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Jim Zwick <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 16 Mar 2005 11:31:29 -0500
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_Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the
United States_. By Stephanie LeMenager. University of Nebraska Press,
2004. Pp. ix + 286. Cloth. 6 x 9 inches. $50.00. ISBN 0-8032-2949-6.

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Jim Zwick

Copyright (c) 2005 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

In _Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the Nineteenth-
Century United States_, Stephanie LeMenager (assistant professor of
English at the University of California, Santa Barbara) examines writings
about three "uninhabitable" geographic spaces--deserts, oceans and rivers--
to recover alternate visions of westward expansion and the American nation
put forward by writers of the nineteenth century. Four canonical writers,
Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper (deserts), Herman Melville
(oceans), and Mark Twain (rivers), are given center stage, but a wide range
of other writers are also discussed both in introductory essays that provide
historical overviews and to compare their writings with what others were
thinking and writing at the time. Relatively unpopular or "failed works,"
states in the introduction, "are well worth rereading because their authors
have been credited with shaping the dominant symbolism of Manifest
Destiny and U.S. nationalism--so their slip-ups, as it were, reveal the
fissures in that symbolism" (p. 6).

LeMenager's provocative choice of geographies is explained in the
introduction in relation to mythic interpretations of the West and the
as isolated, self-reliant places. "In the rhetoric of U.S. expansion, places
resemble passageways rather than lands to be farmed--places like deserts,
oceans, and rivers--figure as eruptions of the foreign on the projected map
U.S. nationhood" (p. 2). Furthermore, "the counter-narratives of Manifest
Destiny generated by apparently landless places like deserts, oceans and
rivers suggest theories of U.S. nationhood that Henry Nash Smith labeled
'mercantilist' or 'maritime' in his classic study of the North American
_Virgin Land_" (p. 2). Deserts, oceans and rivers were places where
Americans confronted the foreign, whether Indian nations or European
traders, and engaged in all manner of commercial exchanges, from trading
furs to buying and selling slaves.

The three geographic spaces are not given equal treatment in the book. Part
I, "Desert," begins with a useful historical overview, "Inventing the
Desert," and proceeds with two chapters on James Fenimore Cooper's _The
Prairie_ (1827) and Washington Irving's _A Tour on the Prairies_ (1835),
_Astoria_ (1836) and _Adventures of Captain Bonneville_ (1837). Part II,
"Ocean," consists of one chapter that is more like the introductory chapters
in the other sections. Although primarily focusing on Melville's writings,
also discusses Richard Henry Dana's _Two Years Before the Mast_,
Cooper's writings about the sea, and other authors. Part III, "River,"
with an introductory essay on "The Culture of Water" and proceeds with a
wide-ranging essay, "The Nation's Mouth," on the Southwest and the
Mississippi River, and concludes with "Mark Twain's Manifest and Other
Destinies."  That chapter begins with his Mississippi writings but extends
a discussion of _Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven_. The
book ends with a brief "Epilogue" that acknowledges continuing debates
about the West and the nation.

The writings examined by LeMenager span the nineteenth century, from the
earliest attempts to explore and assess the territory acquired through the
Louisiana Purchase of 1803 to some of Mark Twain's early twentieth-century
writings on the Mississippi and the United States as a whole. The phrase
"manifest destiny" was coined by John L. O'Sullivan near the middle of the
nineteenth century, in a July 1845 essay advocating the annexation of Texas
to the United States (see "Annexation," _The United States Magazine and
Democratic Review_,  <
cgi?notisid=AGD1642-0017-4>). There was not a national consensus on the
idea of a continental United States until the issue of slavery was settled
the Civil War. Although the book is organized by geography, not chronology,
the primary texts examined are chronologically arranged. All of the major
texts discussed in Part I date from the 1820s and 1830s, before O'Sullivan
coined the phrase, most texts in Part II are roughly contemporaneous with it
(1840s and 1850s), and Twain's writings that close Part III are all from
the Civil War when it was a nationally accepted concept--one that was by
the end of the century being applied even to acquisition of overseas
territories in the Pacific and Asia. Although LeMenager does provide useful
historical overviews of how views of the different geographic regions
over time, one drawback to her geographic organization of the book is that
there is no overall assessment of how the idea of "manifest destiny" itself
evolved. Even keeping the geographic organization of the book, which is
useful and thought-provoking, that might have been accomplished with a
concluding chapter on the national consequences or ramifications of the
local histories of the specific regions.

