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Literate Zeal

Gender, Editing, and the Making of a New Yorker Ethos

Janet Carey Eldred

Publication Year: 2012

Janet Carey Eldred examines the rise of women magazine editors during the mid-twentieth century and reveals their unheralded role in creating a literary aesthetic for the American public. Between the sheets of popular magazines, editors offered belles-lettres to the masses and, in particular, middle-class women. Magazines became a place to find culture, humor, and intellectual affirmation alongside haute couture. Eldred mines a variety of literary archives, notably the correspondence of Katharine Sargeant White of the New Yorker, to provide an insider’s view of the publisher-editor-author dynamic. Here, among White’s letters, memos, and markups, we see the deliberate shaping of literature to create a New Yorker ethos. Through her discrete phrasing, authors are coaxed by White to correct or wholly revise their work. Stories or poems by famous writers are rejected for being “dizzying” or “too literate.” With a surgeon’s skill, “disturbing” issues such as sexuality and race are extracted from manuscripts. Eldred chronicles the work of women (and a few men) editors at the major women’s magazines of the day. Ladies’ Home Journal, Mademoiselle, Vogue, and others enacted an editorial style similar to that of the New Yorker by offering literature, values, and culture to an educated and aspiring middle class. Publishers effectively convinced readers that middlebrow stories (and by association their audience) had much loftier pursuits. And they were right. These publications created and sustained a mass literacy never before seen in American publishing.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xvi

By its nature, editing is not highly visible work; in the case of women’s work in the mid-twentieth-century United States, that work has been buried under layers of cultural history. To fully understand the symbiotic relationship between editing, high letters, and mass literacy, ...

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Introduction: Literacy, Gender, and the Rhetorical Work of Editing

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pp. 1-36

In order to fully appreciate the work that women editors did in the mid-twentieth century, feminist researchers must reappraise the damning critique of women’s magazines so forcefully argued in 1963 by the American feminist Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique. It is a daunting task. ...

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One: Between the Sheets: Editing and the Making of a New Yorker Ethos

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pp. 37-72

Frequently placed on coffee tables as a shrine of literate sophistication, the New Yorker magazine enjoys an iconic status perhaps unparalleled in U.S. periodical history. In the introduction to his About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, Ben Yagoda recounts the overwhelming subscriber response ...

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Two: “The Precision of Knives,” or More than Just Commas

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pp. 73-110

In 1925, when Ross started the magazine, Jane Grant delineated the New Yorker’s competition, stating its intentions to vie for market share with periodicals like Harper’s Weekly, Life, the Smart Set, and American Mercury.1 By the 1940s, that market, at least in terms of literary contributions, had expanded, ...

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Three: Mademoiselle, the New Yorker, and other Women’s Magazines

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pp. 111-138

The New Yorker ethos couldn’t handle modernism; its experiments in fictional and poetic techniques were judged “too complex” for the magazine’s middlebrow, readership. The so-called little magazines provided the venue for that writing.1 The New Yorker also skirted another major movement in U.S. letters, ...

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Conclusion: Lady Editors, Katharine White, and the Embodiment of Style

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pp. 139-160

Female rhetors have long been aware of the importance of dress, costume, to their rhetorical ethos and thus their rhetorical effectiveness. In Appropriate[ing] Dress, Carol Mattingly chronicles how “visual presentation” of women’s bodies is integrally tied to their effectiveness as speakers—and even as writers ...

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Afterword: Katharine White’s Bequest, or Ruminations on an Archive

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pp. 161-178

Sometime around 1968, Katharine White, then seventy-five years old and suffering from a variety of illnesses, including the skin “deficiency disease” that had caused her to lose her “entire skin,” turned her still considerable vigor to two projects. The first of these was her gardening essays, ...


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pp. 179-206

Works Cited

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pp. 207-214


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pp. 215-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977391
E-ISBN-10: 0822977397

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture
Series Editor Byline: David Bartholomae and Jean Ferguson Carr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 823678585
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Literate Zeal

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Books and reading -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • American periodicals -- History -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- Periodicals -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women periodical editors -- United States.
  • Women's periodicals, American -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women and literature -- United States.
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