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  • Late-19th-Century Literature
  • Nicolas S. Witschi

The primary impression one takes away from this year’s scholarship is of breadth: so many authors and so many topics are compellingly explored that no single topic or trend predominates. Realism, naturalism, and regionalism or local color as genre-specific modes are discussed far less frequently than are topics such as the lingering effects of the Civil War, the function of religious discourse in the period, and the perduring questions posed by contemporaneous ideas about and representations of race. Two wide-ranging essay collections, respectively on popular print culture and on literary culture writ large, provide a useful framework for understanding the diversity of the period’s movements, authors, and texts. Scholarship on Charles Chesnutt, Stephen Crane, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Pauline Hopkins, and W. D. Howells proceeds at the usually strong pace, while Paul Laurence Dunbar continues to experience something of a resurgence in reputation and attention. Finally, poetry from the period receives much more attention than usual, and several engaging studies offer a welcome reminder of the vital role of theater in literary culture.

i Popular Forms and Popular Culture

At once daunting and rewarding in its wonderfully interconnected complexities, U.S. Popular Print Culture, 1860–1920, ed. Christine Bold (Oxford), volume 6 of The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, offers an impressive window on the full range of textual production and [End Page 243] reception in the late 19th century. Each of the 29 chapters has something useful to say in the book’s overall discussion of popular genres (such as westerns, detective stories, juvenile tales, science fiction, and sensational urban crime narratives), various modes of printing and distribution (newspapers, dime novels, postcards, small-press poetry, libraries, etc.), and discursive fields (religion, labor and class, humor, race, and suffrage, among others). Of particular note is the way the volume’s contributors variously illuminate the period’s distinctive interplay of multiple genres and multiple modes of production. Two threads in particular strike me. Coleman Hutchison and Elizabeth Renker’s “Popular Poetry in Circulation” (pp. 395–413) provides a useful context for the poetical aspects examined by Cary Nelson and Mike Chasar in “American Advertising: A Poem for Every Product” (pp. 133–67), while the latter essay’s discussion of the visual components of advertising also complements both Susan Scheckel’s “‘To Make Something of the Indian’: Hampton Institute and the Uses of Popular Print Culture” (pp. 417–36) and Keith Gandal’s “Jacob Riis and Popularizing the Photography of Class Trauma” (pp. 573–89). A similar thread may be drawn from the essays “Newspapers” (Jean M. Lutes, pp. 97–112) and “Sensationalism” (David M. Stewart, pp. 375–93) through those that discuss the reading of high- and lowbrow fiction (for one, Charles Johanningsmeier’s “Understanding Readers of Fiction in American Periodicals, 1880–1914,” pp. 591–609) and the articulation of transcontinental and transnational identities (Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s “Mexican/American: The Making of Borderlands Print Culture,” pp. 457–76, and Matthew Rubery’s “A Transatlantic Sensation: Stanley’s Search for Livingstone and the Anglo-American Press,” pp. 501–17). The volume also includes an immensely useful set of appendices that provide bibliographic and historiographic guidance on locating and understanding a wide range of textual material and archival sources.

The other equally useful and engaging collection is The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century American Literature, ed. Russ Castronovo (Oxford). As a whole, the book strives to reorient perceptions of what exactly defines a century, what counts as American, and what counts as literary. Several chapters are of particular interest to the period. Jesse Alemán’s “The Invention of Mexican America” (pp. 81–96) includes an analysis of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s novels in its explication of a “mapping of Mexican America that charts its discovery in nineteenth-century Anglo-American historical romances about the conquest of [End Page 244] Mexico and its anticolonial reinvention in contemporaneous Mexican American writings.” Shelley Streeby’s “Looking at State Violence: Lucy Parsons, José Martí, and Haymarket” (pp. 115–36) provides a fascinating take on how “sentimental and sensational images” that derived from and represented the Haymarket scene reveal the struggle over...


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