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The Book as Author Work: 19th Century

loveDuring the 19th century, more cost-effective printing options, increased copyright protections, and growing market for books, made becoming an author a more economically viable option. For instance, although fiction writing was still reviled by the elite, it was growing in acceptance as a form of entertainment.

In The Transformation of Authorship in America, Rice (1997) stressed that as the printing industry emerged in the United States, the profession of authorship became increasingly secular and market-oriented shifting from a hobby of the wealthy to a professional career.

By the late 19th century, publishers became much stronger in their power over content. They convinced authors of the need to make their content commercially viable. As such, the economics of the book trade superseded the editorial interests of authors.


Mid-List Authors

Thousands of authors tried their hand at writing. Robinson (2007) notes that the number of novel writers exploded during the 19th century. In "Sir, It is an Outrage": George Bentley, Robert Black, and the Condition of the Mid-List Author in Victorian Britain, Robinson used Victorian publishers' archives to explore the works of this growing group of "ordinary, inconsequential novices and third-rate hacks" that were filling circulating library catalogues. He found that ordinary authors like Robert Black (1829-1915) didn't receive the special status afforded writers like Dickens and Eliot. Instead Robinson (2007, 133) notes that "marginal authors like Black were almost entirely at the mercy of their publishers' demands."

The image on the left shows the cover of Love or Lucre (1879) by Robert Black.

To learn more about these lesser known novelists, skim Robinson, Solveig C. (2007). "Sir, it is an outrage": George Bentley, Robert Black, and the Condition of the Mid-List Author in Victorian Britain. Book History, 10, 131-168. IUPUI students can view the article online.

LippardGeorge Lippard

George Lippard (1822-1854) reflects the way authors acquired content for their works. Because the copyright laws were still evolving, many authors and editors re-worked stories and content printed in different forms or acquired from foreign sources. For instance, the book Life and Adventures of Charles Anderson Chester the Notorius Leader of the Philadelphia 'Killers' (1850) is remarkably similar to the Lippard's 1850 novel The Killers. In addition, Lippard's book contains the work of others too.

According to Faflik (2008, 151) in Authorship, Ownership, and the Case for Charles Anderson Chester,

"Lippard and others had not merely recycled content from a foreign source. They had perpetrated 'creative' acts that, in antebellum defiance of the conventional sense of that term, sacrificed inspired solitary authorship to what bibliographer Butterfield would have deemed an '‘imitative' undertaking, and what any of Lippard’s laboring brethren—whether working manually or with words—might have styled fine '‘copy'’’.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an American essayist, poet and leader of the Transcendentalist movement. In 1836, his essay Nature was published anonymously. The essay provides the foundation for the Transcendentalist movement and reflects his shift away from the religious and social beliefs of his time.

Read Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836).

Alcott Bronson recognized the importance of studying an author's journals, diaries, notes, and scrapbooks in understanding an author's works. Bronson used this knowledge of authorship to write a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1877, Bronson stated

“The habit of journalizing becomes a life-long lesson in the art of composition, an informal schooling for authorship. And were the process of preparing their works for publication faithfully detailed by distinguished writers, it would appear how large were their indebtedness to their diary and commonplaces. How carefully should we peruse Shakespeare’s notes used in compiling his plays—what was his, what another’s—showing how these were fashioned into the shapely whole we read, how Milton composed, Montaigne, Goethe: by what happy strokes of thought, flashes of wit, apt figures, fit quotations snatched from vast fields of learning, their rich pages were wrought forth! This were to give the keys of great authorship!” (Bronson, 1877, 12)

In this famous speech The American Scholar (1837), Emerson notes the importance of understanding the mind of the past through the use of book. He states

"The next great influence into the spirit of the scholar, is, the mind of the Past, — in whatever form, whether of literature, of art, of institutions, that mind is inscribed. Books are the best type of the influence of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth, — learn the amount of this influence more conveniently, — by considering their value alone.

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing."

Read Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1838). An Oration Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society (The American Scholar). James Munroe and Company.

walt whitmanWalt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) read The Poet (1844) by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Poet encouraged writers to create poems that express the new country's virtues and vices. Whitman took this challenge to heart creating the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. In a letter to Whitman, Emerson called the poetry "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." This exchange shows the power and influence of authors as peers.

The image on the right shows Walt Whitman on the frontispiece of the 1855 version of Leaves of Grass.

Rather than writing many different books, Whitman spent his life as an author refining a single work in a number of editions. Whitman registered the first edition in 1855 receiving the copyright himself. He was even responsible for typesetting much of the first edition. The final edition published in 1889 is known as his "deathbed edition." It's interesting to compare the various editions.

