Transnationalism and American Serial Fiction

By Bernt, Phyllis | Journalism History, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Transnationalism and American Serial Fiction


Bernt, Phyllis, Journalism History


Okker, Patricia, ed. Transnationalism and American Serial Fiction. London: Routledge, 2011. 256 pp. $125.

This collection of eleven essays examines serial fiction that appeared in United States immigrant and African-American periodicals from die 1820s through the 1960s. By including African-American serials, this collection expands its scope to include minority communities established by slavery as well as those established by immigration. Patricia Okker's introduction places these essays in the context of American literary scholarship on transnationalism, scholarship which examines activities among people across national boundaries. The unique contribution of these essays, as she notes, is that they focus on a specific genre - serial fiction - appearing in a particular medium - the periodical - which, she argues, unites American literary study with the history of print culture.

Okker identifies the focus of these essays as being the examination of the symbiotic relationships between serial fiction, periodicals, and their audiences. The relationship between periodicals and serial fiction was based primarily on profit with publishers turning to serial fiction as a way to attract readership and revenues. The relationship between serial fiction and its readers was more complex and differed by minority or immigrant groups, as this collection of essays illustrates. The essays examine works written in ten languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, and Yiddish. Each essay, through its analysis of short sketches or lengthy novellas, shows how serial fiction reflected and reinforced the culture, values, and conditions of a specific minority or immigrant group.

Clint Bruce, for example, in his analysis of four French-language feuilletons - part of a newspaper or magazine devoted to entertainment - examines how serial fiction by both native Creole and French immigrant authors published in New Orleans' Le Courrier de L· Louisiane between 1843 and 1845 demonstrated a tension between American identity and French influence, while Peter Conolly-Smith analyzes the German-American local-color serials appearing in the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, demonstrating how this particular form of serial fiction illustrated the negative, as well as the positive, aspects of the German immigrant experience in the tenements of New York during the late nineteenth century. Danuta Romaniuk stresses the "educational zeal" of Polish-American serial fiction, explaining that serials during the period from 1900 to 1920 rejected American values, stressing the importance of maintaining a strong Polish identity through allegiance to religion and family. Polish-American serials written after 1920 were more open to the development of a Polish-American identity, combining Polish values with American perspectives. Ellen Kellman illustrates the rifts within an immigrant community in her analysis of "The Pregnant Bride from Suffolk Street," which was serialized over eight months in the Yiddish-language Forverts in 1931. …

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