SIXTY MILES FROM CONTENTMENT by M.H. Dunlop

SIXTY MILES FROM CONTENTMENT

Traveling the Nineteenth Century American Interior
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lively study of the real and the legendary American Midwest based on accounts by 300 foreign and domestic travelers. Dunlop (English/Iowa State Univ.) has done an exemplary job of mining and organizing her material. Her citations are evocative, and her own observations are balanced. Focusing on the antebellum period, she recounts how travelers to the prairie frontier region were disoriented by its oceanic, near-uniform vastness; they were also charmed by sights that later would largely or completely disappear (such as huge Indian burial mounds). On their journeys, the exigencies of mass dining on steamboats forced diners to ``speed-eat''; they sometimes had to share beds with strangers at inns and occasionally were afflicted with malaria. European aristocrats were taken aback by the Americans' democratic informality (Englishwoman Frances Trollope was shocked to be addressed as ``honey'' in a Cincinnati shop). ``Many represented democracy as an epidemic, a ghastly and infectious disease raging through the interior,'' comments Dunlop. She is particularly informative on travelers' fear, romanticization, and demonization of Indians, whom they encountered rarely, and then in contrived, posed meetingss arranged by tour leaders. She also reveals the rigidity of gender roles and gender-assigned space in the 19th- century Midwest; for example, the sexes ate separately, and women supposedly were adverse to consuming one of the region's staples, red meat. The advent of transcontinental trains in the 1870s, with which Dunlop ends her account, made for more comfortable but also more constricted and less adventurous travel. It also led to blander, reductionist accounts of a region on which travelers once had projected strong cultural biases and longings. A contribution to 19th-century American social and regional history that is as enjoyable as it is substantial.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-465-03365-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995