From “Wall-Flower” to “Queen of the Forest”
Frontier Migration, Nature, and Early Ecofeminism in Caroline Kirkland’s “A New Home, Who’ll Follow? ” (1839)
Pages 469 - 488
In ‘The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers’, Annette Kolodny asserts that women’s literature claimed the West “as a potential sanctuary for an idealized domesticity” (xii) rather than imagining the “[m]assive exploitation and alteration of the continent” (xiii). Kolodny cites Caroline Kirkland’s ‘A New Home, Who’ll Follow?’ (1839) as a key example of how women’s narratives imagined the triumph of domesticity in the ‘wilderness.’ This essay argues that Kirkland articulates mobility—understood as “socially produced motion” (Cresswell 3) according to the “new mobilities” (Urry) paradigm proposed by recent work in cultural geography—as a basis for transformed notions of both home and the natural environment. Analyzing its environmental imagination, I explore how ‘A New Home’, on the one hand, casts migration as fundamental for a sensitized perception of the environment that challenges patriarchal notions of subduing the land as much as traditional ideas of domesticity. Kirkland undermines the conceptual binary between movement and domesticity in ways that question the environmental implications of both. At the same time, her western “removal” obscures the simultaneous removal of Native Americans in the 1830s and 1840s, erasing the ‘Indian’ not only from ‘civilization,’ but also from ‘natural’ American landscapes. The article discusses the environmental implications of a pioneer woman’s account of the frontier as fundamentally tied to effects of migration and relocation.