American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853

American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853

Meredith L. McGill
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853
    Book Description:

    The antebellum period has long been identified with the belated emergence of a truly national literature. And yet, as Meredith L. McGill argues, a mass market for books in this period was built and sustained through what we would call rampant literary piracy: a national literature developed not despite but because of the systematic copying of foreign works. Restoring a political dimension to accounts of the economic grounds of antebellum literature, McGill unfolds the legal arguments and political struggles that produced an American "culture of reprinting" and held it in place for two crucial decades.In this culture of reprinting, the circulation of print outstripped authorial and editorial control. McGill examines the workings of literary culture within this market, shifting her gaze from first and authorized editions to reprints and piracies, from the form of the book to the intersection of book and periodical publishing, and from a national literature to an internally divided and transatlantic literary marketplace. Through readings of the work of Dickens, Poe, and Hawthorne, McGill seeks both to analyze how changes in the conditions of publication influenced literary form and to measure what was lost as literary markets became centralized and literary culture became stratified in the early 1850s.American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853delineates a distinctive literary culture that was regional in articulation and transnational in scope, while questioning the grounds of the startlingly recent but nonetheless powerful equation of the national interest with the extension of authors' rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0974-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: The Matter of the Text
    (pp. 1-44)

    American Literature and the Culture of Reprintingis a case study of the dynamic relationship between conceptions of literary property and American cultural production, focusing on an extraordinarily vibrant period of publishing in the 1830s and ’40s, just prior to what literary critics call the “American Renaissance.” In this period, legal and political resistance to tight controls over intellectual property produced a literary marketplace suffused with unauthorized publications. Not only was the mass-market for literature in America built and sustained by the publication of cheap reprints of foreign books and periodicals, the primary vehicles for the circulation of literature were...

  4. 1 Commerce, Print Culture, and the Authority of the State in American Copyright Law
    (pp. 45-75)

    Recent work on the history of authorship has looked to the development of copyright law for confirmation of the simultaneous emergence of the property-owning author and the development of a market for literary works.¹ A central premise of this scholarship has been that changes in the law and in the marketplace were reciprocal and mutually enabling. Mark Rose in particular has argued that the modern concept of the author-as-proprietor finds its origin within the domain of law—specifically, in the eighteenth-century British struggle over interpretation of the Statute of Anne—and that the law of copyright, in turn, facilitated the...

  5. 2 International Copyright and the Political Economy of Print
    (pp. 76-108)

    Early on in his controversial 1842 tour of the United States, Charles Dickens fulminated in a letter to his friend and advisor John Forster that the seemingly unaccountable American reluctance to support the passage of an international copyright law was a regrettable instance of the tyranny of the majority, a fear of publicly criticizing the status quo that reduced even thoughtful literary gentlemen to guilty silence. Dickens came to this conclusion after his third attempt to raise the subject of international copyright in an after-dinner speech drew mixed reactions from those who had organized banquets in his honor, and a...

  6. 3 Circulating Media: Charles Dickens, Reprinting, and the Dislocation of American Culture
    (pp. 109-140)

    The history of American resistance to international copyright illustrates the power of the figure of the author to simplify and distort the politics of print. As I have argued, what from the perspective of an author-centered literary culture looks like an unconscionable violation of authors’ rights was understood in the antebellum period as a struggle between competing visions of a rapidly expanding marketplace. Although an international copyright law was repeatedly invoked as indispensable to the development of a national culture, the production and circulation of printed texts flourished in the absence of such a law; what was at stake was...

  7. 4 Unauthorized Poe
    (pp. 141-186)

    In the autumn of 1844, Kentucky poetess Amelia Welby wrote a letter to the editor of the New YorkEvening Mirror, Nathaniel Parker Willis, seeking to confirm the authorship of a reprinted poem:

    Dearest Mirror: I copy the subjoined lines “By Mr. Willis” from an old number of the Jackson (Tenn.) Advocate, where they are evidently out of place, and at all events, so grossly misprinted that I must ask you to re-publish them, the more especially as they do not appear in the late collection by Mr. W. It can scarcely be possible that there aretwo Dromios


  8. 5 Poe, Literary Nationalism, and Authorial Identity
    (pp. 187-217)

    Even when their intent is to place Edgar Allan Poe’s career and writings within the context of antebellum publishing, biographical and critical studies generally produce an image of Poe standing apart from the institutions and practices through which authors gained access to the reading public. Characteristically, Poe is depicted in staunch and principled opposition to the coteries that controlled the elite literary periodicals, or in calculated or desperate concession to their demands.¹ Such critiques work to preserve Poe’s integrity by insisting that his work remains detachable from the well-orchestrated “puffing” and cliquish favoritism that sought to shape the market for...

  9. 6 Suspended Animation: Hawthorne and the Relocation of Narrative Authority
    (pp. 218-269)

    Edgar Allan Poe reached the height of his fame as the culture of reprinting was beginning to be challenged by literary nationalism, but well before the coordinated, national distribution of books by American authors had been achieved. Most of Poe’s readers encountered his work in newspapers and magazines despite the appearance of hisTales(1845) andThe Raven and Other Poems(1845) in the “Library of American Books.” Even the celebrity Poe enjoyed as the author of “The Raven” was largely the product of the poem’s unauthorized reprinting.¹ Although in his later years, Poe tried to resuscitate his elite magazine...

  10. Coda
    (pp. 270-278)

    In the early 1850s, structural changes in the book trades began to put an end to the culture of reprinting. The characteristic decentralization of American publishing slowly gave way to the integration of regional markets, which were linked both through innovative publishing practices and through the development of a reliable network of railways and roads. Changes in the ways in which publishers managed their businesses were crucial to this transformation. For instance, in 1852, New York publisher Charles B. Norton traveled west to Cleveland and Cincinnati, south to New Orleans, and back north along the eastern seaboard, visiting bookstores, publishers,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 279-334)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-350)
  13. Index
    (pp. 351-360)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 361-364)