Dear poolside readers,
Believe it or not, before this lazy scholar came to know the pleasures of American Studies, he was a full-fledged Anglicist (or is it Britishist?). Wordsworth, Eliot, Woolf, Forster—I would surely have carried a card if there were one. Don’t worry, I’m not crossing the pond just yet, though I am feeling in a transatlantic mood lately. So I can’t resist sneaking a peak at an archive devoted to a British artifact: the Victorian yellowback, courtesy of Emory’s DiscoverE Database.
A forerunner of the paperback, the cheaply-printed, cheaply-purchased yellowback caught on just as railways were spreading across the country (see the intro to John Plotz’s Portable Property for more on the link for more on this new mobility). The texts included many American works, whose copyrights, a British Library exhibit reveals, were not protected under British law. Too bad for Bret Harte and Mark Twain.
At least one New York firm, though, sensed a marketing opportunity: Beadle & Co., inventor of the dime novel, struck a deal with Routledge to found the “Beadle American Library” to peddle its pulp for the Anglo masses.
To be fair, the British were fascinated by more everyday American concerns, as well. Take for example Jonathan and His Continent, a Toquevillesque travelogue by Max O’Rell (pseudonym for French author Léon Paul Blouet).
“If men may not tar and feather a woman, women occasionally give themselves the pleasure of tarring and feathering a man, which shows once more how privileged woman is in America. On the 12th of August, 1887, the editor of a paper in a little town in Illinois had to submit to this ignominious operation at the hands of about five hundred of his townswomen. His crime was that of having spoken cavalierly of the feminine morals of the township.”
Those looking for a good railway read of their own, however, might best be advised to check out Struggles and Triumphs, or the Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Here, Barnum recounts the meeting of Queen Victoria herself and a member of Barnum’s troupe, “General Tom Thumb.”
“Surprise and pleasure were depicted on the countenances of the royal circle at beholding this remarkable specimen of humanity so much smaller than they had evidently expected to find him. The General advanced with a firm step, and, as he came within hailing distance made a very graceful bow, and exclaimed, ‘Good-evening, ladies and gentlemen!’ A burst of laughter followed this salutation. The Queen then took him by the hand, led him about the gallery, and asked him many questions, the answers to which kept the party in an uninterrupted strain of merriment.”
The Butlerian in me want to say something about queerness, disability, and performance, but I will restrain myself. Back to my twenty-first century reading for now.
Yours perusing the paperbacks,