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Advertising "in these times:" How historical context influenced advertisements for Willa Cather's fiction

Erika K Hamilton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Willa Cather's novels were published during a time of upheaval. In the three decades between Alexander's Bridge and Sapphira and the Slave Girl, America's optimism, social mores, culture, literature and advertising trends were shaken and changed by World War One, the "Roaring Twenties," and the Great Depression. This dissertation examines how Cather's fiction was advertised in periodicals during this time, how literary and historical context influenced advertisements, and how publicity for Cather conversed with and diverged from advertising trends. Each chapter explores Cather's opinions on publicity strategies such as author photos, reviews, gossip, prizes, speaking engagements and endorsements, while acknowledging the dichotomy between Cather's theory of art and her willingness to bend her own "rules" in favor of publicity and sales. In public comments, Willa Cather disavowed any relationship between business and art. "Economics and art are strangers," she wrote in a 1936 letter to The Commonweal (Willa Cather On Writing 27). What Cather wrote in theory, she didn't always follow in practice. She wanted to write fiction for which there is no market demand, but she was interested in sales and actively guided the creation of advertisements. Her novels and the advertisements for them did not usually follow market trends or current events, but publicity for Death Comes for the Archbishop fed off increased interest in books about religion. She shied away from allowing photos of herself, but large photos graced several advertisements placed by her publisher. This study of Willa Cather's advertising history illustrates her growing popularity as a writer, her fluctuating level of satisfaction with her publishers' commitment to advertising, and her efforts to create a market for her fiction in lieu of creating fiction for the market. It also examines advertisements for Cather in context with her contemporaries, analyzing advertisements for authors such as John Dos Passos, Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis and Bess Streeter Aldrich.

Subject Area

American history|Marketing|American literature

Recommended Citation

Hamilton, Erika K, "Advertising "in these times:" How historical context influenced advertisements for Willa Cather's fiction" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618571.