Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton) begins the final paragraph of her “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian” (1909) with two sentences that sum up her argument throughout: “After all I have no nationality and am not anxious to claim any. Individuality is more than nationality” (252). These two sentences challenge our understanding of “nation” and “nationalism” in a similar way that Editha’s continual appeals to national honor in William Dean Howells’ story by asking us as readers to question what we mean when we use these terms. Today, I want to briefly explore some aspects of Far’s text that we can tease out with students to help them think about the implications of closed, insular nation states.
Typically, critics read William Dean Howells’ “Editha” as a story that comments on our need to proclaim our national identities through patriotism and war and how that continual proclamation does more harm than good. Others read “Editha” through a feminist lens arguing that the focus of the story lies in the ways that Editha and Mrs. Gearson work to exert power over George. Today, I want to offer a reading that exists in the middle ground between these two position by examining the allusions to works by Richard Lovelace and William Shakespeare that appear in the story.
Last semester, I had students construct presentations of terms and historical events in my Early American Literature survey course. I have a posts on the assignment itself and on some of the projects that students created. This semester, I am tweaking that assignment in a couple of ways. Rather than having students present on specific terms and presenting during the last week of class, I am having students present on texts by authors that we will be covering throughout the semester. I have done something like this before with the Wikis in my “The City in American Literature Course.” This project, however, is a little bit different. Below, you will find a description of the project and a discussion of my thinking in regards to its construction.