Our Fall 2016 text is Herman Mann’s The female review: or, Memoirs of an American young lady; whose life and character are peculiarly distinguished–being a Continental soldier, for nearly three years, in the late American war (1797). Mann’s text purports to be a memoir of Deborah Sampson, who, as “Robert Shurtliff,” served in the Continental Army at the end of the American Revolution; indeed, the text was partially intended to serve as evidence in Sampson’s protracted battle to win compensation and an invalid pension for military service. Thus, on one level, The Female Review was intended to shape Sampson’s public reputation and make the case for the celebrated military veteran’s honorable service. But rather than present and dramatize a straightforward argument about Sampson’s moral fitness, unquestioned patriotism, and honorable service to country, Mann’s account builds slowly, meanders, invents episodes, and seems especially concerned—to the point of paranoia—that Sampson’s success will encourage American women to abandon their prescribed roles, don men’s garb, and set off for greener pastures.
While it is difficult to classify multilayered text generically, it does echo many of the conventions of the period’s more familiar fictionalized narratives which claim to be “founded on fact.” The text runs about 40,000 words (that’s just a bit longer than Charlotte Temple), and would probably require a week of class time, or at least two periods. It would be suitable for classes on gender studies, life writing, the American Revolution and revolutionary/war literature, the early US novel, and science in literature. (The Female Review was later republished by John Adams Vinton in a heavily annotated 19C edition; the JTO version restores the original to a manageable, readable format.)
The PDF can be accessed by clicking on the book icon below. The Common-Place website also includes two related pieces that might be of interest to potential teachers: Martha Tomhave Blauvelt’s review of Alex Myers’s Revolutionary: A Novel, an historical novel that imagines Sampson through a transgender lens, and Sarah M. S. Pearsall’s conversation with the late Alfred F. Young about Masquerade, his biography of Sampson.