Authorship and Audience

Authorship and Audience: Literary Performance in the American Renaissance

Stephen Railton
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 252
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvn57
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    Authorship and Audience
    Book Description:

    Stephen Railton's study of the American Renaissance proposes a fresh way of conceiving the writer as a performing artist and the text as an enactment of the drama of its own performance. Railton focuses on how major prose works of the period are preoccupied with their readers--how they seek to negotiate the conflicted space between the authors, who brought to the act of publication their own anxieties of ambition and identity, and the contemporary American reading public, which, as a growing mass audience in a democracy, had acquired an unprecedented authority over the terms of literary performance. New readings of Emerson's orations, Poe's tales, the sketches of the Southwest Humorists, Walden, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Scarlet Letter, and Moby-Dick relocate American writers in the dramatic context in which they suffered and thrived. The book attends closely to historicist issues, arguing that one of the most profound ways that the culture shaped these texts was also the most immediate--as the audience each writer had to address. Equally concerned with biographical themes, it appreciates each of the major works within the larger pattern of the writer's public career and private needs.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6227-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter I THE ANXIETY OF PERFORMANCE
    (pp. 3-22)

    My main concern in this study is with the major prose works of the American Renaissance. My list of major texts is a traditional one—Emerson’s “Divinity School Address,” Thoreau’sWalden,Hawthorne’sScarlet Letter,Poe’s tales, and Melville’sMoby-Dick—but I try to reread them from a new point of view: as performances. The context I am trying to define can be called a dramatic one, although the drama is peculiarly subjective. The paradox of writing is that it is at once an intensely solitary and an utterly public act. Although I am alone at my desk, you are with...

  5. Chapter II “THE HIGH PRIZE OF ELOQUENCE”: EMERSON AS ORATOR
    (pp. 23-49)

    Where we begin does not matter, Emerson claimed to believe; “the ultimate feet we reach on every topic is the resolution of all into the blessed ONE.”¹ His concept of unity has complex referents. There is the spiritual project to reunite people with their best selves, to plant the individual indomitably on his or her instincts. There is the philosophical project to reorganize the world of thought—science and religion, history and providence, psychology and ethics—around the fixed point of consciousness, to make the huge world round again. I am interested, however, in what can be called his rhetorical...

  6. Chapter III “HE DID NOT FEEL HIMSELF EXCEPT IN OPPOSITION”: THOREAU’S WALDEN
    (pp. 50-73)

    Waldenbegan as a performance too. I am not thinking of Thoreau’s life at the pond, although in so small a community as Concord his decision to move out to the woods, on the Fourth of July, carrying his personal belongings in a wheelbarrow, had its unmistakably theatrical aspects. I mean that Thoreau’s first written account of his experiment at Walden was a script. On 10 February 1847 he came into the village to read a lecture titled “A History of Myself” to the Concord lyceum. This was the first draft ofWalden,and as he says in his journal,...

  7. Chapter IV MOTHERS, HUSBANDS, AND AN UNCLE: STOWE'S UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
    (pp. 74-89)

    There are still two good reasons to readUncle Tom’s Cabin:for its radicalism, and for its conventionality. As a novel of social protest, it generates so much passion within its own pages that, although the particular evil it indicts has given way to other forms of injustice, its power remains largely intact. In this respect it is likeThe Grapes of Wrath,which is deeply indebted to Stowe’s archetypal work. As one of the three best-selling novels of mid-nineteenth-century America, it is also a perfect mirror of genteel Victorian preconceptions, a wide-ranging guide to the tastes and values of...

  8. Chapter V THE DEMOCRATIC NONESUCH: SOUTHWESTERN HUMOR
    (pp. 90-106)

    What about the husbands of Stowe’s home readers? What contemporary American literature were they reading? Obviously, there is no precise answer to so large a question.¹ Given the stir the book was making, they would certainly have readUncle Tom’s Cabin.For the same reason, a great many men doubtless read such best-selling novels asThe Wide, Wide WorldandThe Lamplighter.² During the 1850s the best-selling male American writers were essayists. Emerson’s revised and collected lectures onRepresentative Men(1850),English Traits(1856), andThe Conduct of Life(1860) did well, but the decade’s most popular male essayists were...

  9. Chapter VI “TO OPEN AN INTERCOURSE WITH THE WORLD”: HAWTHORNE’S SCARLET LETTER
    (pp. 107-131)

    Nature, Moby-Dick, Walden, Leaves of Grass, The Scarlet Letter—the five major works of the American Renaissance all get their titles from a central symbol. All have large rhetorical designs, for the act of reading them engages the reader in the more active task of interpretation. Much more than the meaning of a text is at stake, for correctly to understand any one of these symbols means seeing reality and one’s self in new, more challenging ways. Where typical Victorian American readers sought recreation, especially when they picked up a novel, or at most a reassuring sense of edification, these...

  10. Chapter VII “AT THE WRITER’S CONTROL”: POE’S PSYCHOLOGY OF COMPOSITION
    (pp. 132-151)

    “Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seenme.You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work!”¹ This, of course, is from “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Despite its tide, and despite the way it goes into detail about how to conceala body,the tale is from first to last a telling of and on amind.Never mind that its narrator has been caught as a murderer, has presumably been judged and confined as a madman, and that...

  11. Chapter VIII “YOU MUST HAVE PLENTY OF SEA-ROOM TO TELL THE TRUTH IN”: MELVILLE’S MOBY-DICK
    (pp. 152-189)

    The first word ofMoby-Dickis easily overlooked, but if Melville had prefaced the novel with a grammarian in addition to the etymologist and the sub-sub-librarian, he might have pointed out that its familiar opening sentence really says: “[You] call me Ishmael.” From the start, Melville betrays his awareness of his reader, and this short sentence is the signature of his largest anxieties as a performing artist.¹ “Call me Ishmael” simultaneously includes and excludes, invites and repels us. It shows Melville’s desire to enter into a personal relationship with his audience while reserving his right to his own estranged identity....

  12. Chapter IX CONCLUSION: “WHO AIN’T A SLAVE?”
    (pp. 190-202)

    After finishingMoby-Dickin a defiant burst of “wickedness,” Melville knew he had written a great book, but also one that would not earn many of those dollars on which his career as a professional novelist depended. The apocalyptic violence of the novel’s final flurry had apparently emptied him, for the time being, of the rage out of which Ahab had sprung. When Hawthorne’s wife Sophia wrote to compliment him on the achievement ofMoby-Dick,he replied with genuine amazement that she “should find any satisfaction in that book . . . for as a general thing, women have small...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 203-236)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 237-241)