Wister, Owen: Lady Baltimore
(researched by Allison Botos)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Owen Wister. Lady Baltimore. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1906. Copyright 1905, 1906 by the Curtis Publishing Company Copyright 1906 by Hurst & Co. Parallel First Edition (special edition printed on Japanese vellum) released by MacMillan with same publication info as above.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding. The binding is olive with a rib grain. [Special Edition published in beige trade cloth binding.]
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
213 Leaves*, pp. [12] vii-xiii 1-14 15-16 17-32 33-34 35-60 61-62 63-94 95-96 97-172 173-174 175-186 187-188 189-192 193-194 195-252 253-254 255-278 279-280 281-224 335-336 337-348 349-350 351-376 377-378 379-406 [2] *The leaves on iv, 15, 33, 61, 95, 173, 187, 193, 253, 279, 335, 349, and 377 are glossy inserts for illustrations. For vii-xiii, the page number appears in bottom middle of each page. For the text itself, page numbers appear on each page (excluding full page illustrations) in the top outside corner, 1.5 cm from the top and 2.5 cm from the side. [Same pagination for Special Edition, except there is only one additional leaf following the text pages.]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
There is no editor. The work is introduced by Wister himself in a section entitled "To The Reader" (vii-x). In this section, Wister casually reflects upon the fact that the book was originally serialized, and expounds upon the background of various characters in the book. A dedication page on the ninth page reads "To | S. WEIR MITCHELL | WITH THE AFFECTION AND MEMORIES OF ALL MY LIFE." On the first page succeeding the text of the novel, there is a full page ad for Wister's "The Virginian." The ad contains three excerpts from reviews of the book, and indicates the edition advertised costs $1.50. On the back of this page are two more book advertisements. The ad on the top half of the page is for Fair Margaret: A Portrait by F. Marion Crawford, and beneath it is an ad for Yolanda: A Maid of Burgandy, by Charles Mayor. Each of these books also costs $1.50. [The back of the second leaf of the Special Edition reads: "Two hundred copies of this special edition on Japanese | vellum were printed April, 1906, of which one hundred | copies are offered for sale. | This is No. ....." The Special Edition contains no advertisements in the back.]
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The book is illustrated by Vernon Howe Bailey and Lester Ralph. It contains 13 full page illustrations printed on glossy paper (by Ralph), as well as numerous smaller illustrations which are printed directly within the text (by Bailey). All drawings are black and white and appear to have been originally drawn in pen and ink or pencil, and under each drawing (both large and small) is the quote upon which it is based. On page xiii, there is an index of full page illustrations containing the quotes that inspired them as well as the page number on which they appear. The smaller illustrations are not catalogued. Incidentally, although the larger illustrations are all vertical on their respective pages, the smaller drawings are positioned both horizontally and vertically within the text. [Same as above for Special Edition.]
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
84R type, along with fairly generous margins, make the text itself easily readable. The novel contains 34 lines per page, and the text on each page measures 143x90mm. Chapters are numbered in Roman Numerals from I. to XXIV. Each chapter is also titled. The table of contents appears on xi. This particular copy of the book is from the Taylor Collection at Alderman Library (call number: Taylor 1906.W58 L3) The book itself is in good condition; the only physical signs of wear is slight fading around the bottom edge of the binding (merely the result of the book being taken off and put back on a shelf). There do not apper to be any tears in the text itself, nor is there any discoloration or signs of overuse. [The Special Edition has the same textual features as the regular edition, but has larger margins since it is printed on slightly longer paper. Due to the lighter color of the binding and the delicateness of the vellum, the Special Edition shows more signs of age than the regular first edition, but on the whole is still in good condition. This particular copy is held in Alderman Library Special Collections, PS 3345.L3 1906a.]]
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The text itself is printed on cream colored paper of a fairly substantial weight. All of the pages are uniform in width (13cm), but the height of each leaf varies slightly from 18.5 cm to 19 cm. The paper is fairly smooth. Though the top and side edges of every leaf are cleanly cut, the side and bottom edges of some leaves are uncut. The paper shows virtually no signs of age, wear, or discoloration. The 13 full-page illustrations are printed on glossy paper which is a bit lighter in weight than the paper that the text is printed on, but still opaque and rather sturdy. This glossy paper is also slightly lighter than the rest of the paper in the book, though not significantly. This paper is also in excellent shape. [The vellum on which the Special Edition is printed on is clearly thinner than the paper on which the regular edition is printed on, yet it has remained sturdy over time. The vellum is off-white in color but is ever so slightly flecked with a deeper shade of off white.]