Insights can be gained into the work of an author through examining their notebooks. Matt Miller (2007, 126-127) in Composing the First Leaves of Grass: How Whitman Used His Early Notebooks, states that

"Whitman’s attitudes toward language and artistic purpose, then, are rooted in his discovery of a process of composition. When Whitman looked back over his notebooks for pieces of language to make into lines, he developed a facility to decontextualize words from their original authority. Something freely borrowed from disparate sources surely seemed less his own and encouraged him, in a way, to give it back by offering it to the reader. By the standards of his day these practices were ruthlessly anti-aesthetic...He rejected a strictly expressive poetry as 'ornamentation’ and worked toward a more utilitarian ideal. Ever one to humanize, to furnish his parts toward the soul, Whitman saw his work as an organic, living body."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist. According to Newbury (1997), Nathaniel Hawthorne considered a number of other professions such as minister, lawyer, and physician before choosing to become an author. He was aware that it was an emerging and insecure profession.

fullerMargaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) represents the difficulty women continued to experience as authors. An American critic and women's right advocate, Fuller played a central role in the American transcendentalism movement and was the first editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial. While she had a reputation as the "best read" person in New England and was the first woman allowed to study at the Harvard College Library, many of her contemporaries weren't supportive of her efforts.

Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1945) by Margaret Fuller is considered the first major feminist work in the United States.

The image on the right is the only known daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller.

Jules Verne

French novelist Jules Verne (1828-1905) provides a great example of the importance of a good publisher and the hazards of losing control over the original writing.

The photo below left shows Jules Verne around 1878.

Prior to collaborating with publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel (1814-1886), Verne had been unsuccessful in selling his novels. Hetzel worked with Verne to improve the quality of his writing. Cinq Semaines en Ballon or Five Weeks in a Balloon (below right) was published in 1863. Notice the illustrations by Edouard Riou and Henri de Montaut.

verne photoballoon

Their relationship continued until Hetzel's death in 1886. Verne created adventure novels under the series name Voyages Extraordinaires. Works included Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Sky, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days. The series made Verne wealthy and famous.

The image below left shows a work from the Voyages Extraordinaires series. The image below right shows a poster for Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires series (1889).

verne coververne ad

Verne's first problem was in translation. After Agatha Christie, his works appear in more translations than any other author. Because translations can alter the meaning and complexity of the text, this impacts the quality of the book.

The image below shows the English translation of Cinq Semaines en Ballon or Five Weeks in a Balloon. The translation was by William Lackland. Notice that the artwork in the frontispiece uses a different image found on page 98 of the original book.

five weeks

A second problem is with abridgements. In some countries, his books were viewed as works for children. As a result, abridgements and alternated translations were sometimes created for the youth audience. Again, this impacted the quality of the publication and how people viewed Verne. Based on the commercial popularity of his books and the way there were at times marketed to children, some critics viewed him as a popular author, but not worthy of scholarly status.

Another problem was with illustrations. Vernes worked closely with the illustrators of his books. The collaboration of a gifted author and illustrator creates synergy that changes when a different illustrator is chosen to create new artwork for later editions. Letters among Verne, Hetzel, and the illustrators indicate a close relationship.

After Verne's death, his son Michel Verne made changes in the Voyages Extraordinaries series and republished them.

Finally, at least one of Verne's works was never published. The novel Paris in the Twentieth Century written in 1863 wasn't published because Hetzel thought it would damage Verne's career. The book was very forward thinking and forecast important inventions like worldwide communications networks.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was very demanding of publishers. In Charles Dickens and his Publishers, Patten (1978) traces Dicken's relationships with various publishers. Patten notes that at the beginning of his career, Dickens was careful and civil with his publisher. However over time, he became much more demanding. He was frustrated that publishers often made more money than the author. He was also concerned about pirated editions. Patten used publisher account books to gain insights into the relationship Dickens had with his publishers.

In addition to changes in authorship, the role of book illustrations was changing. Berg (2007, 69) noted that in France, both authors and artists complained that poor-quality wood engravings were being used in books. During the mid-19th century illustrations were found on nearly every page. Berg (2007, 74) stated that "the revised relationship between text and illustration brought about corresponding changes in the roles of writer and illustrator." Illustrators began to gain recognition.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

stoweHarriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a well-educated, abolitionist and American author. The first installment of Uncle's Tom Cabin was published in the National Era as installments in 1851. Next, Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly was published in two volumes in 1852 with a run of 5000 copies. Less than a year later, an amazing three hundred thousand copies had been sold.

Stowe (185, VI-V) felt compelled to share the mission of her book in the preface stating

"The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away the good effects of all that can be attempted for them, by their best friends, under it."

The image on the right was take around 1852 about the time Uncle Tom's Cabin was published.

