Book Reviews -- by the Sweat of the Brow: Literature and Labor in Antebellum America by Nicholas K. Bromell

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By the Sweat of the Brow: Literature and Labor in Antebellum America. Nicholas K. Bromell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Nicholas K. Bromell undertakes a subtle and important task in this book, but one that must be worked on for a long time to reach fruition, and worked on outside the written word. His premise is that early in America, literary people who were also interested in democracy, the activities of those working people who were "building" America and their own relationship to a developing nation, nevertheless felt that there was a superiority about mental activity--and writing--that would inevitably develop more. To a certain extent this was because of the religious background of the literary people who had been taught that spirituality and mentality were superior to physical labor.

What Bromell does not say is that literary people also used the superiority of the way of life to continue to drive a wedge between themselves and the physical workers. It was fine to idealize the village blacksmith, but everyone knew that he was thick-headed and unable to think. …