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Reading for Realism The History of a U.S. Literary Institution, 1850-1910 by Nancy Glazener

Reading for Realism The History of a U.S. Literary Institution, 1850-1910


Reading for Realism The History of a U.S. Literary Institution, 1850-1910 by Nancy Glazener

Reading for Realism presents a new approach to U.S. literary history that is based on the analysis of dominant reading practices rather than on the production of texts. Nancy Glazener's focus is the realist novel, the most influential literary form of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries-a form she contends was only made possible by changes in the expectations of readers about pleasure and literary value. By tracing readers' collaboration in the production of literary forms, Reading for Realism turns nineteenth-century controversies about the realist, romance, and sentimental novels into episodes in the history of readership. It also shows how works of fiction by Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others participated in the debates about literary classification and reading that, in turn, created and shaped their audiences. Combining reception theory with a materialist analysis of the social formations in which realist reading practices circulated, Glazener's study reveals the elitist underpinnings of literary realism. At the book's center is the Atlantic group of magazines, whose influence was part of the cultural machinery of the Northeastern urban bourgeoisie and crucial to the development of literary realism in America. Glazener shows how the promotion of realism by this group of publications also meant a consolidation of privilege-primarily in terms of class, gender, race, and region-for the audience it served. Thus American realism, so often portrayed as a quintessentially populist form, actually served to enforce existing structures of class and power.


In anatomizing how white, male, upper-class New Englanders succeeded in dominating literary production to naturalize taste for a Realism that proscribed categorical consideration of race, class, and gender, Glazener recovers a crucial chapter of literary history. -Kathryne Lindberg, Wayne State University Reading for Realism is one of the very best books I've seen on American literary history, cultural history, and literary theory. It is a welcome and important contribution to the ongoing socio-historical reinvestigation of American literary canons and cultural paradigms. Impressive, well-conceived, and elegantly written, it provides both informative scholarship and stimulating criticism. -Evan Carton, University of Texas, Austin

About the Author

Nancy Glazener is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st February 1997


Nancy Glazener

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Duke University Press


384 pages


Press & journalism
Media studies
Literary studies: general



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