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In the Company of Books

Literature and Its "Classes" in Nineteenth-Century America

Sarah Wadsworth

Publication Year: 2006

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 nineteenth-century 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 book-buying 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 lesser-known 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 book-buying 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 nineteenth-century American literature and an analysis of nineteenth-century American literature from the perspective of this subdivided marketplace, this wide-ranging study offers fresh insight into the impact of market forces on the development of American literature.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book benefited from the support and contributions of many colleagues, organizations, and institutions, and my gratitude to each of them far exceeds the confines of these acknowledgments. Donald Ross deserves special thanks for his invaluable guidance and criticism during my research...

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Prologue: Following the Reader

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pp. 1-14

I n the fall of 1865, Henry James Jr. finished reading the latest transatlantic sensation, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora 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 the Nation. Although he was...

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Part One: From “Girls and Boys’’ to Tomboys and Bad Boys

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pp. 15-93

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...

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1. Wonder Books

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pp. 25-43

In December 1834 an anonymous tale titled “Little Annie’s Ramble” appeared in the Youth’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...

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2. Stories of their Lives

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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...

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3. Boy’s Life

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pp. 70-93

A lthough 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 that Little Women had gained among books for girls. Yet the success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was not...

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Part Two: The Masses and the Classes

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pp. 95-191

In 1873, three years before the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and a decade before Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain coauthored his first novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day, with fellow “boy-book” author and later Harper’s New Monthly Magazine editor Charles Dudley Warner. The...

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4. Seaside and Fireside

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pp. 107-133

In the ninth chapter of The 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...

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5. Innocence Abroad

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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...

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6. A Blue and Gold Mystique

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pp. 161-191

In her last book, a collection of stories titled A 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...

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Epilogue: The Margins of the Marketplace

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pp. 193-203

In The 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...


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pp. 205-245

Works Cited

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pp. 247-266


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pp. 267-278

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761724
E-ISBN-10: 1613761724
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495401
Print-ISBN-10: 1558495401

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 2
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 794701567
MUSE Marc Record: Download for In the Company of Books

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Booksellers and bookselling -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Market segmentation -- United States -- History.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Books and reading -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Publishers and publishing -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Children -- Books and reading -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Children's literature -- Publishing -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Authors and readers -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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