Reading Fiction in Antebellum America
Informed Response and Reception Histories, 1820–1865
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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In the first chapter of Shakespearean Negotiations, Stephen Greenblatt explains that his motivation for writing the book, as a new historicist, was his desire to speak to the dead. My reason for undertaking this book has been just the opposite. As a reception studies critic, I wanted the dead to speak to us....
Part One. Reading Reading Historically
Chapter 1. Historical Hermeneutics, Reception Theory, and the Social Conditions of Reading in Antebellum America
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Reading is not only a private act but also an intersubjective, social practice, in part because we are socialized through reading. We are, moreover, socialized into reading, trained and positioned into and through social practices for making sense of discourses. By giving us a way to interpret the world of print and electronic media, reading in a double sense reads us into society and culture by offering us a set of ...
Chapter 2. Interpretive Strategies and Informed Reading in the Antebellum Public Sphere
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Although acceptance of fiction as a popular form of reading and as an object for public discussion and interpretation in the periodical press rose in the forty years before the Civil War, neither developed without reservations. Reviewers, editors, and other magazine contributors remained somewhat chary about fiction reading as a danger to individual and...
PART TWO. Contextual Receptions, Reading Experiences, and Patterns of Response: Four Case Studies
Chapter 3. “These Days of Double Dealing”: Informed Response, Reader Appropriation, and the Tales of Poe
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Among nineteenth-century American writers, perhaps no one had a more acute sense of audience than Edgar Allan Poe. Conceiving the form, unity, and originality of literature as a function of its effect upon readers, Poe defined fiction and poetry as discourses intrinsically involved with reception. This recognition of the need to engage readers within the developing literary marketplace of the 1830s and 1840s...
Chapter 4. Multiple Audiences and Melville’s Fiction: Receptions, Recoveries, and Regressions
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If Edgar Allan Poe had one of the keenest senses of audience among antebellum fiction writers, Herman Melville was not far behind. Though never as obsessive as Poe in conceptualizing his readership, Melville came to fiction writing through experiences that helped make him aware of, and at times deeply sensitive to, audience responses to his tales.1 Those encounters were initially oral and face-to-face, first aboard ...
Chapter 5. Response as (Re)construction: The Reception of Catharine Sedgwick’s Novels
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Whatever happened to Catharine Sedgwick? The question is neither facile nor meant to be rhetorical, if considered through the lens of historical hermeneutics. Instead, the query can be—and needs to be—answered in several different ways, one of which is simply to say that she was forgotten as a fiction writer for most of the twentieth century, until a few scholars rediscovered her as part of the feminist project of ...
Chapter 6. Mercurial Readings: The Making and Unmaking of Caroline Chesebro’
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Although the question “Whatever happened to . . .?” could be as readily asked about Caroline Chesebro’ as it could about Catharine Sedgwick, a different preliminary query first needs to be raised. Who was Caroline Chesebro’?...
Conclusion. American Literary History and the Historical Study of Interpretive Practices
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By the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when Melville, Sedgwick, and Chesebro’ were all but forgotten, a new generation of fiction writers, readers, and magazine reviewers had come to the fore in the United States. My point in referencing that change is not to open the way for a detailed discussion of the shape of reading formations and the reception of fiction after the Civil War, which would require ...
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Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2011