Historians reading the book will be more upset by LeMenager's occasional
interpretations of pre-modern thought as post-modern. The chapter on
oceans is entitled "The Postwestern Space of the Sea," for example,
although it deals with writings from a period when the west was not yet
settled. Similarly, she describes pre-national U.S. trading narratives as
"presciently post-national" (pp. 71, 238). Her use of such current scholarly
constructs as postmodern, postwestern and post-national when dealing with
the creation of nineteenth-century nationalism is a distraction from her
primary point--that the _national_ construct never really existed in its

In her introduction, LeMenager writes that "the later nineteenth-century
writings of Mark Twain, and Twain's own multi-regional persona, figure in
this book as historical models of how the regional imagination of South and
West can be conceptually joined--to each other and to global concerns like
international imperialism and slavery" (p. 10). Although placed within the
section of the book on "River," the chapter on "Mark Twain's Manifest and
Other Destinies" is not confined to his Mississippi writings. While
new materials, it performs some of the functions of a conclusion by drawing
together discussions of writings on the Mississippi and the western
with the extension of national "destiny" beyond the confines of the North
American continent. She writes that "troubling connections among world
economic systems, local western economies, and the institutionalization of
'race' in the United States would be explored, if incompletely, in Twain's
classic river novels before blossoming into anti-imperialist diatribes aimed
King Leopold of Belgium and other late-century offenders abroad" (p. 191).
The chapter reviews the books that you would expect--_Huckleberry Finn_
and _Roughing It_--but they are given a fresh interpretation by reading them
against later works that deal with related subject matter from a different,
historically and biographically later perspective. _Huckleberry Finn_ (1885)
is set against  "Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy," an unfinished novella Twain
wrote between 1897 and 1902. _Roughing It_ (1872) is read against
_Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven_ (1909). Through these
pairings, LeMenager counters what she describes as "the desire, for many
readers, to separate out Twain's later political writings from his earlier
(p. 191).

The chapter on Twain presents an interesting, relatively holistic
interpretation of his work. I found myself disagreeing with some points, but
my primary criticism is with her sources of texts. She uses Walter Blair's
1969 book, _Mark Twain's Hannibal, Huck and Tom_, as the source for
"Tom Sawyer's Conspiracy," and she dates it as having been written in 1899.
When it was published in the Mark Twain Project's _Huck Finn and Tom
Sawyer Among the Indians and Other Unfinished Stories_ (Univ. of
California Press, 1989), the story was dated as having been worked on from
1897 "possibly until 1902."  The later edition is the more authoritative
but that is perhaps a minor quibble. Her use of "Extract from Captain
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" from a 1985 collection of short stories edited
Justin Kaplan is a more serious problem. The complete text of "Captain
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" was first published in Howard Baetzhold and
Joseph McCullough's 1995 book, _The Bible According to Mark Twain_
(Univ. of Georgia  Press). The "Extract" Twain published in 1909 did not
include a chapter on imperialism that would have been relevant to
LeMenager's discussion of Twain's later views on "manifest destiny."  In a
note citing Philip S. Foner's landmark 1958 book, _Mark Twain: Social
Critic_, she refers to the "unpublished anti-imperialist writings that make
Foner's extensive archive" (p. 267) without expressing any awareness that
most of what was unpublished in 1958 has long since been published.
LeMenager's conclusion in the Epilogue that "there have been far more
oppositional and creative revisions of 'America' than Twain's" (p. 221)
to lack supporting evidence because she relied on a partial text of "Captain
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" and did not address other, much more critical
works such as "The Stupendous Procession" and the series of apocalyptic
historical fantasies brought together in the "Nightmare of History" section
John S. Tuckey's _Mark Twain's Fables of Man_ (Univ. of California Press,
1972) and the "Eden and the Flood" section of _The Bible According to Mark
Twain_. The chapter on Twain was clearly not intended as a comprehensive
review but the selection of texts does not seem to have been based on a
thorough knowledge of the subject.

Priced at $50, _Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the
Nineteenth-Century United States_ is not a book that most Twain scholars
will want to rush out to buy for their personal collections. It is a book
many scholars will find interesting and valuable, however. Besides the
chapter specifically on Twain, LeMenager's innovative approach to
geographic spaces as social and political constructs will likely provide
for thought for anyone studying Twain's regional writings. Most college and
university libraries will want to consider it for their collections,
those with a focus on Western Studies, American Studies, regional
literatures, and imperialism. Once it is available in paperback, it will
make an
excellent choice for many classes on those subjects as well.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Jim Zwick is the editor of _Mark Twain's Weapons
of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War_ (1992)
and has written numerous journal articles and book chapters on Mark Twain
and the Anti-Imperialist League. He is also the creator of the web site that has large sections on Mark Twain and the
political and cultural history of U.S. imperialism and the anti-imperialist
movements formed to oppose it.



Introduction: Manifest and Other Destinies, 1

Part I: Desert
Inventing the American Desert, 23
1. The American Desert, Empire Anxiety, and Historical Romance, 31
2. Desert and World, 71

Part II: Ocean
3. The Postwestern Space of the Sea, 109

Part III: River
The Culture of Water, 139
4. The Nation's Mouth, 145
5. Mark Twain's Manifest and Other Destinies, 189
6. Epilogue, 221

Notes, 223
Index, 275