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Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century


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Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century

By: Robin L. Cadwallader and LuElla D'Amico

Video Interview

Robin L. Cadwallader and LuElla D'Amico discuss their edited volume, Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century, with Marlowe Daly-Galeano. Watch here on the SHCY Youtube Channel, or listen to the conversation as a podcast. Other episodes of the SHCY podcast are available at our podcast website, or you can subscribe on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

Robin Cadwallader is Professor of English/Communications and Women’s Studies at Saint Francis University. LuElla D’Amico is an Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Incarnate Word. Marlowe Daly-Galeano is Director for the Center for Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor of English at Lewis- Clark State College in Idaho. 



This review was originally published in Women's Studies, 51 no. 6 (2022), 699-701:

Robin L. Cadwallader and LuElla D’Amico, editors.

Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century.

New York: Routledge, 2020.

The essays in Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century open new pathways for inquiries into girlhood studies, travel narratives, and women’s literature. This collection includes twelve essays revealing how transatlantic exchange created new cultural frameworks for nineteenth century girls and women. Contributors provide insight into works published between 1841 and 1915 by authors including Elizabeth W. Champney, Mary Jane Holmes, Sarah Orne Jewett, L. M. Montgomery, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Johanna Spyri, Adeline Trafton, Susan Warner, Kate Douglas Wiggin, and more. Here, reading practices, friendships, and travel influence girls and women in the literature.

Editors Robin L. Cadwallader and LuElla D’Amico open with an introduction that establishes the collection’s contributions and makes a case for interpreting Louise May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) as “a global story that depicts young women’s identities being transformed because of transatlantic contact” (10). Cadwallader and D’Amico explain key concepts in their book, noting that contributors consider girlhood as a site of possibility and both “an identity marker and representational construct” (5). Transatlantic journeys happen both literally and metaphorically. Travel’s transformative potential comes through in each essay, for travel as a trope “is filled with newness as well as self- and re-self-formation” (Cadwallader and D’Amico 4). The editors’ introduction acknowledges limitations because this volume cannot encompass all important issues. Rather, the collection is a starting point for new directions, giving scholars material for next steps in continuing the research.

The three sections of the book are organized by focus, not chronology, and vary in length. The first section, “Transatlantic Girlhood,” has three chapters; the central section on “American Girls Abroad” has six chapters; the final section, “Girlhood, Humane Offerings, and the Transatlantic Nature of Ideas,” includes two chapters. All three sections make important interventions in nineteenth century literary studies. The chapters are in conversation with one another and make connections with claims and themes in other chapters, thus giving the book cohesion of vision about the motif of travel in relation to girlhood.

Multiple genres and formats are considered by the contributors. Within the third section, Amber Shaw in “‘Our humble words have gone over the seas’: The Transatlantic Circulation of The Lowell Offering” provides a noteworthy essay on the readership and impact of the magazine The Lowell Offering (1840–1845), which was written by the factory operatives of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts (179). Jordan L. Von Cannon adds valuably to studies of Catharine Maria Sedgwick through an examination of her travel narrative Letters from Abroad (1841). As Von Cannon discusses in the chapter titled “Dreams of Youth: The Girl, the Writer, and the Nation in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Letters from Abroad,” Sedgwick went to Europe at age forty-nine with her brother, who had medical health needs, and this trip shows her “that young and old are not incompatible or opposing stages of life” (158). While most essays laud the beneficial aspects of travel, Robin L. Cadwallader in “‘everything, so indescribable, so never-to-be-forgotten’: Reading Adeline Trafton’s An American Girl Abroad as a Cautionary Tale,” provides a valuable counterpoint through her examination of Trafton’s An American Girl Abroad (1872), a semi-autobiographical narrative with a less favorable interpretation of travel and tourism in Europe (161).

