Correspondent Colorings: Melville in the Marketplace

By Sheila Post-Lauria | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Marketplace Conditions

ADVOCATES OF THE subversion model of criticism suggest that "classic" writers -- intolerant and disdainful of "popular" practice -- employed subversive tactics in their fiction which largely escaped the notice of their publishers, editors (many of whom were themselves authors), and even readers. Indeed, the artistry that emerges in the fiction of antebellum -- particularly "classic" -- writers results from, so the argument goes, their deliberate strategies of subverting popular conventions. Perhaps no "classic" writer holds more prestige as one who resisted popular practice than Melville. According to a variety of critics, the author is said to have "revolted against his readers," "quarreled with fiction," dug "beneath" and "gone under" forms dictated by a marketplace necessity.1

One problem with these assessments is that they posit a bifurcated, hierarchical view of antebellum literary culture, a formulation that reflects modern cultural structures more than it does the actual situation in mid-nineteenth-century America. Nina Baym, Lawrence Buell, Cathy Davidson, Lawrence Levine, David Reynolds, Jane Tompkins, and Ronald Zboray, among others, have initiated the immense project of recovering the heterogeneity of literary forms, reading habits, and audiences that help to characterize popular antebellum culture.2 The necessity for acknowledging this diversity is integrally linked to the contrasting styles found in magazines of the period. The heterogeneity of periodical production enabled writers to choose which magazines most closely fit their own interests. Magazinists, therefore, could easily match their works to fit editorial policies and reader expectations.

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