Into the 19th century, many authors of fiction chose to write anonymously for a variety of reasons. However Stowe chose to use her name. Stowe's experience shows the notoriety that comes from creating a controversial work as well as the challenge of fiction writing in this time period.

Stowe received lots of criticism from those who felt that Uncle Tom's Cabin was no only fictional, but also untrue. To address these issues, she wrote a book titled A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin; Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story is Founded Together with Corroberative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work (1853, III-IV). In the preface, Stowe addressed the purpose of the book.

"The work which the writer here presents to the public is one which has been written with no pleasure, and with much pain. In fictitious writing, it is possible to find refuge from the hard and the terrible, by inventing scenes and characters of a more pleasing nature. No such resource is open in a work of fact; and the subject of this work is one on which the truth, if told at all, must needs be very dreadful. There is no bright side of slavery, as such... the writer has aimed, as far as possible, to say what is true, and only that, without regard to the effect which it may have upon any person or party. She hopes that what she has said will be examined without bitterness, - in that serious and earnest spirit which is appropriate for the examination of so very serious a subject."

She began Part 1, Chapter 1 of A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin by stating

"At different times, doubt has been depressed whether the representations of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' are a fair representation of slavery as it as present exists. This work, more, perhaps, than any other work of fiction that ever was written, has been a collection and arrangement of real incidents, - of actions really performed, of words and expressions really uttered, - grouped together with reference to a general result, in the same manner that the mosaic artist groups his fragments of various stones into one general picture."

uncle tomLike the reception of Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin was received with both very positive and very negative reviews. Although southern reviews claimed that Stowe misrepresented slavery, they did not deny her facts. Many negative reviews also made insinuations about her gender and character demonstrating the challenges that continued to face women for more than another century.

Illustrators in the 19th Century

Like authors, the career of illustrator became more respected in the 19th century. While many books continued to be anonymously illustrated, a growing number of illustrators were gaining notoriety for their quality work.

Many times illustrators copied the work of others. Before illustrations were included as part of copyright law, many artists used the works of others. This was particularly common in works such as fairy tales. However a few outstanding illustrators emerged during this time.

Illustration of fiction became popular in the 1850s. Books like Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe were illustrated with wood engravings by Hammatt Billings (1818-1874).

William Blake is known as the first "book artist". Rather than working with a commercial publisher, he preferred to publish his own books. To produce high quality images, he used a resist to combine his drawings and text on a copper plate. Then, used his own printing press for production.

Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-1888) was one of the first great American illustrators. The prolific artist illustrated works for many of the well-known authors of the 19th century including James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens (see below left), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving (see below right), Edgar Allan Poe, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.


Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) is a good example of an illustrator that moved between magazine work and book illustration in the mid to late 1800s. While he was known for his Punch cartoons (below left), he is best known for illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) (below right) and Through the Looking Glass (1871).

piratealice in wonderlandmerry

Howard Pyle (1853-1911) was well known for his historical subjects. While many books were illustrated by multiple artists, he became know for his high quality works. Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Notinghamshire (1883) (shown above right) and Omar Khayyam are two examples.

Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and Frederic Remington (1861-1933) specialized in cowboy illustration. There was much interest in the westward movement and all things related to the cowboys during the late 1880s. Remington illustrated Theodore Roosevelt's Hunting Trail (1888) and Ranch Life (1906).

George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was a caricaturist known for his book illustrations. Four Hundred Humorous Illustrations (1900) contains a biographical sketch along with hundreds of his popular illustrations.

Children's books exploded in popularity in the 19th century. Illustrations like Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway were both popular illustrators for children.

Skim Greenaway, Kate (1890). Mother Goose, or The Old Nursery Rhymes. Frederick Warne and Co. Notice the use of illustrations throughout.

To learn more about children's book illustrators, skim Blackburn, Henry (1890). Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of his Early Art Career or White, Gleeson (1897). Children's Books and their Illustrators.

To learn more about illustrators of this time period, skim Everitt, Graham (1893). English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century or Holme, C. Geoffrey, Halton, Ernest, Salaman, Malcolm (1914). Modern Book Illustrators and Their Work.

Author Production Tools

Each writer has his or her own way of producing content. Several inventors experimented with writing machines before the typewriter was invented. the first typewriters were made from wood and were slower than hand writing. However by the 1867s, the typewriter had become an efficient tool. In the early 20th century, the electric typewriter was developed minimizing the effort needed to operate the typewriter. Portable typewriters allowed authors to write from any location.

In 1867, American Christopher Lathan Scholes invented an efficient typewriter. In 1873, the first commercially produced typewriter became available to the public. It was sold by the Remington Company. American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) was known for his use of the typewriter. He may have been the first well-known author to send typewritten papers to his publisher including Life on the Mississippi.



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