11 Description of binding(s)
The novel is bound in olive colored cloth with a rib grain. The front and back binding measures 19.5x13cm; the spine binding measures 19.5x4cm. About an inch and a half from the top, and wrapping around the entire front, side, and back of the binding, is an inch-high outline of a city skyline. The representation is detailed, but is embossed into the cover in only one color, black. On the front cover, the title appears directly below this decoration. "Lady | Baltimore" (each word on a separate line) appears in inch-high letters. The font appears italicized and slightly decorative, though not ornate. The letters themselves are of an olive green color a shade darker than the binding itself, and are outlined in gold, which helps them stand out. On the bottom of the page, the author's name appears in the same type, also written in green and outlined in gold. The spine contains a smaller version of this font, but again with the same coloring. Towards the top of the spine in vertical text reads "Lady | Balti- | more | ~ | Wister" (Note that the word "Baltimore" has to be split up on two lines due to spacing issues). On the bottom of the spine reads "The MacMillan | Company" in all-gold lettering. It is thinner than the font used for the title/author but nearly identical. The back of the binding is plain, save for the cityscape which wraps around from the spine and continues across the entire back. There is no text on the back of the novel. The flyleaves (appearing in the front and back of the book ) are of very heavy stock, almost cardboard-like in stiffness, fairly smooth, and cream colored. [The binding of the Special Edition is light beige with a white spine, and at 23cm in height is slightly longer than the regular edition. The lettering is a darker beige outlined in gold and is the same font and layout used on the regular edition. However, this edition has no artwork on the cover. The Special Edition contains no flyleaves-- the first and last leaves are of the same vellum used throughout.]
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: Lady Baltimore | By | OWEN WISTER | AUTHOR OF "THE VIRGINIAN," ETC., ETC. | WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY | VERNON HOWE BAILEY and LESTER RALPH | New York | THE MACMILLAN COMPANY | LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD. | 1906 | All rights reserved Verso: Copyright 1905, 1906 | by THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY | C 1906 By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY | Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1906 | Norwood Press | J.S. Cushing & Co. | Berwick & Smith Co. | Norwood, Massachusetts, USA [Same for Special Edition.]
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The Library of Congress holds a tremendous collection of Wister's letters and papers, but I was unable to discern if the manuscript of "Lady Baltimore" is included in this collection.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The inside of the front cover bears a bookplate indicating the book belongs to the Taylor Collection. The card is white with the black silhouettes of a man and a woman sitting in chairs facing each other. The woman appears to be sewing, the man reading. The artist's signature is illegible. Under the drawing of the woman is a signature that appears to read "Lillian Gary Taylor," and under the man the signature appears to read "Robert L. Taylor." On the front of the second leaf, the tile appears across the page in simple capital letters. The back of leaf two bears the publisher's insignia. Throughout the text of the novel, Lady Baltimore appears in the top center of the left leaf, and the chapter name appears in the top center of the right leaf. [In this particular copy of the Special Edition, a small namecard with "Mr. Owen Wister" printed in script font is pasted towards the top of the inside of the front cover. Beneath it is a decorative nameplate with "Clifton Waller Barret" printed on it. On the front of the first leaf is written "John Perry Pritchett," below and to the left of this name are the initials "U.P.T.H." Written beneath "Pritchett" in pencil is "Ltd Edit 10-" (presumably written by a bookseller).]
