American Literary-Political Engagements: From Poe to James examines how authors in the nineteenth-century United States often engaged the politics of their times through literature as they conceptualized political issues in literary terms. Concerns over Jacksonian democracy, social reform in a rapidly industrializing American economy, African-American familial cooperation in the post-Civil War era, changing conceptions of culpability with respect to the law, and marginalized individuals’ involvement in political agitation near the close of the century were made the central subjects of diverse literary works which, though not often characterized as overtly “political,” nevertheless made these political concerns a matter of and for literary art. Through examinations of Edgar Allan Poe’s comedic tales “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament,” Rebecca Harding Davis’ novel Margret Howth, Mattie J. Jackson’s postbellum slave narrative, William Dean Howells’ A Modern Instance, and Henry James’ The Princess Casamassima, this book considers how these texts enrich our understanding of nineteenth-century America’s conceptions of the possibilities and responsibilities of literature and of popular democracy, industrialization, African-American women, the law, political agitation, and disability.
William M. Etter, PhD, is a Professor of English at Irvine Valley College. He is also the author of The Good Body: Normalizing Visions in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, 1836–1867.