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The Moral Economies of American Authorship, 1830-1870
Susan Ryan, University of Louisville
Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FT-52963-04
"Stowe, Byron, and the Art of Scandal" (Article)
Title: "Stowe, Byron, and the Art of Scandal"
Author: Susan M. Ryan
Abstract: The media firestorm that followed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s exposé of Lord Byron’s supposed incest (which she first detailed in an 1869 Atlantic Monthly article and later in the book Lady Byron Vindicated ) provides an apt cultural site for analyzing the intersections among notions of authorship, moral authority, and literary value in the second half of the nineteenth century. Noting that a significant strain of commentary on the scandal sought to separate Byron’s literary genius from the matter of his personal behavior, Ryan argues that this case study allows us to situate the declining relevance of authorial character to the question of literary valuation rather earlier in the century than scholars have typically claimed. More significantly, the Stowe/Byron scandal prefigures the unevenness and contestation that would accompany that development as well as the degree to which it would be complicated by the very identity categories and political investments that such a text-centered approach seems intent on eliding. Ryan goes on to claim that book advertisements and other archival sources support the claim--advanced by both nineteenth-century commentators and twentieth-century scholars--that the scandal enhanced Byron’s status and sales. The ensuing damage to Stowe’s career, on the other hand, has been much exaggerated. The article concludes by exploring the critical and pedagogical tensions that authorship’s reputational economies still engender.
Periodical Title: American Literature
Publisher: Duke Univ Press