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Panic Fiction

Women and Antebellum Economic Crisis

Mary Templin

Publication Year: 2014

Panic Fiction explores a unique body of antebellum American women’s writing that illuminates women’s relationships to the marketplace and the links between developing ideologies of domesticity and the formation of an American middle class.

Between the mid-1830s and the late 1850s, authors such as Hannah Lee, Catharine Sedgwick, Eliza Follen, Maria McIntosh, and Maria Cummins wrote dozens of novels and stories depicting the effects of financial panic on the home and proposing solutions to economic instability. This unique body of antebellum American women’s writing, which integrated economic discourse with the language and conventions of domestic fiction, is what critic Mary Templin terms “panic fiction.”

In Panic Fiction: Antebellum Women Writers and Economic Crisis, Templin draws in part from the methods of New Historicism and cultural studies, situating these authors and their texts within the historical and cultural contexts of their time. She explores events surrounding the panics of 1837 and 1857, prevalent attitudes toward speculation and failure as seen in newspapers and other contemporaneous texts, women’s relationships to the marketplace, and the connections between domestic ideology and middle-class formation.

Although largely unknown today, the phenomena of “panic fiction” was extremely popular in its time and had an enormous influence on nineteenth-century popular conceptions of speculation, failure, and the need for marketplace reform, providing a distinct counterpoint to the analysis of panic found in newspapers, public speeches, and male-authored literary texts of the time.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of many people. My deepest thanks go to Dale Bauer, who guided this work early on at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was Dale who originally gave me the idea of investigating the Panic of 1837, and over the subsequent years her knowledge...

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Introduction: Defining a Genre, Recovering Panic Fiction

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pp. 1-21

In Caroline Kirkland’s fictionalized memoir of life on the Michigan frontier, A New Home, Who’ll Follow?, she regales her audience with many humorous stories about her attempts to set up housekeeping in primitive conditions—baking bread in the fireplace, trying to find room in a log cabin for her “delicate japanned tables”...

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One. Speculation and Failure: Panic Fiction’s Common Ground

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pp. 22-60

At the beginning of Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee’s novel Rich Enough, published in 1837, two brothers, Howard and James Draper, discuss their divergent investment philosophies. Howard, a thriving farmer, has come to James, a wealthy Boston merchant, with a small surplus of money that he would like his brother to...

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Two. Domestic Constancy: Preserving Class Identity in 1830s Panic Fiction

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pp. 61-105

Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee’s Rich Enough, discussed in the previous chapter, was just one of a series of short novels about speculation and failure that Lee produced in rapid succession in 1837 as the economic crisis worsened. Her first novel, Three Experiments of Living, published several months before the bank closings...

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Three. Female “Economists”: Expanding Women’s Financial Agency

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pp. 106-141

So far I have been discussing responses to and analyses of panic that are remarkable more for their placement of economic discourse within domestic settings than for any major differences in content from the responses of male writers. Both men...

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Four. Threats from Outside: Defending the Southern Economy

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pp. 142-184

Toward the end of her 1852 novel Marcus Warland; or the Long Moss Spring, the Southern author Caroline Lee Hentz depicts the financial failure of a wealthy Georgia planter named Bellamy. Mr. Bellamy had not speculated or been extravagant; in fact, he is a model landowner and slaveholder—benevolent, just, and...

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Five. Freedom and Order: Proposing Solutions to 1850s Labor Problems

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pp. 185-218

Early on in her novel Mabel Vaughan, published in the panic year of 1857, popular author Maria Cummins gives her readers an education in the realities of urban poverty. A young maid is fired by her wealthy employer for suggesting that some of the poor have better manners than the rich, and has her wages for the...


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pp. 219-232

Works Cited

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pp. 233-242


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pp. 243-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387198
E-ISBN-10: 0817387196
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318109
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318100

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870951066
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Panic Fiction

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Literature and society -- United States -- History.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • American prose literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Economics in literature.
  • Financial crises in literature.
  • Financial crises -- United States -- History.
  • American prose literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
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