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Reviewed by:
  • Social Stories: The Magazine Novel in Nineteenth-Century America, and: Blue Pencils and Hidden Hands: Women Editing Periodicals, 1830-1910
  • Melissa J. Homestead
Social Stories: The Magazine Novel in Nineteenth-Century America. By Patricia Okker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003. 202 pp. $37.50.
Blue Pencils and Hidden Hands: Women Editing Periodicals, 1830-1910. Edited by Sharon M. Harris. Foreword by Ellen Gruber Garvey. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004. 320 pp. $45.00.

Patricia Okker's study of serialized novels published in nineteenth-century American magazines is elegantly conceived and executed. Beginning her chronological case studies with the serialization of Jeremy Belknap's The Foresters (1787) in the Columbian Magazine, Okker takes as her central analytic framework the relationship between parts and whole, considering both the relationship of parts of magazine novels to the whole magazine in which they appear and the connection of individuals to the whole collectivity of American nationalism(s). The Columbian Magazine, for instance, published the U.S. Constitution alongside an installment of The Foresters, and in his novel, Belknap sought to demonstrate "the extent to which the Indians served as a common enemy to unify the disparate colonists" into the new republic (53). In the national motto of EPluribus Unum (out of many one) that serves as an organizing principle of Okker's study, magazines, serial novelists, and readers contest and variously define "the many" and "the one." Applying this flexible rubric to a broad range of authors and magazines, Okker takes a truly integrated approach to nineteenth-century American literary study, addressing intelligently and subtly the works of authors who are men and women, and black [End Page 84] and white. She compares William Gilmore Simms's serialization of Katharine Walton in Godey's (1850) and The Sword and the Distaff in Charleston's Southern Literary Gazette (1852) with Martin Delaney's serializations of two different versions of Blake in the Anglo-African Magazine (1859, 1861). This seemingly odd pairing of pro-slavery Southern nationalist with anti-slavery proto-Black nationalist discourse demonstrates how, in an increasingly segmented periodical market, Simms and Delaney attempted to forge like-minded communities of readers in critical opposition to a strong, centralized U.S. nationalism. Rebecca Harding Davis wrote both for "high" and "low" magazines, but Okker's chapter on Davis and the function of realist fiction in the post-war period challenges the received wisdom that this created a split authorial personality. Okker finds instead that in all of her works, Davis sought to engage "national" audiences with current "national" topics. Through an analysis of Waiting for the Verdict's publication in the Galaxy, she finds that like Simms and Delaney, Davis "shares a commitment to difference, but unlike them, she remains hopeful that such differences could be honored within a national identity" (132).

I admire Okker for jumping into relatively uncharted waters and elegantly theorizing about what she finds there. However, her framing of the project and the definition of her object—"the magazine novel"—is somewhat problematic. In her introductory chapter, for instance, she maps out some of her claims by analyzing the serial dynamics of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era (1851-1852) and The Hidden Hand in the New York Ledger (1859), emphasizing the give-and-take between authors and readers in novels both written and read serially. This give-and-take is central to her claim that magazine novels were "social stories." Yet the Era and the Ledger are weeklies, not monthlies, as are almost all of the magazines featured in the ensuing case studies. In addition, while there is evidence that Stowe and Southworth produced their novels as they were serialized and shaped what they produced in a dialectic with readers and editors, such evidence is lacking in several of her case studies. Indeed, Simms's correspondence with Sarah Josepha Hale strongly implies that he was "shopping" completed novel manuscripts to editors rather than writing them in monthly installments. Finally, some of the differences Okker finds between novelists and novels seem engineered (in reverse) to make them fit into variations on the "one and many" theme. For instance, why is a historical novel by Ann Stephens...


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