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“Howard tells an original and carefully reasoned story about the nature of American literary sentimentalism and realism and connects both to changing expectations about gendered identity and experience. In the process, she uses the phenomenon of this collaboratively authored novel to subject our commonsense assumptions about literary creativity to searching scrutiny.”—Janice Radway, author of A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire
"A Strangely Exciting Story"
How It Began
In the spring of 1906 William Dean Howells suggested an unusual idea for a serial to Elizabeth Jordan, the editor of Harper's Bazar. "He thought it might be interesting," Jordan wrote many years later, "to publish a novel of twelve chapters, to be written by twelve authors, under the title The Whole Family. Of these, eleven would write their chapters as supposed members of that family, while a twelfth, the Friend of the Family, would `sum up' in the final chapter." Howells disclaimed any intention of asking the contributors to conform to his conception of the characters, writing to Jordan that they "must be left in entire freedom." But he worked out the plan of the book in some detail, specifying that the family should consist of a grandmother, who would "open the affair," a father, mother, son and daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, a little girl and boy, a maiden aunt on either the father's or mother's side, a young girl, and the female friend who was to sum up. He also suggested eight writers (including himself, Samuel Clemens, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Jordan) and proposed that "[t]he family might be in some such moment of vital agitation as that attending the Young Girl's engagement, or pending engagement, and each witness could treat of it in character. There could be fun enough, but each should try seriously to put himself or herself really into the personage's place. I think the more seriously the business was treated, the better."
Howells clearly understood the impossibility of retaining control over such a collaboration but could not resist the temptation to try. He closed his letter with "Excuse the meddling," only to add after his signature, "P. S. The note of the whole might be confidential, but kindly criticism, reciprocal, among all the characters, but especially leaving open the Young Girl and her betrothed." He seems to have envisioned The Whole Family as an amusing, circulation-building novelty for the Bazar, yet also to have cherished the hope that it would be a substantial work of literature. It would provide a forum for discussing issues of the day—Howells specifically mentioned coeducation—and presumably model the sort of literary realism he had long advocated; he envisioned a family "in middling circumstances, of average culture and experiences," and wrote when he sent his chapter to Jordan that he had been "feeling for the great American average in the situation." He took the project "seriously" enough to be dismayed when other members of the fictional family actually took liberties with his design.
Jordan was enthusiastic about the idea of producing what she calls in her autobiography a "composite novel," and set to work lining up contributors at once. She had high aspirations: "[W]ith Mr. Howells making the first drive from the literary tee, and the cooperation of Henry James and Mark Twain practically assured, my ambition was to bring together what P. T. Barnum would have called the greatest, grandest, most gorgeous group of authors ever collaborating on a literary production" (258). Those invited to participate were linked to Harper & Brothers Publishers by varied avenues: several were closely associated with the house as editors and authors, several were linked to those by friendship, some regularly published books with the firm, some published elsewhere but contributed to Harper's periodicals, especially the Bazar. Alfred Bendixen writes in his introduction to the 1986 reprinting of the novel that the project was "designed to be a showplace for Harper's family of authors" (xiii), which describes Jordan's desire although it exaggerates the coherence of the final list (see appendix 1). As Bendixen points out, only an enormous and prestigious publishing company like Harper's, with the aid of an influential writer and critic like Howells, could possibly have succeeded in mounting such a collaboration.
Indications of the difficulties ahead appeared immediately when some of Howells's and Jordan's first choices declined to participate and the planned order of the contributions had to be altered to accommodate the schedules of those who agreed. Jordan takes, throughout the chapter of her autobiography she devotes to The Whole Family, a comically rueful tone. "Several authors were tied up and could not write a chapter till their contracts had been carried out. Others could not begin the work for two years. My daily mail was made up of large problems. Many authors preferred to write chapters other than those assigned to them—often chapters already assigned to some one else. The mother selected yearned to contribute the chapter of the married daughter; the selected son-in-law passionately preferred to be the friend of the family. Every author except Mr. Howells desired to write a final chapter" (261). Nevertheless, by December 1906 The Whole Family was being advertised as forthcoming in Harper's Bazar (see fig. 1), with Mark Twain, who eventually declined, listed among the contributors.
The troubles of this early period were a mere intimation of what was to follow. In the event, Howells opened the novel with a chapter on the father of the family. Jordan sent proofs to all the contributors, who read it, she reports, "with the interest and respect due to the work of the Dean of American Literature." Among the other contributors only Mary Wilkins Freeman, who was to represent the maiden aunt, was free to write her chapter immediately, and it was when Jordan sent out the proofs of the second chapter that "the epoch-making row of The Whole Family began!" (263). The authors speedily constituted themselves as advocates for the characters they represented and began to engage in "reciprocal" criticism notably lacking in the "kindly" tone Howells had suggested.
