Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
My dissertation tracks the development of literary advertising in the United States during the late-nineteenth century through the emergence and evolution of Walt Whitman as a recognizable brand name. Situating the strategies of Whitman and his publishers within the broader context of nineteenth-century literary advertising, I trace the roots of modern publishing practices back to the experiments of a generation of American authors and would-be promoters. At the intersection of the professional author's ascent in the United States and the growing centralization and sophistication of the advertising trade, a new anxiety surfaces in the world of nineteenth-century American publishing: how best to sell the literary text and, in turn, market its author. Whitman's attempts to promote himself and Leaves of Grass--efforts that were sometimes prescient, occasionally ludicrous--focus this study of a period in literary advertising when professional authorship was a relatively new reality, poetry was widely read, and the rise of the literary celebrity was in the making. The multiple publications of Leaves of Grass may not, in their time, have defined this moment of American literary history, but retrospectively they invite us to consider how poets and publishers distinguished their literary commodities and authorial personas in rapidly expanding and increasingly unpredictable literary markets.
This dissertation develops an important new dimension to the study of Whitman and the culture of literary celebrity: an in-depth examination of the promotional artifacts circulating in and around Leaves of Grass--the newspaper advertisements, circulars, print ornaments, promotional schemes, posters, broadsides, engravings, book covers, and critical annexes that were as central to Whitman's brand as his poetry. This book-studies oriented methodology challenges us to consider the role "non-literary" elements have played in the reception and consumption of literary works, especially in establishing the iconic status of authors like Whitman.
Each chapter is devoted to a marker of the Whitman brand--an image, symbol, or promotional strategy that served as a metaphoric trademark of the poet and his distinct textual product. Chapter 1, "`No other matter but poems': Promotion Paratexts and Whitman's Gymnastic Reader," examines the use of promotion paratext to advertise the first three editions of Leaves of Grass and the sophisticated reading practice these texts recruited. Chapter 2, "'I announce a man or woman coming': The Poet as Printer's Fist," looks at Whitman's use of the "manicule" (a small pointing hand) as a symbol of the poet's function reproduced in and on Leaves of Grass. Chapter 3, "`Anything honest to sell books': Autograph-hunting and the Whitmanian Imprimatur," considers Whitman's relationship to the culture of autograph collecting and his innovative use of his own signature as a promotional device. Chapter 4, "Am I Not a Man and a Poet?: Branding Walt Whitman," examines the two most famous faces of the Whitman brand--Whitman the Bowery boy rough and Whitman the Good Gray Poet--revealing how those seemingly conflicting personas became the target of racialized critiques during the 1860s.
Literary Advertising, Literary Celebrity, Publishing, Walt Whitman
vii, 273 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 262-273).
Copyright 2013 Eric Christopher Conrad