Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Glass, Loren D.

First Committee Member

Diffley, Kathleen

Second Committee Member

Stecopoulos, Harilaos

Third Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Fourth Committee Member

McLeod, Kembrew


In the frame introduction to Willa Cather's My Ántonia (1918), an unnamed author encounters her childhood friend Jim Burden on a cross-country train. Jim asks the author why she has never written anything about their mutual friend Ántonia. To answer Jim's criticism, she proposes they both write stories about Ántonia, but only Jim honors the agreement. The rest of the novel is put forth as Jim's manuscript "substantially" as he brought it to the author (xii). This scenario is but one of several ways My Ántonia evokes Cather's experience ghostwriting S.S. McClure's My Autobiography (1914) for, just as the authorial voice in My Ántonia dissolves into Jim's, Cather had to adopt McClure's perspective to write her former employer's life story. Going further, Cather worked closely with her book editor Ferris Greenslet and the production editor R.L. Scaife to be sure Houghton Mifflin would paginate the introduction with roman numerals and thereby produce the effect of a true authorial preface. The introduction recalls the preface of McClure's autobiography, which acknowledged Cather for "cooperation" that contributed to "the very existence" of his book.

Interpreting My Ántonia and My Autobiography as projects connected by authorial process, textual allusion, and even typesetting suggests the complicated and elusive nature of collaborative labor in the literary marketplace, as well as the extent to which modern literary texts responded to those complexities. Working on a task or project with a partner or in a group can frustrate, energize or empower those involved, but whatever feelings it inspires, interactive labor often has a life of its own. This is the idea of collaborative momentum. My dissertation examines relationships among authors, agents, editors, publishers, and unofficial "middle men" to argue that supportive and adversarial cycles of interactive labor in the modern American literary marketplace created the basic parameters of modern authorship. I show that as professional specialization becomes more rigid and institutionalized, the literary field paradoxically created new spaces for nebulous but crucial cooperative labor. In particular, the effect I call collaborative momentum facilitated the exchange of economic and symbolic capital. Additionally, I show that narratives of the modern period are inextricably invested in corporate and institutional labor systems that surround them and can be interpreted as rhetorical attempts to reform and improve those systems.

By analyzing the author's cultural identity in relation to rising institutional collaborators of the modern era, I contribute to the steadily growing field of authorship studies while adding to ongoing scholarly conversations about individual authors and texts. My chapters analyze the systemic production of literary identity, reciprocal relationships between editors and authors, the modern apparatus of literary debut, and the role bibliophilia and book collecting played in the production of The New Negro. I therefore highlight four paradigmatic examples of interactive labor while simultaneously emphasizing that collaborative momentum as I describe it was crucial not only to those with privilege but also to individuals and groups struggling against inequality, whether it was Salish novelist D'Arcy McNickle, Alain LeRoy Locke, or self-employed literary agent Flora May Holly. My work helps scholars see a power structure that granted disproportionate credibility to white men as literary creators and publishing industry insiders, yet it also shows a modern American literary culture shaped as much by the experience of marginalized individuals and groups negotiating a discriminatory publishing industry as it was by aesthetic contests between popular fiction and high modernism.

My first chapter, Character, Personality, and the Editor Figure: William Dean Howells and the Institution of Image-Building establishes that the same cultural logic that allowed Samuel Clemens to develop a public persona as a fictional character also empowered William Dean Howells to create his literary identity as the nation's foremost editor figure. Further, I argue that image-building was a collaborative affair; Howells and many others helped define Mark Twain, and countless authors and critics came to define Howells as the Dean of American Letters in the 1890s and as America's "pious old maid" after his death in 1920. I argue that Howells' persona-work extends to his novel A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890). The main characters--co-founders of a fictional literary magazine--have contrasting identities: one is ostentatious but lacks substance; the other is so unsure he hardly has an identity. Labor crises at the magazine and in the city streets gesture at the problematic nature of a personality-driven culture that had come to define selfhood without emphasizing a moral or ethical element.

In chapter two, "Reciprocity and the `Real' Author: Willa Cather as S.S. McClure's Ghostwriter," I trace a cycle of debt--monetary and symbolic--from McClure's rise as magazine editor to a moment of financial crisis in 1912 that led his corporate board to oust him from his own magazine. To pay off his debts, he asked Willa Cather to author his autobiography. I read the ghostwriting project as an example of how mutual debt is generative, for Cather accepted the role out of personal loyalty and took no money for her work. Cather's fictional works, including My Ántonia and The Professor's House (1925), engage with the cycle of debt and indebtedness and imagine a narrative exchange unclouded by any question of money but tied, instead, to a dream of self-sacrificing friendship. My article "It's Mr. Reynolds Who Wishes It: Profit and Prestige Shared by Cather and Her Literary Agent," in Cather Studies Volume 9, "Willa Cather and Modern Cultures," draws on material from this chapter.

My third chapter, "Discovery of the Month: D'Arcy McNickle and the Apparatus of Literary Debut" takes up as its interpretive focus changing institutions of literary career-launching. My approach brings together two scholarly conversations, one preoccupied with McNickle's refinement of his perception of Native cultures and the other, informed by a history of the book methodology, concerned with the cultural systems that codified twentieth-century authorial identity and credibility. McNickle is an important example of how institutions of discovery functioned. The exceptional aspects of McNickle's story--the nine-year duration of his effort to publish his first book, his outsider identity, and the number of avenues he tried in order to become established make him an ideal example. To better understand McNickle's relationship with literary agent Ruth Rae, I frame my analysis with the story of the literary agent's rise as an integral figure in literary debut. Turning to McNickle's fiction in the second part of this chapter, I analyze his The Surrounded as a reaction to cultural institutions of literary discovery. McNickle narrates the tragedy of failed mediation and gestures at an alternative model of interaction. He embeds this thematic exploration in his allusions to the Salish oral tradition, so that the text itself mediates an experience of cultural discovery.

Chapter four, "Irrepressible Anthologies, Collectible: Bibliophilia and Book Collecting in the New Negro," continues my analysis of the literary middle man's collision with American modernity by tracing the intersection of anthology, book collecting, and bibliophilia as they pertain to The New Negro's book design, artistic form, and multi-generic content. While recent studies have linked the anthology to Boazian ethnography and modernist collage, I provide a more immediate reading of the philosophies of collecting inherent to modern and African American print cultures. I read The New Negro as a book production process structured by efforts to produce an object worthy of being collected. My also analyzes of how the anthology's book design interacts with the positions on materiality and collecting at play in its collected prose and poetry. This case study of the creator-intermediary as collector historicizes modern book collecting and appreciates African American bibliophiles as an alternative to the dominant white American and European book collecting traditions. Appreciating these distinctions suggests, ultimately, that a significant aspect of the exchange of economic and symbolic capital in the modern age was to mediate a contested present day by refashioning ideas about the past.


Authorship, Collaboration, Cooperation, Middle Man, Publishing Industry


viii, 284 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 272-284).


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Copyright © 2012 Matthew J. Lavin