Reading “The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine”: American literature and culture, 1870–1893
This dissertation investigates how the most influential genteel family magazine of its day reflected and created public tastes and desires, established schools of writing, and even “manufactured” readers. Founded in 1870, Scribner's Monthly (later The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine) was part of the heightened organization and stewardship of American culture by the middle- and upper-middle classes (largely Anglo-Saxon Protestants) following the Civil War. In its text and accompanying illustrations, Scribner's-Century encouraged its immense readership to revere culture, to actively pursue mental cultivation and good manners, to heed Christian ethics, and to view America as eternally progressing and rightfully propelled by refined, propertied males of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Desiring to project the nation as a “knowable” and illustrious community, the magazine addressed contemporary issues with reassuring analysis, lauded and explained new developments in science, published biographies of eminent men, and, via its magnificent wood-cut illustrations, sought to picture America in glowing terms and to showcase the work of its emerging artists. To further encourage national harmony and pride, the editors also helped give rise to an enduring American literary canon, promoting, most notably, the work of women writers and Regionalists in the 1870s and practitioners of High Realism (almost exclusively male) in the 1880s.
Utilizing a new manner of understanding literature that attends to the fact that most American fiction between 1870–1900 first appeared in periodical form, this dissertation investigates why specific genre forms such as Realism and Regionalism appeared at certain times and the extent to which they served the ideology of the magazine in which they were published. Part of this investigation also explores how these genres sought to produce new types of readers for culturally specific reasons and how the “gradual, enduring, and open-ended” form of serial fiction affected readers in ways significantly different from literature appearing in book form. Most significantly, this dissertation considers the fascinating ways in which some periodical fiction disrupted the seemingly unified, genteel “voice” of Scribner's-Century, presenting regional dialects and inflections that narrated “resisting” stories outside the magazine's preferred purview.
0337: American history