Sentimental Eco-Memoir: Refuge, Hole in the Sky, and the Necessary Reader

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Contribution to Books

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In the recent issue of Western American Literature devoted to the subject of "Western Autobiography and Memoir", a recurring theme asserts itself: according to the issue editors as well as several contributing essayists and reviewers, "the project of identity is relational," as demonstrated even in the autobiography of a Victorian cowboy.1 In making this claim, editors Kathleen Boardman and Gioia Woods join recent autobiographical critics in defining the genre's subject as "encumbered," not solitary or autonomous.2 In this regard, theorists of autobiography echo literary historians who are recovering a nineteenth-century sentimental tradition. The sentimental subject, according to critic Joanne Dobson, responds to "the tragedy of separation, of severed human ties" by envisioning the "self-in-relation."3 Such a self, as Mary Louise Kete elaborates, "exists only by and through others."4 While autobiographical theorists have begun to recognize a number of "relations" that define the textual "self", sentimental literary historians have best theorized the relation most significant for two prominent western memoirs in which the presentations of a "self" serves an eco-political agenda.

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