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In the Company of Books

In the Company of Books: Literature and Its "Classes" in NineteenthCentury America

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    In the Company of Books
    Book Description:

    A vital feature of American culture in the nineteenth century was the growing awareness that the literary marketplace consisted not of a single, unified, relatively homogeneous reading public but rather of many disparate, overlapping reading communities differentiated by interests, class, and level of education as well as by gender and stage of life. Tracing the segmentation of the literary marketplace in nineteenthcentury America, this book analyzes the implications of the subdivided literary field for readers, writers, and literature itself. With sections focusing on segmentation by age, gender, and cultural status, In the Company of Books analyzes the ways authors and publishers carved up the field of literary production into a multitude of distinct submarkets, differentiated their products, and targeted specific groups of readers in order to guide their bookbuying decisions. Combining innovative approaches to canonical authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, and Henry James with engaging investigations into the careers of many lesserknown literary figures, Sarah Wadsworth reveals how American writers responded to—and contributed to—this diverse, and diversified, market. In the Company of Books contends that specialized editorial and marketing tactics, in concert with the narrative strategies of authors and the reading practices of the bookbuying public, transformed the literary landscape, leading to new roles for the book in American culture, the innovation of literary genres, and new relationships between books and readers. Both an exploration of a fragmented print culture through the lens of nineteenthcentury American literature and an analysis of nineteenthcentury American literature from the perspective of this subdivided marketplace, this wideranging study offers fresh insight into the impact of market forces on the development of American literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-172-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. PROLOGUE: Following the Reader
    (pp. 1-14)

    IN THE FALL of 1865, Henry James Jr. finished reading the latest transatlantic sensation, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’sAurora Floyd, and sat down in the third-floor bedroom of his family’s Beacon Hill home to sum up its dubious merits for the readers of theNation. Although he was still years away from his first novel, James was already a shrewd analyst of literary trends. He studied the literary marketplace the way other men of his age and class studied the law, theology, medicine, trade: “Every book that he reviewed was a testing ground for his thought” (Novick 129). At twenty-three, James...

  6. Part One: From “Girls and Boys” to Tomboys and Bad Boys

    • [Part One: Introduction]
      (pp. 15-24)

      Like James’s comparison of the many “little publics” that make up the “great public” to the states of the American Union, Horace Scudder’s metaphor of children’s literature as “a distinct principality of the Kingdom of Letters” (178) reflects a keen awareness of the opposing forces of fragmentation and cohesion, of differentiation and incorporation within a larger body, which attended the segmentation of the literary marketplace in nineteenth-century America. As the trope suggests, children’s literature is a subset or province of “the larger literature,” reflecting and responding to the same cultural and economic forces at work in society as a whole....

    • Chapter One WONDER BOOKS
      (pp. 25-43)

      IN DECEMBER 1834 an anonymous tale titled “Little Annie’s Ramble” appeared in theYouth’s Keepsake: A Christmas and New Year’s Gift for Young People(dated 1835), an annual gift book edited by Park Benjamin.¹ Seemingly sentimental and innocuous, the sketch describes various scenes in a New England town as perceived through the innocent eyes of childhood. Readers follow five-year-old Annie and her adult companion as they meander through town, peering into shop windows and gazing at the animals they encounter along the street and in a traveling menagerie. Absorbed by the enchanting sights of toys, sweets, and pictures, as well...

      (pp. 44-69)

      WRITING IN 1878 and 1886 respectively, William G. Sumner (681) and Edward G. Salmon (515) pointed to an increasingly conspicuous trend in British and American juvenile literature: the development of distinct genres written expressly for boys or expressly for girls. To today’s reader, raised on Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden or Chip Hilton, the Baby-Sitters’ Club or Encyclopedia Brown, such a division may seem a natural and obvious one. As Salmon suggested, however, the shift from a more or less homogeneous body of literature for “boys and girls” to a body of juvenile fiction bifurcated by gender...

    • Chapter Three BOY’S LIFE
      (pp. 70-94)

      ALTHOUGH AMERICAN boys had a literature of their own from the 1850s on, not until 1876 did a text appear that would acquire the stature among books for boys thatLittle Womenhad gained among books for girls. Yet the success ofThe Adventures of Tom Sawyerwas not immediate, and the inevitable sequels—of which there were several—were a long time coming. Like Louisa May Alcott, Samuel Clemens only reluctantly and with evident resistance embraced the audience with which he was to become most powerfully associated. Not only did he not intend to write a book for young...

  7. Part Two: The Masses and the Classes

    • [Part Two: Introduction]
      (pp. 95-106)

      In 1873, three years before the publication ofThe Adventures of Tom Sawyerand a decade beforeHuckleberry Finn, Mark Twain coauthored his first novel,The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day, with fellow “boy-book” author and laterHarper’s New Monthly Magazineeditor Charles Dudley Warner. The novel, whose title famously summed up the Zeitgeist of the 1870s, exposes the rampant materialism and political corruption of the period as it traces the rise and fall of the Hawkins family. The narrative is prodigious, encompassing sixty-three chapters (576 pages in the original edition) and a host of characters and subplots. Amid...

      (pp. 107-133)

      IN THE NINTH chapter ofThe Rise of Silas Lapham, a novel about a self-made millionaire who seeks acceptance among Boston’s “oldmoney” elite, William Dean Howells throws two of his characters together in an understated scene in which books form the principal item of discussion. Seated in a bow window of Lapham’s half-completed Beacon Street mansion, the millionaire’s pretty young daughter Irene timidly informs Tom Corey, the scion of an eminent Boston family, that she has been readingMiddlemarch. After Tom mentions that it has been several years since he read that novel, Irene, “with a little sense of injury...

    • Chapter Five INNOCENCE ABROAD
      (pp. 134-160)

      IN DECEMBER 1875, at the start of a publishing season that would witness keen interest in the already popular genres of travel writing, women’s fiction, and internationally themed literature, the Chicago house of Jansen, McClurg & Company released a new novella by a young author who was just beginning to explore the relationships among nationality, setting, and character that would become career-long interests. Described by theAmerican Bookselleras “an extremely lively story of an extremely lively American girl living in Rome,” the narrative tells of a vivacious young woman who sparks first the affections and then the suspicions of a...

      (pp. 161-192)

      IN HER LAST book, a collection of stories titledA Garland for Girls(1888); (see figure 9), Louisa May Alcott repeatedly emphasizes the importance of reading in the lives of her characters.¹ In “May Flowers,” six blue-blooded Boston girls meet regularly to discuss books read in common; the thoughtful protagonist of “Poppies and Wheat” reads for self-improvement during her grand tour of Europe; “Mountain-Laurel and Maidenhair” contrasts a jaded rich girl who has no true appreciation for poetry with an unsophisticated farmer’s daughter who reads it avidly. In “Pansies” a refined and learned elderly woman advises three young ladies which...

  8. EPILOGUE: The Margins of the Marketplace
    (pp. 193-204)

    INTHE ANATOMY of American Popular Culture, 1840–1861(1959), a classic of cultural studies criticism, Carl Bode remarks upon the fortuitous concurrence of two revolutionary events in the nation’s history: “the advent of the industrial revolution in the publishing business” and “the advent of popular literacy.” The result of this simultaneity, Bode asserts, is that “the people and the printed word came together” (x). Certainly, the fact that the explosion of printed matter in the middle of the nineteenth century coincided with historically high and escalating literacy rates lends substance to this image of an easy coalescence of reader...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 205-246)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 247-266)
  11. Index
    (pp. 267-278)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-280)