Although Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson differed dramatically in terms of their lives and writing careers, they shared not only a distaste for writing “for the street” (mass readership) but a preference for the intimate writer–reader relationship created by private publication, especially in the form of manuscripts. In Writing for the Street, Writing in the Garret: Melville, Dickinson, and Private Publication, Michael Kearns shows that this distaste and preference were influenced by American copyright law, by a growing tendency in America to treat not only publications but their authors as commodities, and by the romantic stereotype of the artist (usually suffering in a garret) living only for her or his own work.
For both Melville and Dickinson, private publication could generate the prestige accorded to authors while preserving ownership of both works and self. That they desired such prestige Kearns demonstrates by a close reading of biographical details, publication histories, and specific comments on authorship and fame. This information also reveals that Melville and Dickinson regarded their manuscripts as physical extensions of themselves while creating personae to protect the privacy of those selves. Much modern discourse about both writers has accepted as biographical fact certain elements of those personae, especially that they were misunderstood artists metaphorically confined to garrets.