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Subsequent editions from MacMillan were: 1906 Canadian Edition (differentiated by "Toronto/Macmillan" at the foot of the spine). 1906 School edition Edited for school use by Ruth Haslup xvi, 415 p. 1928 New uniform edition Revised and reset with preface xxix, 276 p., ill., 19 cm. Volume 7 of "The Writings of Owen Wister" Series
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
Based upon pagination information and cover dimensions, it appears that MacMillan reprinted the first edition in 1914 and 1921. The 1906 school use edition was reprinted in 1925 as part of the Modern Readers' Series.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
1906 (January) Classic Textbooks Bound in Trade Paper, 406 p. 1906 Hurst & Co. 1912 Hurst & Co. xiii, 406 p., ill., 20 cm. 50 cents. 1912 Willey Book Co. xi, 406 p. illus. 20 cm. 1940 (June) Amereon, Limited Hardcover 1968 Gregg Press xiii, 406 p., illus., 22 cm. "Americans in Fiction" Series 1972 Buccaneer Books 1977 (October) Buccaneer Books 406 p. $16.95 Retail Price 1992 J.S. Sanders & Co. xxii, 406 p., ill., 21 cm. "Southern classics" Series paperback $10.95 retail price 1992 (March) Reprint Services Corporation 406 p. American Literature Ser. $99.00 retail price library binding 1999 (September) Electric Umbrella Publishing E-Book $2.49 Retail Price 2000 (August) Eighteen Hundred Seventy Three Press 252 p. $9.95 Retail Price 2001 (April) Classic Books "The Best Sellers of 1906" Series $28.00 Retail Price 2002 (July) IndyPublish.com 260 p. $20.99 Retail Price (paperback) $30.75 Retail Price (hardcover) Date not given: Irvington Publishers "Americans in Fiction" Series Date not given: SoftBook Press E-Book $5.00 Retail Price
6 Last date in print?
As of October 2002, the following editions were still in print: 1992 J.S. Sanders & Co. xxii, 406 p., ill., 21 cm. "Southern classics" Series paperback $10.95 retail price 1992 (March) Reprint Services Corporation 406 p. Library Binding $99.00 2002 (July) IndyPublish.com 260 p. $20.99 Retail Price (paperback) $30.75 Retail Price (hardcover)
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Within the first month of its April 1906 publication, 71,000 copies were sold. After the consulting numerous sources, I was not able to locate further sales numbers. However, a good indication of the book's popularity can be gleaned from Lady Baltimore's performance on Bookman magazine's sales charts. Each month, Bookman ranks the six overall top-selling books based upon their sales performance in thirty four major American cities. 10 points- #1 in a major American city 8 points- #2 7 points- #3 6 points- #4 5 points- #5 4 points- #6 In 1906, Lady Baltimore's rankings were as follows: April 1 to May 1: #1/263 points (in the top six sellers for 31 cities) May 1 to June 1: #2/221 points (in the top six sellers for 30 cities) June 1 to July 1: #3/120 points July 1 to August 1: #2/157 points August 1 to September 1: # 5/87 points September 1 to October 1: Not on points list (in top six sellers of only 5 cities) October 1 to November 1: Not on points list (in top six of only two cities) November 1 to December 1: Not on points list (not in top six of any cities) Also of note: According to Hackett's Fifty Years of Bestsellers, Lady Baltimore was the number two selling book in 1906.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
71,000 between April and May, 1906. Further details unavailable.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
March 10, 1906 Publisher's Weekly: First ad in Publisher's Weekly for Lady Baltimore. The ad is for a total of seven books, of which Lady Baltimore appears at the top beneath a black and white illustration of King's Port, the fictional city (based upon Charleston, South Carolina) in which the novel is set. Next to this illustration is the text "Ready | April Fourth | by the Author of | "The Virginian." The ad headline reads "Mr. Owen Wister's | New Novel Lady Baltimore," beneath which appears the text "is an entirely different book from "The Virginian," but quite as genuine a bit of American life, and fully as alive. Its young and improvident hero surrounded--to his peril--with delightful women, young and old, is too charming to be missed; and the book is more than charming, it is deliciously witty, as well. | Illustrated freely, cloth, $1.50" March 31, 1906 Publisher's Weekly: This ad, again accompanied by ads for seven other books, contains the same illustration as the March 10th ad, but omits the lengthy caption beneath the book's title. Instead, it advertises "Illustrated with full-page half-tones and many drawings in the text. 100 copies only of a large paper edition on Japanese vellum, with the author's signature on each copy." The ad indicates that these special editions cost $5.00 May 5, 1906: Lady Baltimore is the second of three books listed in a smaller ad, with an excerpt from a review from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. The excerpt reads: "That the author of 'The Virginian' could deal deliciously with such a rich field...might be assumed. But with what charm and delicacy, fine