English, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in American Literature 2004 76(2):398-400; DOI:10.1215/00029831-76-2-398 Copyright (c) 2004 Duke University Press. Used by permission.


Both these volumes demonstrate the exciting potential, as well as the pitfalls, of applying history-of-the-book methodologies to American literary history in ways that complicate traditional author-centered paradigms. In American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, Meredith McGill focuses on the logic that drove publishers, legislators, and readers to resist an author-driven copyright law for much of the nineteenth century, brilliantly overturning pieties about the “failure” of the law to do justice to authors and analyzing “unauthorized” reprinting as a system functional on its own terms, rather than criticizing it as dysfunctional in contrast to the later proprietary system imagined as perfectly functional. Elizabeth McHenry’s Forgotten Readers recovers free African American readers (primarily in the North) who participated in literary societies as both readers and producers of texts, challenging models of African American literary history that find origins in the “stolen” literacy of slaves in the South and in the slave narrative as a genre.