Freeman did not think Howells had treated her character very well; Jordan, concurring, writes that he "had relegated Elizabeth to the chimney corner. He was not interested in her" (263). Freeman makes her single by choice, "as pretty and as up-to-date" (in Jordan 266) as a young girl, and deposits her squarely in the middle of the action by revealing that the young man to whom her niece Peggy has just become engaged is actually in love with Elizabeth (see fig. 2). "This wholly unexpected twist of the tale proved to be the explosion of a bomb-shell on our literary hearthstone," Jordan writes. "Every author on the list dropped all other interests to write me about it. They all knew me well, and many of them were my friends. They wrote intimately and in a state of high excitement" (264). Some approved, feeling that the first chapter had been slow moving and that the second offered more possibilities for action. Others, particularly Howells and Henry Van Dyke, were horrified—Howells, in a letter that "almost scorched the paper it was written on," actually asked Jordan not to publish Freeman's contribution. Jordan's own opinion of the chapter and the necessity of avoiding offense to any of Harper's family of authors prohibited that: "I had to remember that, like Mr. Howells, Miss Wilkins was one of Harper's most valued and successful authors. To reject her chapter was impossible" (264). In her perplexity Jordan turned to Henry Mills Alden, editor of Harper's Monthly, for guidance and mediation. Indeed, the authors' discussions "grew so fiery" (267) that she eventually also sought the support of both Frederick Duneka, the general manager of Harper's, and Col. George Harvey, its president.
The battle over Aunt Elizabeth (or "Lily" , or "the deadly Eliza" , as she is variously called) continued, both in letters and in the text of the story, through the entire collaboration; the different authors interpret her character and behavior quite differently. A second explosion took place over Edith Wyatt's chapter on "The Mother," which caused Duneka to "break into the discussion" with a letter that calls the chapter "confused, dull, stupid, vapid, meaningless, halting, lame ... cruelly incompetent drivel" (Jordan 273). Henry James called that chapter "a positive small convulsion of debility" and lamented: "Does your public want that so completely lack-lustre domestic sentimentality?" (Edel and Powers 52). Virtually every chapter occasioned discussions, debates, and discontent. Jordan wrote later, "If I had realized the possibilities of the situation I would not have sent to any one of those twelve authors any part of that novel until the time came for him or her to write a chapter. Then I would have sent all the preceding chapters together, and the waiting author would have had the cumulative effect of them. He would also have had the inevitable literary spasm caused by the collaboration to date—but it would have been only one spasm instead of eleven—and his mind would have been promptly diverted by the need of writing his own chapter at once" (263). As it was, the correspondence was voluminous, and gossip about The Whole Family's problems spread quickly; according to Jordan, at least, "all literary New York discussed it" (268).
The range and urgency of these disputes, coupled with the narrative creativity required to adjudicate them through the story line, are what make The Whole Family so interesting. It seems appropriate to turn Ronald Dworkin's analogy between case law and the "chain novel" back on this fiction: "[E]very novelist but the first has the dual responsibilities of interpreting and creating.... This must be interpretation in a non-intention-bound style because, at least for all novelists after the second, there is no single author whose intentions any interpreter can, by the rules of the project, regard as decisive." A judge writing an opinion, Dworkin suggests, is similarly "a partner in a complex chain enterprise ... [who] must determine, according to his own judgment, what the earlier decisions come to, what the point or theme of the practice so far, taken as a whole, really is" (192-94). (Or what it ought to be; some of the contributors to The Whole Family turned out to be judicial activists.) Cutting into this product of mingled interpretation and creation at any point reveals traces of a complex negotiation. Unraveling those traces sometimes entails a considerable work of historical reconstruction, and the artifact is revealing for that very reason.
The topics over which the battles were fought were important ones. To claim, as the Bazar "Books & Writers" department did in reporting the book publication of The Whole Family, that "[n]ever before has the American family, as an institution, been so subtly discussed" certainly overstates the case. Yet the urgent concerns managed in The Whole Family do consistently arrange themselves around and through the complex category invoked in its title. The early twentieth century was a period, like our own, of profound change and perceived crisis in the family. The novel rapidly becomes a debate over diverging models; what some writers consider domestic bliss, others see as claustrophobic misery. Both Peggy's coeducation and Elizabeth's unconventional spinsterhood involve the contributors with the controversial figure of the "New Woman." Would women willingly, could they legitimately, choose lives outside the marriage relation—and in doing so were they rejecting the family or redefining it? I will show that the very forms through which the contributors narrate their claims, sentimentality and realism, embed them in a gender-inflected literary history that constructs the social location of reading in relation to the family. And Harper & Brothers was a family business, publishing the works of its family of authors for readers in family circles all over the country.
