When Readers Became Fans: Nineteenth-Century American Poetry As a Fan Activity

David Haven Blake


Exploring the response of three readers to the work of Longfellow, Whitman, and Poe, this essay argues that the rise of celebrity and fandom in the antebellum United States created an important shift in the culture of nineteenth-century poetry. As publishers began to realize the commercial power of fame, they increasingly emphasized an author's background and personality. One consequence of this development was that learning about poets and reading poetry could take place under the sign of celebrity. Drawing on theories of the lyric and fandom, the essay explores the benefits of thinking about fandom as a way of reading, a way of approaching both the poem and the institution of poetry with intensive personal urgency. The author argues that scholars of the nineteenth century need to cross the threshold between sociological and literary analysis and understand the ways in which the intimate registers of fandom both contributed to – and resisted – the institutionalization of poetry.

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American Studies. ISSN 0026-3079.

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