humor and insight, the work has been done, only a direct acquaintance with the finished volume can justly show. The Southerner will certainly find enchanting home touches in it, and every reader will fell the spell of the quiet old southern town and all the tender, dainty, and humorous southern life and atmosphere that hang about it." May 26, 1906, Publisher's Weekly: Lady Baltimore again tops a list of six books being advertised. Now touted as "Owen Wister's best novel." The ad contains excerpts from reviews from The New York Tribune ("'Lady Baltimore' is, in short, not only as good a book as 'The Virginian' but in its totally different way, a much better one") and The Outlook ("A triumph of art...the best interpretation of the spirit of the Old South that has been made...a true American novel in subject, spirit, and atmosphere"). August 11, 1906: Lady Baltimore is advertised jointly with Winston Churchill's Coniston, with two reviews below, each describing both books. November 24, 1906: Lady Baltimore appears fifth in a list of thirteen "Notable New MacMillan Books," with a short review excerpt from the Boston Transcript which reads "Stories like this defy criticism. They ask merely to be read, lightly, leisurely, and pleasurably." March 16, 1912: Lady Baltimore advertised by Hurst along with 19 other reprinted fiction novels. The ad reads "Popular Copyright Fiction | Former $1.50 books now reprinted in attractive bindings to retail at fifty cents," then lists the titles in two columns below.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A210191021009173901.jpg
11 Other promotion
According to Tebbel's A History of American Publishing, initial sales of Lady Baltimore were slow. Some readers were disappointed the novel was set in Charleston, others said the title automatically made them think of Lady Baltimore cake. MacMillan capitalized upon this latter complaint by issuing ads for the book that depicted a frosted cake cut into slices, with a different review excerpt on each slice. Soon, booksellers were asking for thousands of reprints.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
N/A
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
N/A
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Wister was paid $5,000 to serialize his new work in The Saturday Evening Post (Volume 178, #18-30)). The illustrations appearing in the first edition of the novel were also published in the magazine. The work appeared as follows: October 28, 1905 p. 1-3 Ch I, II November 4, 1905 p. 12-13, continued p. 26-27 Ch III, IV November 11, 1905 p. 12-13, continued p. 31-32 Ch V, VI November 18, 1905 p. 11-13, continued p. 34-35 Ch VI (cont.), VII, VIII December 2, 1905 p. 14-15, continued p. 38-40 Ch IX, X December 9, 1905 p. 9-11, continued 24-25 Ch X (cont), XI December 16, 1905 p. 9-11, continued p. 27-28 Ch XII, XIII December 23, 1905 p. 10-11, continued p. 22 Ch XIV December 30, 1905 p. 9-11, continued p. 23-24 Ch XV January 6, 1906 p. 11-13, continued p. 16-17 Ch XVI, XVII January 13, 1906 p. 9-11, continued p. 26-28 Ch XVIII-XIX January 20, 1906 p. 9-11, continued p. 18 Ch XIX (cont), XX, XXI January 27, 1906 p. 10-11, concluded p. 18-21 Ch XXI (cont), XXII, XXIII, XXIV
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Owen Wister enjoyed tremendous popularity following the 1902 publication of his quintessential western novel, The Virginian. However, the Eastern elitist Wister hardly embraced the masses that comprised his audience, as exemplified by his extensive activity (he was the Vice President) in the Immigration Restriction League. In 1904, while recovering from an appendectomy in Philadelphia, Wister began to incorporate these views into planning his next novel, a Henry-James inspired work that would criticize the vulgar, new-moneyed classes that he believed were plaguing the East. After leaving the hospital, Wister continued his recovery at Corinthian Yacht Club in Massachussetts Bay. In June, he finally rejoined his family at their summer home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, where he spent the summer exercising, visiting with friends, and playing with his four children children. In August, the family returned to their home in Philadelphia. Wister was soon offered a professorship at Harvard, but he declined the offer to begin writing his newest novel. Wister chose Charleston, South Carolina (he and his wife, Molly, had honeymooned there, and later spent three months there as Wister finished The Virginian) as the backdrop for Lady Baltimore. Wister admired the city for maintaining its historic charm and traditional values despite the recent commercialism thrust upon it. The novel's plot-a man ordering a wedding cake at the Women's Exchange and later canceling the order-was based upon a story that one of Wister's Charleston friend had told him. By mid-September, Wister was already half finished with the novel, and accepted a $5,000 serialization deal from The Saturday Evening Post. His frantic work pace soon caused a relapse of nerves, and by December, he ceased writing altogether and escaped to Atlantic City to relax and recover. By