The way these topics are worked out depends crucially on two aspects of the novel that I explore in the rest of this chapter: it was produced collaboratively, and its production was arranged through Harper & Brothers for Harper's Bazar. I offer an initial account (to be developed in later chapters) of what this particular site in the magazine world implies about the novel's place in the early twentieth-century's cultures of letters—that is, in Richard Brodhead's indispensable formulation, the "scenes of reading and writing" in which the project takes shape.
Authorship and Collaboration
The powerful notion of the "social text" as a site of struggle over meanings applies fully to singly-authored works and guides my readings of the separate chapters of the composite novel. But one advantage of studying a composite novel is that it dramatizes that notion—indeed, The Whole Family almost literalizes it; the title proclaims a unity, yet both the contentious process of its writing and the novel itself persistently betray conflict and fragmentation. Despite contemporary reviewers' exclamations over the book's consistent style, the narrative is, in the strict sense, incoherent: it veers among different designs that cannot be contained within a single frame. This is not only a matter of the incompatible versions of Aunt Elizabeth. Toward the end of the novel, for instance, Alice Brown actually treats the chapter that immediately preceded hers as a hoax, so that none of the events recounted in it "really" happened. For the historicizing critic, such disjunctures are intriguing openings for analysis, and I make use of them in subsequent chapters; for the contributors, they constituted failures of craft. Elizabeth Jordan's final words on the subject in her autobiography—voiced, she writes, with the "accumulated zest" of many years of discretion—are: "The Whole Family was a mess!" (280). The last chapter of this study will consider the shape of the novel as a whole and ask where and on what terms it succeeds or fails. The questions that concern me here point rather toward the conditions of literary production: Whose craft are we talking about? What is the significance of this collaborative form for the institution of authorship?
From the perspective of the social text, individuals are as much written by discourse as writers of it. And from that perspective, the commonsense view of the author as the origin and owner of words is inextricably part of modern individualism. Foucault's "What Is an Author?"—asserting the category's historicity and showing how it works as "the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning" (159)—is a familiar and necessary reference point here. Authorship was not, of course, invented at some abrupt, identifiable moment; Roger Chartier finds an "author-function" assigning texts to proper names already at work in some manuscript books of the Middle Ages. He points out, however, with Foucault, that in the early years of printing, such attributions had less to do with property rights than with accountability, and also that the author of a book was no more responsible for it than "the printer who published it, the bookseller or the pedlar who sold it, or the reader who possessed it"—each "could be led to the stake if they were convicted of having proffered or diffused heretical opinions" (50). Peter Stallybrass, in his intertwined accounts of "Shakespeare, the Individual, and the Text," gives a profoundly defamiliarizing picture of Renaissance dramatic texts as produced in "a network of collaborative relations, normally between two or more writers, between writers and acting companies, between acting companies and printers, between compositors and proofreaders, between printers and censors," and portrays the author we call Shakespeare as the creation of eighteenth-century editing (601). With similarly startling effect, Martha Woodmansee shows us Samuel Johnson simultaneously contributing to the development of literary biography and a canon of English authors (in, for example, Lives of the Poets) and participating in far more corporate and collective forms of composition. Theoretical insight and empirical inquiry work fruitfully together in the current historicizing of authorship.
The most commonly cited source for the notion of the author as a solitary creator, often virtually a demiurge, is Romanticism. Woodmansee quotes Wordsworth: "Of genius the only proof is, the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before: Of genius in the fine arts, the only infallible sign is the widening the sphere of human sensibility, for the delight, honor, and benefit of human nature. Genius is the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe" (16). The heroic individualism of the early nineteenth century was still visibly at work in aesthetic ideologies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on both continents. Howells, for example, was hostile to the notion of "genius," arguing that art derived from "powers and diligence" that anyone could exercise. Yet he visualized the "true realist" as an innovator with privileged perceptions: "He feels in every nerve the equality of things and the unity of men; his soul is exalted, not by vain shows and shadows and ideals, but by realities, in which alone the truth lives." Indeed, anyone who teaches high school or college students will not need to be persuaded that the belief that an artistic work is first and foremost an expression of its creator and the conviction that originality is a self-evident value still prevail at the turn into the twenty-first century. And originality not only makes an author's work artistically his or her own but also constitutes a claim to ownership. Accountability, aesthetic identity, and intellectual property develop as distinctive but interdependent institutions (see R. Griffin).
