Friday, January 06, 2023

Nineteenth-Century Literature: Enchantments of Waverley

Many years in the making, my article on Walter Scott and the reading lives of nineteenth-century American children is out now in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Abstract below...

While the deep popularity and widespread presence of the works of Walter Scott in the cultural life of nineteenth-century America have long been acknowledged, one group of his admirers has been relatively neglected. The literary lives and reading habits of American children from this era remain obscure, and their influential, ongoing relationship with the Wizard of the North both before and after the Civil War has received almost no attention. This article therefore explores the vital, persistent, and shifting role that Scott played in the lives of literate young Americans. In the antebellum years, the enchantments of Waverley reshaped the literary landscape for children as Scott’s novels received parental approbation as legitimate sources of textual entertainment and historical instruction. After the Civil War, the generation of Americans who had grown up reading Scott in turn used their own position as cultural gatekeepers to try and kindle a love for his work among a new generation tempted by fresh literary sensations. The overlooked responses of young readers themselves are documented where possible here through correspondence, diaries, memoirs, and, particularly, the vibrant letters pages of children’s magazines.

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