Contemporary Literary Criticism "Talma Gordon" First Critical Edition

Section Summary:

The most common elements to critical reviews of “Talma Gordon” discuss imperialism and Western expansion, in the realm of African American culture that is unique to Pauline Hopkin’s writings. While the articles gathered here span from the influences upon Hopkin’s writing to the effects it has had upon modern attempts at multiculturalism in the American canon, all are modern (post-1990) reviews of the focus story. When reading (or re-reading) “Talma Gordon”, these articles help give the reader some nuanced context and lenses through which to understand the story anew. Collectively, we can read the text in a larger spectrum via understanding a relationship of “Talma Gordon” within the canon in much the same way Talma herself fits into elite society.

Summary of Laura Behling's "‘Generic’ Multiculturalism: Hybrid Texts, Cultural Contexts."

Behling summarizes her argument about Talma Gordon succinctly in the introduction to her second paragraph, stating “the presence of Talma Gordon in elite “white” Boston society mirrors the place “Talma Gordon” assumes in American literature - both disrupt conventional notions of race and destabilize the reader’s expectations about the text’s genre.” Overall, Behling’s article is placed in a handbook for educators about how to discuss and teach hybrid texts such as Talma Gordon, but her comparison of the role of the titled-character to the role of the text in the American canon is intriguing.

Summary of Jill Bergman's "'Everything We Hoped She'd Be': Contending Forces in Hopkins Scholarship"

Bergman starts off discussing how Pauline Hopkins found success and a place for her literature in the academic world after a biographical article was written about her by another writer in 1972. This article, along with the republishing of her books for a special African American female writers project helped her find more success and attention in the modern world.

Next, she talks about Hopkins’ relationship with The Colored American Magazine and some of the suspicions she had around Hopkins being released from her duties as editor by the magazine. “... we know she left the magazine in 1904, the same year the magazine changed hands and moved from Boston to New York. The magazine gave notice of her leaving in its “Publisher’s Announcements,” along with some lukewarm praise for her service, citing poor health as the reason she was stepping down” (Bergman, 182). Bergman continues to say that Pauline Hopkins continued to release content in other magazines a short while after this excuse was used, leading her to question if it was legitimate or not.

Hopkins and her work spanned a wide variety of racial issues during this time, including “... radical moments in which she expresses strong belief in the need for African Americans to agitate and fight for their rights” (Bergman, 188). This included issues such as misogynism, mixed race relationships, people of mixed blood, and many others.

Summary of Debra Bernardi's "Narratives of Domestic Imperialism: The African-American Home in the Colored American Magazine and the Novels of Pauline Hopkins, 1900-1903"

Bernardi states “Within the context of local and international colonization, fears of invasion of both the private household and the larger racial family permeated African-American culture at the turn of the century” (Bernardi, 204). Talma Gordon is one such work, directly addressing the colored woman’s role in imperialization in the context of racial integration.

Bernardi goes on to credit Hopkins as defining women’s role in racial relations: “ I am terming Hopkins's form of domestic imperialism an "invasion of influence." By gently penetrating other spaces and consequently changing white attitudes and improving black lives, Hopkins's African-American characters engage in conflict with the forces of white hegemony, but not through a violent, male-centered struggle. The model of invasion that organizes Hopkins's narratives registers black anxieties about white racism, but attempts (alas, not always successfully) to invest black women with power for themselves.” (211-12)

Bernardi argues that Hopkins uses her works to carve out a colored woman’s role in US imperialism via her term “invasion of influence”, which I think Talma Gordon could be argued to uniquely be: a colored woman retaining a position of respect via the gentle “flow” of her own imperialism via integration to a white nuclear family.

Summary of Sigrid Anderson Cordell's "The Case Was Very Black against’ Her: Pauline Hopkins and the Politics of Racial Ambiguity at the ‘Colored American Magazine.'"

In her article on Pauline Hopkin’s “Talma Gordon”, Sigrid Anderson Cordell argues strongly against the possible contradictions that have been discussed as she works to put Hopkin’s short story into context of the time and the publication that it was published in. She strives to show the reader that “Talma Gordon” was a masterpiece that called attention to issues of the time without compromising for the sake of the white reader. “I argue that Hopkins negotiates the minefield of early twentieth-century gender and racial politics by drawing on a multiply-embedded narrative structure that both distances the reader from the threat of imminent social upheaval and uncovers a stark vision of the violence suffered by black women” (Cordell, 53). Pauline Hopkins uses a complicated narrative structure to get the point across about the violent oppression that women of color were facing during the time of “Talma Gordon” without ever directly having to state her goal. By having the narrative spoken through a white man, and with the secret of Talma’s race hidden until late into the story, Hopkins was able to draw the reader into the story before slapping them with the realization that the woman accused in the story is innocent and she was of African American descent. Yet, they still felt sorrow for her misery.

Summary of John Cullen Gruesser's CODA in The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home: African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion

In the CODA for his book, Gruesser writes “To counter the self-congratulatory belief among whites that U.S. expansion in the wake of the victory over Spain in 1898 represents a new echelon in human advancement, Hopkins places two predations at the heart of the tale: slavery (including its legacies of sexual exploitation and amalgamation) in the United States and Western imperialism in the East Indies.” as his explanation of focus in reviewing Talma Gordon.

He further explains, “Taken as a whole, Hopkins’s intricately constructed narrative equates Anglo-Saxon “civilization” with piracy and a lust for gold and categorizes slavery in the United States as a byproduct of imperial rapacity that resulted in amalgamation and racial intolerance.”

Overall, Gruesser argues that Talma Gordon is not truly to be read as proimperialist (which many other critics have read it as being), and that it truly exposes greed, racial intolerance, and hypocrisy.

