Emily Gowen


Emily Gowen, Boston University

Barra Dissertation Fellow


“On the Margins: Steady Sellers and the Problem of Inequality in Nineteenth-Century America

My dissertation takes a new approach to understanding the relationship between the rise of mass print, the trans-Atlantic history of the novel, and the problem of social inequality in the United States. By tracing the circulation and reception histories of European “steady sellers”—works like The Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, and Don Quixote—in the antebellum United States, I demonstrate that the mass-market dissemination of these works changed their meaning in diverse and unpredictable ways and in turn opened them up for reinterpretation by those reading from the margins of American society. This destabilization of steady selling works also had ramifications for American literary production, as authors like Herman Melville, Susan Warner, Harriet Jacobs, and Mark Twain invoked them at once to imagine their work into existing traditions and to question the cultural authority of their literary forerunners.


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