One of the most elaborated consequences of the Romantic and Romantic-influenced notion of expressive authorship has been the valorizing of authorial intention in modern textual criticism. Jerome McGann, editor of Byron and a prominent theorist of editing, writes:
As the very term "authority" suggests, the author is taken to be—for editorial and critical purposes—the ultimate locus of a text's authority, and literary works are consequently viewed in the most personal and individual way. Furthermore, just as literary works are narrowly identified with an author, the identity of the author with respect to the work is critically simplified through this process of individualization. The result is that the dynamic social relations which always exist in literary production—the dialectic between the historically located individual author and the historically developing institutions of literary production—tends to become obscured in criticism. (81)
Increasingly McGann's view prevails; the 1992 version of the policy statement by the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions, in fact, abandons the doctrine of copy-text and final intentions in favor of a more institutional and collaborative understanding of literary production (in which, of course, the author necessarily still figures). Another important editor of the Romantics, Jack Stillinger, also argues for a recognition of the social nature of literary production in Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius. These perspectives do not tell us what the significance of composite novels is, yet they do remove substantial obstacles to thinking about them.
Accounts of authorship attend, of course, not just to an aesthetic ideology such as Romanticism but to broader transformations-to, for example, the emergence of what Habermas has named the public sphere, which both literature and literary criticism inhabit. Stallybrass and Allon White describe the coffeehouses of eighteenth-century England that have served as the classic location for discussions of that moment as "an idealized space of consciousness which is being systematically scoured," defined against the disorders of the marketplace, alehouse, street, and fairground as well as against the domains of the state (93). For them any understanding of culture as refinement depends on, and can never escape, its "low Other": culture as commerce. For a later period Mary Poovey points to the "mixed lineage of the Victorian image of the writer," identifying a tension between "leisured men of letters, those medieval court scribes and Renaissance intellectuals whose education marked them as privileged men, even if their daily meat came from patrons," and "the professional writer ... descended from the early and mid-eighteenth-century hacks who sold ideas by the word and fought off competitors for every scrap of work" (102-3). Romanticism reanimated the prestige of the man of letters by finding a new source for it. But Grub Street was an equally crucial site for defining the role of the writer. Poovey like other scholars puts in evidence what the unitary notion of authorship conceals: focusing particularly on serial publication, she shows that the transformation of English literary production during the nineteenth century generated constantly more complex arrangements of editing and recompense, manufacturing and distribution, and observes that given "the range of jobs involved in producing a physical book, and the various claims that could be made on its ownership, it was no means inevitable that authorship would be conceptualized as an individualistic activity" (106). Such a conceptualization focused attention on contradictions in the role of the writer rather than the social order.
In America neither the patronage nor the commercial system was well developed through the mid-nineteenth century. Howells writes in "The Man of Letters as a Man of Business" that before the Civil War no author "lived by literature"—except perhaps Poe, "and we all know how he lived; it was largely upon loans" (Literature and Life 7). Richard Brodhead supports the point, noting too the consequence that "American writing of the earlier nineteenth century is a virtually undistributed literature" in which the writer is never quite certain of an audience. Howells was, of course, himself a successful businessman of letters, indeed a powerful cultural broker and an active participant in the fight for the International Copyright Law (1891). His remarkable essay vacillates painfully and perceptively through an analysis of the mixed institution of authorship at the end of the nineteenth century. It opens with the assertion that everyone ought to work and no one ought to "live by art": "A man's art should be his privilege, when he has proven his fitness to exercise it, and has otherwise earned his daily bread; and its results should be free to all." In fact, he suggests that people (above all, artists themselves) recognize something "profane, something impious, in taking money for a picture, or a poem, or a statue" (1). Yet the essay goes into intimate detail, for many subsequent pages, on the specific arrangements that make literature a sometimes profitable but more often unprofitable business.
Excerpted from Publishing the Family by June Howard. Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|List of Illustrations||ix|
|1.||"A Strangely Exciting Story"||13|
|How It Began|
|Authorship and Collaboration|
|Scenes of Reading and Writing|
|2.||The Hearthstone at Harper's||58|
|Harper's and Antebellum Print Culture: A House Undivided|
|Harper's and Postbellum Print Culture: "A Climb up the Spiral Staircase"|
|Harper's in the New Century: "Everybody's Busy Day"|
|A Family Performance: The Composite Novel as Vaudeville|
|3.||Making the Family Whole||106|
|What Is a Family?|
|The Father's Family|
|The Female Counter-family|
|Intimacy and Publicity|
|4.||The Sometimes-New Woman||158|
|Sex and Education|
|The Subtle Syncretism of Mary Wilkins Freeman|
|The Extraordinary Miss Jordan|
|Female Modernity and the Magazine|
|5.||What Is Sentimentality?||213|
|Home Sweet Home|
|Feeling and Form|
|Sentimentality in Circulation, circa 1908|
|6.||Closing the Book||257|
|Culture and Commerce|
|Perfect Felicity (with Professional Help)|
|Appendix 1.||Contents and Characters of The Whole Family||283|
|Appendix 2.||The Generations of the "Family"||284|