mid-January, he had resumed writing and completed the first draft of the novel, traveling to Camden, South Carolina to refine it. There, he mixed his editing with horseback riding and daily massages in an effort to prevent further relapses of nerves. After meeting up with Henry James in Charleston (it was James who suggested that Wister give Charleston a fictional name) Wister joined his wife in Beaufort, South Carolina. The couple was forced to return to Philadelphia when their children were diagnosed with scarlet fever. Shortly thereafter, Wister departed alone for Hot Springs, where he continued his recovery regime of exercise and horseback riding, and at his doctor's suggestion, put off further work on his novel. In June of 1905, Wister finally returned to Saunderstown to complete work on Lady Baltimore, which was due to begin serialization that October. When the family moved back to Philadelphia in the fall, Wister suffered yet another relapse and headed back to New Jersey for several weeks to continue his recovery alone. Lady Baltimore ended its serialization in January of 1906 and after it was published in book form later that year, and though it sold well, Wister still faced the daunting task of dealing with harsh criticism from reviewers, scientists, and most notably, the President of the United States.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Before it was published in book form, Lady Baltimore had one critic seething: Dr. Burt G. Wilder, a professor of zoology at Cornell University. While the book was still being serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, Wilder took Wister to task for an incident in the story which claims that the Negro skull bears more resemblance to an ape skull than it does to a Caucasian skull. The outraged Wilder demanded a retraction, but Wister merely responded by adding further details to back his claims. When Lady Baltimore was finally published in book form in 1906, literary critics cheerily accepted Wister's attitude towards Negroes as merely being "the Southern point of view" (Nation), but did find other avenues of criticism. Nation called Lady Baltimore "an extravaganza with a purpose" rather than a novel, with characters that behaved in "a comic-opera atmosphere." Athenaeum's reviewer wrote that the novel was "perhaps a little long winded and slow of development." William Payne of Dial agreed, noting that "Like [Wister's] other fiction, [it] is defective on the side of construction, but the defect is atoned for by the author's characterization and his narrative charm." Charleston's own News and Courier called Wister "distinctly cruel" for his characterization of the city as "a sepulcher of memories and not a living, breathing reality of commercial times." Despite such objections, Lady Baltimore was generally well-received in the literary world. Although its subject matter was a far cry from the rough-and-tumble world portrayed in The Virginian, critics generally praised this aspect of the novel as an indication of Wister's versatility. A reviewer from Bookman commented: "An historic city, society of the highest refinement, and many delightful woman, old and young?these elements certainly afford a marked contrast to the open plains, frontier life, and rollicking cowboys of [The Virginian]..." The most critical review of Lady Baltimore came not from a literary critic, but from Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. Roosevelt wrote a scathing fourteen page letter to his long-time friend Wister, criticizing the fact that Wister had made all the villains in his novel Northerners, and all the heroes Southerners. Furthermore, Roosevelt resented Wister's characterization of a particular incident in the novel based upon a real-life situation. In 1902, Roosevelt had appointed a Negro, Dr. William Crum, to be the collector of the port, and Charleston had reacted with hostility to such an appointment. In Lady Baltimore, Wister mentioned this incident by "portraying in sympathetic tones a customs house official of established social stature who was embarrassed and chagrined at having to serve under a black man." Roosevelt told Wister that his proper Southerners might "shriek in public about miscegenation, but they leer as they talk to me privately of the colored mistresses and colored children of white men whom they know." Twenty two years later, Wister reproduced Roosevelt's letter as the introduction to a new edition of Lady Baltimore. Though he "moderated the diatribes of Augustus [the narrator] in several places," Wister noted that "I didn't and don't agree with Mr. Roosevelt about the Negro?" Reviews Cited: The Nation (May 10, 1906) Bookman (1906) Reviews Cited From Book Review Digest, p. 83-84: Athenaeum (1906) Dial (1906) Reviews Cited From Darwin Payne's Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East, p. 229-246: Charleston's News and Courier (1906) Theodore Roosevelt's Letter to Wister