Summary of Steve Mardsen's "Two Sources for Pauline Hopkins' ‘Talma Gordon"

Mardsen argues that Pauline Hopkins had heavy influence from other sources that had already been published at the time that Talma Gordon was written and did not give proper credit to these sources. “... critics have not noticed more specific debts in Talma Gordon. The solution to the murder only occurs when the story’s narrator, a doctor, recieves the confession of a man under his care who is dying from Tuberculosis… Hopkins seems to have adapted this resolution, together with some peculiarities of phrasing, from two sources” (Mardsen, 46). He goes on to argue that while Talma Gordon does indeed take on some of the racial issues of its time, the lack of credit given to the seeming sources of inspiration for Hopkins is worrisome.

Summary of John A. Nickel's "Eugenics and the Fiction of Pauline Hopkins"

Nickel writes extensively on the arguments that Pauline Hopkins makes for eugenics in her writings, including Talma Gordon. He argues that no matter what her original intentions were, her positions and the way she supported them were incredibly problematic. “Hopkins advocated that African-Americans’ genetic improvement was necessary for racial advancement and dependent on their marital choices” (Nickel, 47). This in itself was problematic, because with following this logic, Hopkins was basically advocating for colored women to only marry white men or men who were not black in order to create a superior race of people.

Summary of Augusta Rohrbach's "To Be Continued: Double Identity, Multiplicity and Antigenealogy as Narrative Strategies in Pauline Hopkins’ Magazine Fiction"

Augusta Rohrbach argues that Pauline Hopkins used the genres that she wrote in, along with plot structure, to further her own theories about race and marriage as it applied to future generations. “Readers must closely read or be lost hopelessly in the plot” (Rohrbach). Her use of many different literary skills is what forces the reader to not only stay engaged but to pay attention for fear of missing a detail that will later on turn out to be crucial to the development of the narrative as it continues on in unexpected directions. This usage of different literary tools allows Hopkins to further her own beliefs and opinions on different racial matters while simultaneously grasping the attention of the reader and drawing them deeper into the narrative as it unfolds.

Summary of James D. Stripes' Article

Stripes is a review of a work by Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood. The Cordell review also points to this book and credits it as being “one of the fullest treatments that ‘Talma Gordon’ has received to date” (Cordell, footnote 57)

Stripes states Carby “[elevates] one writer above the others…[by] devoting two chapters to Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins”

He credits Carby as identifying “Talma Gordon” as the “most concentrated revision of an imperialist history”

Summary of Patricia A. Turner's "From Talma Gordon to Theresa Galloway: Images of African American Women in Mysteries"

Turner gives accolades to Hopkins “Talma Gordon” agreeing with another critic, Paula L. Woods, stating “ Woods aptly attaches the name ‘foremother of African-American mysteries’" to Hopkins” (Turner, 24). She goes on to later add “Hopkins succeeds in providing the reader with a series of puzzles within a mystery, simultaneously making a powerful statement about turn-of-the-century racial hypocrisy.” However, when she applies modern-day standards, she comes to a different conclusion, critiquing the work by stating “by today's standards the fact that the redemp- tion is fueled by a benevolent white male's intervention (the doctor-narrator reveals he is married to Talma Gordon) is less than satisfying” (Turner, 24).


Behling, Laura L. “‘Generic’ Multiculturalism: Hybrid Texts, Cultural Contexts.” College English, vol. 65, no. 4, 2003, pp. 411–426. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3594242. Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

Bergman, Jill A. “‘Everything We Hoped She'd Be’: Contending Forces in Hopkins Scholarship.” African American Review, vol. 38, no. 2, 2004, pp. 181–199, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1512285?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Bernardi, Debra. "Narratives of Domestic Imperialism: The African-American Home in the Colored American Magazine and the Novels of Pauline Hopkins, 1900-1903,", Separate Spheres No More : Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830-1930, University of Alabama Press, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/carroll/detail.action?docID=1727538.

Cordell, Sigrid Anderson. “‘The Case Was Very Black against’ Her: Pauline Hopkins and the Politics of Racial Ambiguity at the ‘Colored American Magazine.’” American Periodicals, vol. 16, no. 1, 2006, pp. 52–73. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020.

Gruesser, John Cullen. The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion . University of Georgia Press, 2012, pp. 94-103. Accessed e-book 14 Oct. 2020. https://trails-carroll.alma.exlibrisgroup.com/view/action/uresolver.do;jsessionid=D46C1EB5B7B0BBE674C7BE55984DEE90.app01.na02.prod.alma.dc04.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com:1801?operation=resolveService&package_service_id=2722297990003381&institutionId=3381&customerId=3365

Mardsen, Steve. “Two Sources for Pauline Hopkins' ‘Talma Gordon.’” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, vol. 23, no. 1, 2010, pp. 46–50, https://www.proquest.com/docview/734592602/fulltext/4110687B087946D9PQ/1?accountid=135130

Nickel, John A. “Eugenics and the Fiction of Pauline Hopkins.” American Transcendental Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 1, Mar. 2000, pp. 47–60, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=55161393-80d3-4207-8884-0cb86ddf4778%40sdc-v-sessmgr01

Rohrbach, Augusta. “To Be Continued: Double Identity, Multiplicity and Antigenealogy as Narrative Strategies in Pauline Hopkins’ Magazine Fiction.” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, vol. 22, no. 2, 1999, pp. 483–498, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/6026

Stripes, James D. Black American Literature Forum, vol. 24, no. 4, 1990, pp. 815–820. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3041806. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.

Turner, Patricia A. “From Talma Gordon to Theresa Galloway: Images of African American Women in Mysteries.” The Black Scholar, vol. 28, no. 1, 1998, pp. 23–26. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41068770. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.


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