly thing. The writing is clear and accessible, for the most part, but Rossetii sometimes brings in theoretical terminology without explanation or contextualization.