While most chapters interpret texts that were first published in the English language, the chapter by LuElla D’Amico and Tanja Stampfl analyzes Heidi (1881), which was first published in German. Their essay, “A Swiss-American Merger: Reading Johanna Spyri’s Heidi Within and Beyond the Canon of Nineteenth-Century American Sentimental Fiction,” demonstrates how Heidi fits within, but amends, the United States literary sentimental tradition, offering a more progressive narrative (D’Amico and Stampfl 41). The characterization of Heidi practices “community-building, inside and outside of domestic spaces,” and promotes “energy, agency, and truth” for readers (D’Amico and Stampfl 54).

Scholars of books in a series may be particularly interested in Kathleen Chamberlain’s study of Champney’s entire Vassar Girls series (1883–1892), Joyce Kelley’s focus on the second volume of Champney’s series; Brittany Biesiada’s analysis of Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Penelope series (1893–1915). Biesiada’s chapter, “‘Is she a princess or only an American?’: Transatlantic Travel and Identity Formation in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Penelope Series,” pulls out the contradictions in the series and compares it with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Addressing complexities in expectations about womanhood, marriage, and being an artist, Biesiada argues that for the protagonists in the Penelope series, “while marriage has offered some completion to the women’s lives, it does not form the bulk of their existence” (126).

Part of Routledge’s Nineteenth Century Series, this collection contains abundant resources that merit reading by academics researching the travel motif, or any of the authors and issues covered by contributors. Firmly grounded in scholarship on girlhood studies and transatlantic studies, this collection also has an exemplary index. The work holds further significance for extending scholarly conversations advanced by recent collections such as Transatlantic Women: Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and Great Britain (2012), edited by Beth Lueck, Brigitte Bailey, and Lucinda Damon-Bach; Girls’ Series Fiction in American Popular Culture, edited by LuElla D’Amico (2016); Transatlantic Conversations: Nineteenth Century American Women’s Encounters with Italy and the Atlantic World (2016), edited by Beth Lueck, Sirpa Salenius, and Nancy Lucignan Schultz; and Saving the World: Girlhood and Evangelicalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature, edited by Allison Giffen and Robin L. Cadwallader (2017). Yet Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century breaks new ground and, as the editors Robin L. Cadwallader and LuElla D’Amico state in the introduction, opens “a much needed conversation in a journey of exploration about girlhood as a global construct in nineteenth-century literature” (17).

Amy Cummins, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Robin CadwalladerAbout Robin Cadwallader

Robin Cadwallader is Professor of English/Communications and Women’s Studies, chair of the English Department, and Director of the Women’s Studies program at Saint Francis University, where she teaches courses in American literature, young adult and children’s literature, literary theory, women’s literature, and social responsibility courses. She has coedited three collections on nineteenth-century literature: Saving the World: Girlhood and Evangelicalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature, with Allison Giffen Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century, with LuElla D’Amico and a special issue of Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Rebecca Harding Davis, with Mischa Renfroe. Dr. Cadwallader has also edited an edition of Mary Rankin’s Daughter of Affliction: A Memoir of the Protracted Sufferings and Religious Experience of Miss Mary Rankin, a small collection of Rebecca Harding Davis’s Stories for Boys; and Rebecca Harding Davis’s Stories of the Civil War Era, with Sharon M. Harris. She is currently co-editing, with LuElla D’Amico, a collection of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s children’s stories for Oxford University Press.





LuElla D'AmicoAbout LuElla D'Amico

LuElla D’Amico is an Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Incarnate Word. Her primary research interests lie in girlhood, girl culture, and women's religious writing in early and nineteenth-century American literature. She has edited a volume about the history of girls’ series books in the U.S. titled Girls’ Series Fiction and American Popular Culture and is co-editor (with Robin Cadwallader) of Reading Transatlantic Girlhood in the Long Nineteenth Century. Her articles have appeared in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Girlhood StudiesESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, Women's Studies, and numerous other venues.  Dr. D’Amico currently serves as President of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society and is editing Harriet Beecher Stowe's children's writing with Dr. Cadwallader for Oxford University Press's The Collected Works of Harriet Beecher Stowe.



This post is part of the SHCY Featured Books series, which provides conversations about important contributions to the history of childhood and youth.