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Before it was published in book form, Lady Baltimore had one critic seething: Dr. Burt G. Wilder, a professor of zoology at Cornell University. While the book was still being serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, Wilder took Wister to task for an incident in the story which claims that the Negro skull bears more resemblance to an ape skull than it does to a Caucasian skull. The outraged Wilder demanded a retraction, but Wister merely responded by adding further details to back his claims. When Lady Baltimore was finally published in book form in 1906, literary critics cheerily accepted Wister's attitude towards Negroes as merely being "the Southern point of view" (Nation), but did find other avenues of criticism. Nation called Lady Baltimore "an extravaganza with a purpose" rather than a novel, with characters that behaved in "a comic-opera atmosphere." Athenaeum's reviewer wrote that the novel was "perhaps a little long winded and slow of development." William Payne of Dial agreed, noting that "Like [Wister's] other fiction, [it] is defective on the side of construction, but the defect is atoned for by the author's characterization and his narrative charm." Charleston's own News and Courier called Wister "distinctly cruel" for his characterization of the city as "a sepulcher of memories and not a living, breathing reality of commercial times." Despite such objections, Lady Baltimore was generally well-received in the literary world. Although its subject matter was a far cry from the rough-and-tumble world portrayed in The Virginian, critics generally praised this aspect of the novel as an indication of Wister's versatility. A reviewer from Bookman commented: "An historic city, society of the highest refinement, and many delightful woman, old and young?these elements certainly afford a marked contrast to the open plains, frontier life, and rollicking cowboys of [The Virginian]..." The most critical review of Lady Baltimore came not from a literary critic, but from Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. Roosevelt wrote a scathing fourteen page letter to his long-time friend Wister, criticizing the fact that Wister had made all the villains in his novel Northerners, and all the heroes Southerners. Furthermore, Roosevelt resented Wister's characterization of a particular incident in the novel based upon a real-life situation. In 1902, Roosevelt had appointed a Negro, Dr. William Crum, to be the collector of the port, and Charleston had reacted with hostility to such an appointment. In Lady Baltimore, Wister mentioned this incident by "portraying in sympathetic tones a customs house official of established social stature who was embarrassed and chagrined at having to serve under a black man." Roosevelt told Wister that his proper Southerners might "shriek in public about miscegenation, but they leer as they talk to me privately of the colored mistresses and colored children of white men whom they know." Twenty two years later, Wister reproduced Roosevelt's letter as the introduction to a new edition of Lady Baltimore. Though he "moderated the diatribes of Augustus [the narrator] in several places," Wister noted that "I didn't and don't agree with Mr. Roosevelt about the Negro?" Reviews Cited: The Nation (May 10, 1906) Bookman (1906) Reviews Cited From Book Review Digest, p. 83-84: Athenaeum (1906) Dial (1906) Reviews Cited From Darwin Payne's Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East, p. 229-246: Charleston's News and Courier (1906) Theodore Roosevelt's Letter to Wister
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
As soon as it was published in April of 1906, Owen Wister's Lady Baltimore enjoyed a stellar run on the bookselling charts, competing heavily with Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Winston Churchill's Coniston. According to Bookman, until September, the book remained in the top six sellers in virtually all of America's major cities. But by October, Lady Baltimore drastically dropped in the charts, remaining in the top six in only five American cities, and by December of that same year, it had dropped out of the top six in every major American market. Though the book has remained in print for nearly a century, it has never surged in popularity as it did following its initial publication. There are two puzzling aspects of the novel's initial popularity which I plan to address in this essay. First of all, the novel was extremely popular throughout the United States, including the Northeast. However, the novel itself extensively vilifies the North, essentially categorizing all northerners as the "yellow rich." Amid sermon-like tirades against the nouveau-riche plaguing Newport, the narrator (who considers himself one of the few exceptions to Northern vulgarity), spends the entire novel trying to devise a plot to separate his Southern friend John Mayrant from the flagrantly new-moneyed Northerner, Hortense Rieppe. In fact, Wister's bleak characterization of the North was enough to make his good friend Theodore Roosevelt rebuke him for such characterization. In Roosevelt's notorious fourteen page letter chastising Lady Baltimore, Roosevelt laments that Wister committed a "capital error [by making] your swine-devils practically all northerners and your angels