Between the Novel and the News

Between the Novel and the News: The Emergence of American Women's Writing

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Between the Novel and the News
    Book Description:

    While American literary history has long acknowledged the profound influence of journalism on canonical male writers, Sari Edelstein argues that American women writers were also influenced by a dynamic relationship with the mainstream press. From the early republic through the turn of the twentieth century, she offers a comprehensive reassessment of writers such as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Harriet Jacobs, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Drawing on slave narratives, sentimental novels, and realist fiction, Edelstein examines how advances in journalism-including the emergence of the penny press, the rise of the story-paper, and the birth of eyewitness reportage-shaped not only a female literary tradition but also gender conventions themselves.

    Excluded from formal politics and lacking the vote, women writers were deft analysts of the prevalent tropes and aesthetic gestures of journalism, which they alternately relied upon and resisted in their efforts to influence public opinion and to intervene in political debates. Ultimately,Between the Novel and the Newsis a project of recovery that transforms our understanding of the genesis and the development of American women's writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3591-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Emily Dickinson read the newspaper every day.¹ Although she is perhaps just as famous for her reclusive, inward life in Amherst as for her poetry, Dickinson was connected to the world around her through the daily press, especially theSpringfield Daily Republican. Many of her poems make reference to journalism, telegraphy, and publication, and Dickinson draws on the vocabulary of news culture to establish a rivalry between documentary and imaginative forms of discourse.² For instance, “The Only News I Know,” written during the Civil War, appropriates the language of the press to position poetry as an alternative mode of truth-telling....

  5. 1 Seditious Newspapers and Seduction Novels
    (pp. 17-37)

    In 1788, Benjamin Rush, physician, essayist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to the editor of theFederal Gazettetitled “Directions for Conducting a Newspaper,” in which he urges the editor to avoid printing anything that might offend “female honour” and cautions, “Never suffer your paper to be a vehicle of private scandal, or of personal disputes.”¹ With these instructions, Rush articulated an idealized vision of newspapers as public forums for the circulation of rational ideas. The very fact that Rush felt compelled to articulate these “directions” indicates that in spite of newspapers’ ostensible function as...

  6. 2 Rereading the Fallen Woman and the Penny Press
    (pp. 38-65)

    In 1838, James Fenimore Cooper publishedThe American Democrat, a book of social and political criticism, in which he devotes three chapters to the state of the American press. A staunch defender of the freedom of the press and the political importance of newspapers, he nonetheless laments that the “entire nation, in a moral sense, breathes an atmosphere of falsehoods.”¹ He continues, “Instead of considering the editor of a newspaper, as an abstraction, with no motive in view but that of maintaining principles and disseminating facts, it is necessary to remember that he is a man, with all the interests...

  7. 3 Category Crisis in Antebellum Story-Papers
    (pp. 66-87)

    In 1845, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If we live in the Nineteenth Century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best newspaper in the world at once?—not be sucking the pap of ‘neutral family’ papers, or browsing ‘Olive Branches’ here in New England.”¹ Thoreau’s references to family papers, specifically theOlive Branch, a popular Methodist paper, suggests the extent to which ostensibly “neutral,” family-friendly story-papers gained prominence in the years...

  8. 4 Eyewitness Literature and Civil War Journalism
    (pp. 88-109)

    In a chapter of Louisa May Alcott’sLittle Women(1868) titled “Literary Lessons,” Jo attends a lecture on the Egyptian pyramids and finds herself sitting next to a boy reading a piece of sensation fiction by “S.L.A.N.G. Northbury” in the fictional story-paper theWeekly Volcano. Upon realizing how engrossed the boy is in his story-paper, it occurs to Jo that she might make some money by publishing her work in such a venue. In her first attempt to write in Northbury’s style, Jo wins a story contest and uses her prize money to send her sisters and mother to the...

  9. 5 Colorful Writing in the Era of Yellow Journalism
    (pp. 110-146)

    In 1889, theNew York Worldreported that it was sending Nellie Bly, “girl reporter,” around the world to see if she could beat the fictional record in Jules Verne’s novelAround the World in Eighty Days.¹ Completing the circumnavigation of the globe in a mere seventy two days, Bly beat the record and returned to New York a celebrity, publishing her account in the World and subsequently in book form asNellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. Her unusual combination of plucky, feminine style and physical daring earned her fame and skyrocketed the circulation of the...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 147-154)

    By the turn of the century, male and female writers alike registered their distaste for the profit-driven newspaper industry.¹ Along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida Wells-Barnett, and Edith Eaton, a spate of male realists exhibited contempt for daily newspapers, recoiling from a print public sphere that had grown too commercial at the expense of privacy, integrity, and truth. InA Modern Instance, William Dean Howells thematizes the degeneration of the press into melodrama and exposé, vaunting the “literary motive” over what he calls the “newspaper instinct.”² Henry James likewise paints an unflattering depiction of journalism inThe Bostonians, primarily through...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 155-196)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-226)