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The Hidden Agenda of The Hidden Hand: Periodical Publication and the Literary Marketplace in LateNineteenth -Century America Alison M. Scott and Amy M. Thomas During her lifetime, E. D. E. N. Southworth was one of the most famous American authors in the world. Between 1846, when her first story appeared in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, and her death in 1899, Southworth wrote more novels than Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain combined, with Harriet Beecher Stowe added for good measure. In her seventy-fifth year, she remarked to a newspaper columnist, “Among all the people I have met, and they have been very many, and among all the thousands that have written to me, I have never found one who has not read some of my books, and I have never heard of one, have you?”1 Whether she described individual pieces within her oeuvre as stories, novels, or books, almost all of the fiction that Southworth published during her long and fruitful career was published in serial installments in literary papers in advance of their publication in book form. Many of her most significant stories were published in the New York Ledger, the most popular literary paper in the United States during the nineteenth century, whose cadre of nationally known writers she joined in 1857: Novels she wrote after 1859 were serialized in its pages, including The Hidden Hand, which appeared within its pages three times before it finally appeared in book form. Over the course of the twentieth century, this history was largely forgotten or, if remembered, dismissed as unimportant. However, when we examine the circumstances and context of the serializations of The Hidden Hand, we find compelling evidence that different modes of professional authorship, publication , and literary value were at work in the second half of the nineteenth century than those which are now accepted as the natural history of the American novel. We also find that Southworth herself, though indisputably and unusually famous , is best understood as a representative figure, embedded in a dense field of 50 Alison M. Scott and Amy M. Thomas literary activity, for which the typology of book publication—as primary artifact and conveyor of literary significance—is inadequate. Southworth and Robert Bonner, the editor and owner of the New York Ledger , both recognized that the marketplace for fiction in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century was not unitary but diversified, with many different audiences, venues, functions, and purposes. Bonner deliberately produced the Ledger for a large and growing market for recreational reading, issued in inexpensive newspapers and magazines, rather than struggling for part of the much smaller luxury market for books. Southworth worked with him, using her literary gifts to create stories that appealed to as many readers as possible , and managed her literary properties in close association with Bonner. The Hidden Hand is one of the great results of their collaboration. At the same time, the work they did together for the Ledger represents a little known facet of the richly complex endeavors of nineteenth-century American literature, authorship, and publishing. It was a vibrant, active world of letters in which the status of “the book” as a revered cultural artifact was strenuously contested. The New York Ledger was the brainchild of Robert Bonner (1824–1899). Bonner’s young manhood was spent learning all aspects of newspaper publishing, from typesetting and reporting to finance and advertising. In 1851, he purchased a mediocre business journal, the Merchant Ledger; by 1855, he had renamed it and was turning it “into a journal of current literature and popular fiction,” on its way to becoming one of the United States’ most popular literary papers. At its peak, the New York Ledger boasted that its circulation exceeded four hundred thousand copies weekly.2 While his innovative advertising schemes—filling eight pages of the New York Herald with an advertisement for a contribution by Fanny Fern, publishing tantalizing first installments of serial stories in rival literary papers —earned him the occasional epithet of “the Barnum of publishers,” he set standards for compensation for his “Ledger authors” that are even today seldom matched.3 Bonner first asked Southworth to write for the Ledger in October 1856, when she was already a successful, nationally known author. His approach set a tone of respect, admiration, and generosity for a professional relationship that lasted for more than three decades. “I would be glad to make an arrangement with you for every line that you...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781572339255
Related ISBN
9781572338678
MARC Record
OCLC
828490614
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-12
Language
English
Open Access
No
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