The Difficult Art of Giving

The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market

Francesca Sawaya
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Difficult Art of Giving
    Book Description:

    The Difficult Art of Givingrethinks standard economic histories of the literary marketplace. Traditionally, American literary histories maintain that the post-Civil War period marked the transition from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and an era of self-supporting professionalism. These histories assert that the market helped to democratize literary production and consumption, enabling writers to sustain themselves without the need for private sponsorship. By contrast, Francesca Sawaya demonstrates the continuing importance of patronage and the new significance of corporate-based philanthropy for cultural production in the United States in the postbellum and modern periods.

    Focusing on Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, and Theodore Dreiser, Sawaya explores the notions of a free market in cultural goods and the autonomy of the author. Building on debates in the history of the emotions, the history and sociology of philanthropy, feminist theory, and the new economic criticism, Sawaya examines these major writers' careers as well as their rich and complex representations of the economic world. Their work, she argues, demonstrates that patronage and corporate-based philanthropy helped construct the putatively free market in literature. The book thereby highlights the social and economic interventions that shape markets, challenging old and contemporary forms of free market fundamentalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9003-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE. From the Harlem Renaissance
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION “The Difficult Art of Giving”
    (pp. 1-38)

    In Karl Polanyi’s classic economic analysis of the nineteenth century, he emphasizes the intervention of the state and business in constructing and enforcing what he describes as the “utopian” (138) fiction of the free and self-regulating market.¹ The paradox Polanyi highlights—the naturalizing of a powerful and resilient narrative of free marketsthroughradically “interventionist” methods—is central to this book. Polanyi analyzes not only the social necessity for such interventionism to stave off the worst excesses of “catastrophic dislocation” (33) caused by a market system, but also the variety of forms such interventionism takes (through the establishment of trusts,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 American Generosity: Philanthropy in Henry James
    (pp. 39-74)

    One of the challenges in studying philanthropy is that the word is used to encompass so many varied forms of voluntary aid. Robert Gross’s historical definition, which I rely on throughout this book, defines philanthropy historically as an “innovation of the market revolution’s joint stock company of the seventeenth century” (37) and thus as those practices that seek “to apply reason to the solution of social ills and needs” through “abstract and institutional forms” (31). However, when Gross tries to account for the different forms such aid takes, clear problems emerge. He separates modern philanthropy from charity, saying that while...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “Livin’ on My Money”: The Politics of Gratitude and Ingratitude in Howells
    (pp. 75-99)

    Since it appeared in 1890, William Dean Howells’sA Hazard of New Fortuneshas been read as an analysis of Gilded Age capitalism and, more specifically, of the expansion of the U.S. literary market. Howells’s central character, Basil March, leaves Boston and his quiet life as an insurance man to try his fortunes as a literary editor in the competitive magazine world of New York. Recent studies of Howells have convincingly argued that, in his portrayal of both the move from Boston to New York and the class and ethnic strife witnessed by his middle-class characters in that move, Howells’s...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “The Gospel of Self”: Philanthropy and Political Economy in Mark Twain
    (pp. 100-133)

    It goes without saying that Mark Twain was one of the most successful American authors of the nineteenth century. This success, as Theodore Dreiser pointed out, involved both “great fame and acclaim.”¹ Twain’s books and stories sold well, apparently to all classes of readers, and over the course of his career he gained increasing critical approval in the United States and abroad. He was seen as the quintessential American writer, or as his friend William Dean Howells resonantly put it, “the Lincoln of our literature.”² This latter phrase deserves the scrutiny it has received: it captures the myths of essential...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “That Friendship of the Whites”: Patronage and Philanthropy in Charles Chesnutt
    (pp. 134-161)

    In a letter of 7 December 1897 to Walter Hines Page, editor of theAtlantic Monthlyand a consulting editor at Houghton Mifflin, Charles Chesnutt writes, “I felt in a somewhat effusive mood the other day, and I sat down to write a long letter, in which I was going to tell you something about my literary plans.”¹ In extensive detail, Chesnutt summarizes the contents of this planned letter, describing his systematic “preparation,” his philosophical commitments as a writer, and the racism and isolation he faces in his chosen vocation. Concluding his summary, Chesnutt says he decided not to send...

  9. CHAPTER 5 “Inexplicable Tangles of Personality”: Patronage, Philanthropy, and Progressive Irony in Theodore Dreiser
    (pp. 162-185)

    In a famous passage fromThe Financier(1912), Theodore Dreiser sums up the success of thirty-four-year-old Frank Cowperwood, describing him as “Like a spider in a spangled net, every thread of which he knew, had laid, had tested, he had surrounded and entangled himself in a splendid, glittering network of connections, and he was watching all the details.”¹ Emphasized here is the “network of connections” Cowperwood has brilliantly “laid” for himself and which create for him “prospects” of “wealth which might rival that of any American” (Financier, 140). A page later Dreiser compares Cowperwood to a modernist writer, describing him...

    (pp. 186-188)

    This book has highlighted the importance of patronage and the significance of an emerging corporate-based philanthropy for American literature at the turn of the twentieth century. I have argued that the large-scale philanthropy that increasingly comes to matter in both social reform and aesthetics in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is part of the crisis in liberal economics over interventionism in the “free market.” Defenders of liberal capitalism, as well as corporate capitalists, realized that “the miseries everywhere being suffered” (Spencer, 285) in the economically and socially volatile post-bellum period, threatened to undermine the system in...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-226)
    (pp. 227-242)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 243-246)
    (pp. 247-254)