Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America
Cultures of Letters illuminates the changing place made for literature in American cultural life. Offering critics and general readers alike a fresh view of America's literary past, this book shows that writing is never simply self-generated; rather, it always reflects the literary arrangements and understandings of particular social settings. Richard H. Brodhead uses a great variety of historical sources, many of them considered here for the first time, to reconstruct the institutionalized literary worlds that coexisted in nineteenth-century America: the middle-class domestic culture of letters, the culture of mass-produced cheap reading, the militantly hierarchical high culture of the post-Civil War decades, and the literary culture of post-emancipation black education. Moving across a range of writers familiar and unfamiliar, and relating groups of writers often considered in artificial isolation, Brodhead describes how these socially structured worlds of writing shaped the terms of literary practice for the authors who inhabited them. Readers will find fresh descriptions of the works and the working conditions of writers like Stowe, Hawthorne, Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Charles Chesnutt, among many others. Through its examples, Cultures of Letters also suggests new, historically more informed ways to approach a number of theoretical questions: How do the terms of literature's public consumption affect the terms of its private conception? By what processes are authors admitted to or excluded from literary careers? Are writers all literary in the same way? How do social factors like race or gender affect not only literary works but the place of an author inculture? Written in vigorous, accessible prose and full of unexpected turns of thought, Cultures of Letters makes a major contribution to American literary and cultural studies and to the historical study of literary forms.
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