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R E V I E W LEON JACKSON Antebellum Authorship after Charvat The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2008. 331 pp. $60.00 cloth. I n this wonderfully fine-grained study, Leon Jackson jettisons the categories of “professional” and “amateur” that have structured discussions of antebellum authorship since William Charvat’s influential book The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870 was published posthumously in 1968. Charvat’s neat narrative, Jackson charges, is at once narrowly dualist (if you’re not a professional, you must be an amateur, and to be an amateur means you have failed to be a professional) and teleological, plotting the history of antebellum authorship as an ultimately victorious quest for professionalism. This developmental logic misses the point that amateurism “didn’t precede professionalism so much as it emerged in tandem with it . . . inasmuch as it helped define what professionalism was by reference to what it was not” [19]. Moreover, the terms hardly capture the multiple economies in which antebellum authors participated, and in their place Jackson brings to life a wide array of exchange practices, including gift giving, subscription, and literary competitions. Jackson is careful to specify what his book does and does not do. Although it is a study of literature, it is not a work of literary criticism; that is, although it is deeply analytical, it is not exactly interpretive. It is something closer to a historical anthropology of authorship, and as such, its idiom is thick description, rather than close reading. Jackson draws extensively on scholarship in the social sciences, especially the work of Karl Polanyi and other economic anthropologists, an approach that offers a richly textured picture of the literary activities of antebellum authors, editors, publishers, and readers. The focus of Jackson’s research, though, is on primary sources, and his archival work is truly breathtaking. He draws on reams of newspapers, diaries, business and personal correspondence, albums, letter-writing manuals, and publishers’ receipts, among other materials, and his research covers considerable geographic ground (North and South, although like most antebellum scholarship, it concentrates on the eastern seaboard). Yet this is not a haphazard collection of examples: they quite clearly and naturally demonstrate C  2009 Washington State University 130 P O E S T U D I E S , VOL. 42, 2009 R E V I E W Jackson’s claims. Any reader who has struggled to forge a strong case from the necessary chaos of the archive will envy the remarkable cohesion he achieves. One rarely sees history in such vivid detail. Jackson’s discussion of gift exchange , for example, tracks novelist-on-the-make Daniel Pierce Thompson’s attempts to ingratiate himself with better-known writers John Neal and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by sending them free copies of his latest publications. The different strategies he tried with each open a window onto the complex rules of gift giving, whose exchanges bound participants together emotionally in power structures wherein it was undoubtedly better to give than to receive. Thus while Thompson bluntly asked Neal for a positive newspaper review, four years later he more craftily presented his novel as grateful fulfillment of a (manufactured) debt to Longfellow, allowing him to slide in an additional hint that Longfellow might reciprocate in turn by noticing the novel in the North American Review. Longfellow outsmarted Thompson, however, by politely declining to review the novel while sending a copy of his own new book in return, effectively “balancing the books” [94]. Undaunted, Thompson wrote an enthusiastic review of the novel himself and forwarded it to the North American Review, “where it sits to this day in the file of rejected submissions” [94-95]. As here, The Business of Letters can be a very funny business, and in the nineteenth-century U.S. it was often less than decorous. When the editor of the Lynn Weekly Mirror sent a fellow newspaper editor a copy of his paper with a request to exchange, or regularly trade, papers so as to share their contents, Jackson reports, the would-be correspondent simply returned the paper “with the second ‘e’ of Weekly scratched out and an ‘a’ in its place” [124]. Another...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 130-134
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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