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chapter 4 ‘‘That Friendship of the Whites’’: Patronage and Philanthropy in Charles Chesnutt In a letter of 7 December 1897 to Walter Hines Page, editor of the Atlantic Monthly and a consulting editor at Houghton Mifflin, Charles Chesnutt writes, ‘‘I felt in a somewhat effusive mood the other day, and I sat down to write a long letter, in which I was going to tell you something about my literary plans.’’1 In extensive detail, Chesnutt summarizes the contents of this planned letter, describing his systematic ‘‘preparation,’’ his philosophical commitments as a writer, and the racism and isolation he faces in his chosen vocation. Concluding his summary, Chesnutt says he decided not to send his ‘‘long letter,’’ but instead to compose a ‘‘simple business letter’’ because he knows ‘‘it would be in better taste to reserve personal confidences until I might have gained your friendship and interest .’’ He nonetheless immediately acknowledges that ‘‘I have written a long letter, in spite of my disclaimer—because I do not want you to forget me.’’ Quite directly, Chesnutt says to Page, ‘‘I wish to secure your interest and your friendship as well in furtherance of my literary aims, and I do not think you will find it amiss that I write and tell you so, and tell you why’’ (103). What is striking about this letter is both how deeply personal it is and how directly it describes itself as staging the personal. Everything Chesnutt says here about his ambition and frustrations can also be found in his private journals of the 1870s and early 1880s. At the same time, he states that this is a ‘‘business letter,’’ and that he hopes to gain Page’s assistance ‘‘in furtherance of my literary aims.’’ The letter, in other words, leans heavily on two meanings of the word friendship: on the one hand, as representing rich possibilities of intellectual and affective community made through Patronage and Philanthropy in Chesnutt 135 ‘‘confidences,’’ and on the other hand, as instrumental, necessary for the ‘‘furtherance of my literary aims.’’ As such, the letter maps out a thematic that appears throughout Chesnutt’s journal entries, letters, speeches, and fiction. Again and again, Chesnutt returns to these two kinds of friendship —one he terms elsewhere ‘‘true friendship’’ and one he describes as instrumental.2 Friendship, we saw in the last chapter, is not ‘‘merely a form of or vehicle for sensibility and sympathy,’’ but an important ‘‘cultural practice and institution’’ (Schweitzer, 9). Chesnutt’s distinction between two kinds of friendship provides us with an opportunity to reexamine these social practices in the culture of corporate capitalism, their relation to literary economics, and the difference that race makes to them. In the wake of Richard Brodhead’s important work, Cultures of Letters, the ‘‘Northern literary economy’’ has been seen as a crucial factor in reading Chesnutt. Brodhead argues that in order to achieve literary success Chesnutt manipulated white Northern bourgeois ideology and literary conventions that he had imbibed during his education at and later his principalship of a school backed in part by the Peabody Fund, a white Northern philanthropy. Brodhead argues that because of his education Chesnutt could consciously shape his stories of the South to please a white Northern audience by ‘‘feeding . . . [their] appetite for consumable otherness.’’3 However , when Chesnutt rebelled against the exoticizing conventions that appealed to this audience, he alienated his readers, and his career ended. Multiple points of Brodhead’s analysis have been challenged, but the white Northern audience Brodhead describes as making and then breaking Chesnutt ’s career has implicitly remained an uncontested factor in our understanding of the literary economics that shaped his work.4 By contrast, this chapter rethinks the assumptions from classical economics on which Brodhead relies in his notion of the determining power of a white Northern audience.5 While he does not suggest a connection between markets and democratic diversity, as so many literary historians do, he does assume that ‘‘demand’’ directly creates ‘‘supply,’’ and that consumers freely express their choices (or in this case their prejudices) through their consumption patterns. To challenge expressivist as well as democratizing arguments about markets, I focus again on the ways the social practices of corporate capitalism complicate the foundational fictions of classical economics. In the last chapter, I examined the inextricably affective and instrumental implications for Twain of the male friendships fostered in the recreational ‘‘male culture 136 Chapter 4 of the workplace’’ (Rotundo, 195). As an African American, Chesnutt was excluded...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812290035
Related ISBN
9780812246308
MARC Record
OCLC
884615827
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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