Industry and the Creative Mind

The Eccentric Writer in American Literature and Entertainment, 1790-1860
Sandra Tomc
A new look at the "eccentric author" figure in early nineteenth-century America


Industry and the Creative Mind takes a radically new look at the figure of the eccentric, alienated writer in American literature and entertainment from 1790 to 1860. Traditional scholarship takes for granted that the eccentric writer, modeled by such Romantic beings as Lord Byron and brought to life for American audiences by the gloomy person of Edgar Allan Poe, was a figure of rebellion against the excesses of modern commercial culture and industrial life. By contrast, Industry and the Creative Mind argues that in the United States myths of writerly moodiness, alienation, and irresponsibility predated the development of a commercial arts and entertainment industry and instead of forming a site of rebellion from this industry formed a bedrock for its development. Looking at the careers of a number of early American writers—Joseph Dennie, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Edgar Allan Poe, Fanny Fern, as well as a host of now forgotten souls who peopled the twilight worlds of hack fiction and industrial literature—this book traces the way in which early nineteenth-century American arts and entertainment systems incorporated writerly eccentricity in their "logical" economic workings, placing the mad, rebellious writer at the center of the industry's productivity and success.

"Sandra Tomc has written a provocative study of the importance of the figure of the eccentric writer to the growth of a market for literature in the antebellum United States. Her book offers a sophisticated account of the shaping force of discourses of authorship on the emerging market for literary works and a meticulously researched 'thick description' of what it was like for authors to inhabit this world."
—Meredith McGill, Rutgers University

"This book is definitely on to something that will be debated and used by scholars to come, a way of rethinking the figure of the alienated author/artist. It is a highly worthwhile study and it will make a fine contribution to our understanding of American literature in the antebellum era."
—Stephen Rachman, Michigan State University

Jacket art: Reproduction of an engraving of James Watt, from Christmas Box (R. Worthington, 1884).

Sandra Tomc is Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia.

Praise / Awards

  • "Sandra Tomc’s original, erudite, lucidly written, and strenuously argued book ... persuasively demonstrates that the eccentric writer was, in fact, central to the industrialization of American literature, less as a reaction or mode of ideological critique than as a fundamentally generative and structuring force."
    Nineteenth-century Literature
  • "For in almost every analysis Tomc engages in, she reverses our conventional understanding, showing the ways in which rhetorical constructions and economic structures are dynamically and mutually self-defining. The unrelenting counterintuitiveness that enlivens Tomc’s methodological approach to print culture is as exhilarating as it is challenging."
    Early American Literature

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Classroom Resources

Discussion Questions | Word doc

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 318pp.
  • 2 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11836-6

Add to Cart
  • $89.95 U.S.

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  • Authorship, American Literature, Romanticism, Nineteenth-Century American Literature, Print Culture, Early National American Literature, Edgar Allan Poe, American Book History, Entertainment