practically all southerners". But despite Wister's unforgiving disdain of the North, why did the book sell so well in every major Northeastern city, from New York to Boston to New Haven? Given the sheer volume of sales that the charts indicate, certainly Wister's elite blue-blood classes were not the only ones purchasing the book. Why did the book sell so well, even amongst the classes that Wister so explicitly bemoaned? The second puzzling aspect of Lady Baltimore's success stems from its reviews at the time it was published. Though most reviewers deemed the book a pleasant read, most also did not fail to characterize the book as lacking substantive plot development to justify its four-hundred plus page length. As the "Critical Reception" segment of this database entry indicates, typical reviews called Lady Baltimore "perhaps a little long winded and slow of development" (Book Review Digest), and "defective on the side of construction" (Dial). Though they praise Wister's picturesque characterization of Charleston and its native people, the book's reviewers seem to suggest that this probably could have been accomplished just as masterfully in half the number of pages. Such reviews lead one to wonder exactly why the novel took the bestseller charts by storm. Lady Baltimore simply does not have the pace of most novels that characterize bestsellers?rather than trotting briskly through the story, it meanders, strolling as languidly as its old Charleston society women, and often seems to stop altogether at some points in which Wister indulges himself in an anti-North tangent serving no particular purpose in the plot. Thus, given the fact that the novel is decidedly short on plot and heavy on Wister's own ranting and ravings, why did the American people so voraciously embrace it upon its initial publication? I believe that this success can be explained by two factors surrounding its publication. First and foremost, it is essential to remember that the novel was Wister's follow-up to his tremendously successful work The Virginian. Thus, author-recognition factored heavily into consumers' decisions to purchase Lady Baltimore. Second, the dynamics of the American population were rapidly changing during the early twentieth-century. Immigrants were comprising more and more of the population, and perhaps to many people, the "yellow rich" did not merely symbolize the new-moneyed classes who were taking over the North, but the foreign blood that was threatening to displace the traditional notion of what it meant to be an American. When The Virginian was published in 1902, The New York Times Saturday Review of Books declared, "Owen Wister has come pretty near to writing the American novel." As sales soon proved, the American public readily agreed. Current Literature declared The Virginian "Easily the best book of the year," and the Bookman proclaimed that Wister had "driven into the soil of Wyoming a stake which seems likely to remain for a long time to come." Within eight days of its publication, Wister's friend Theodore Roosevelt (to whom the book was dedicated) had read the book and declared "If I were not President, and therefore unable to be quoted, I should like nothing better than to write a review of it." Though the Sewanee Review gave a negative review, deeming the book "an impossible love story," such a criticism actually sheds some insight into the basis of the book's popularity. After all, what could the American public love more than an impossible love story? Sales were as favorable as reviews. Within two months, the book sold 50,000 copies. Each day, MacMillan received orders by the thousand; on a particularly brisk day, an order for four thousand books was placed. By the third month of its publication, The Virginian had passed the 100,000 copy mark. Letters of response for Wister poured in, and would continue to do so throughout Wister's entire life. The content of these letters was widely varied; some asked questions about plot details, some reacted to the lynchings in the book, some were simply letters of praise, others asked Wister for advice in planning their own journeys out West. Such diverse letters are tied together by one common point: Wister's work had captivated people across America. Americans did not merely read The Virginian, they immersed themselves in it and formed a very personal relationship with various aspects of the book. Given the tremendous response to The Virginian, it is of little surprise that after a four year wait, the public was eager to embrace Wister's follow up novel. MacMillan did not merely market Lady Baltimore as the latest work of Owen Wister; rather, it was the lastest work of "Owen Wister, author of The Virginian." As Publisher's Weekly from the era indicate, no advertisement for Lady Baltimore was complete without some mention of The Virginian. Undoubtedly, Americans regarded the old-time, Southern feel of Lady Baltimore as curiously as they had regarded the rough and tumble West in The Virginian. The novel's antiquarians, such as Mrs. Gregory St. Michael or Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael, disdain the North (Mrs. Gregory St. Michael tells the narrator that the Northern prosperity is going "to ruin you all"). But at the same time, Northerners probably laughed at the carefully-wrought depictions of these women, regarding them as intriguing, humorous novelties that clung tenuously to their antebellum memories. Though Wister's goal was to glorify the old South, he also unintentionally succeeds in making it appear stagnant, old, and frail. Thus, the success of Lady Baltimore can be at least (if not totally) attributed not so much to its literary merit, but to the previous success of its author. At the time of its publication, people were hungry for another Wister tale, and were not willing to be thwarted by lackluster reviews complaining of an absence of plot. The author-recognition factor explains the novel's sudden sales surge and subsequent plummet from the charts. In addition, although Wister had set about trying to distance himself from the masses that so idealized him, the novel's success indicates that Wister's audience was not thwarted by the author's unflattering characterizations. Wister's depiction of Charleston is so quaint, so extremely old-fashioned, that to most readers, it was probably merely another exotic locale rather than the epitome of good breeding that Wister attempted to exalt. A second factor surrounding the book's popularity is the surge of immigration into the United States that had begun in the 1880's. The invention of steam power had made the journey across the Atlantic significantly shorter and easier, and immigrants poured in by the millions around the turn of the century. Between 1880 and 1930, 27 million immigrants came to the United States. Of this 27 million, 20 million came through Ellis Island in New York. The Northeast's largest cities, especially New York, continued to become segmented into pockets of various nationalities. Immigrants comprised a large source of the workforce and participated in organized labor, which Wister vocally disdained. So intent was Wister's animosity towards these newcomers that he joined (and eventually became Vice President of) the Immigration Restriction League. The influx of foreigners soon presented a dilemma to staunch aristocratic Northerners such as Wister?as immigrants had children born in America, the very meaning of the word "American" was changing significantly. A child could be "American" in that he was born in the United States, but still not know a word of English. The blue blood that Wister so emphatically relished was beginning to thin with every generation. In addition to what Wister saw as the immigrant "problem," Wister was also openly and unreservedly racist. Though blacks were generally treated inferiorly to whites at the turn of the century, Roosevelt's appointment of a Negro to head the customs house in Charleston was a step towards equality that Wister clearly regarded as inappropriate. To Wister, therefore, the notion of "American" was being encroached upon not only by foreigners, but by blacks as well. Thus, on a broader level, Lady Baltimore is not merely a North versus South tale?rather, it is an American versus foreigners tale in which the old, genteel South stands as a symbol for the traditional British-descended American, while the vulgar Northerners epitomize the immigrants and blacks that were diluting this traditional American stock. For example, soon after the narrator arrives in King's Port, Eliza Le Heu (the girl behind the counter at the Women's Exchange) tells the narrator, "We consider Northerners foreigners, you know." Later in the novel, when the "yellow rich" actually appear in person in King's port, Wister characterizes Charlie, one of the tackiest of this pack, by remarking that "His accent also was ever so little foreign--that New York downtown foreign, of the second generation, which stamps so, many of our bankers." Such a remark is outwardly casual, but given Wister's own involvement in the IRL, we know that this seemingly casual remark is backed by disdain. Given the chaos of the immigration situation in 1906, undoubtedly many "Americans" in the traditional sense agreed with Wister's harsh views towards foreigners. Technically, "Americans" weren't just the most aristocratic, well-bred members of society anymore?now, they could be Italian, Swedish, German, Hungarian, Polish, or even black. Thus, to many whites who whose families had been in the United States for many generations, Lady Baltimore was widely embraced because of the "us versus them" mentality that it fostered. Though Lady Baltimore's initial popularity was tremendous, it soon faded into obscurity. Its prose was simply too loquacious, its heroes too dated, for the book to truly captivate its audience as The Virginian had done. However, the book sends an important message to modern scholars considering the often-puzzling phenomenon of the bestseller. In the case of Lady Baltimore, although Americans ultimately were unwilling to cherish Lady Baltimore as they had with The Virginian, they were certainly willing to initially give this second novel a chance, as shown by Lady Baltimore's strong initial sales. Secondly, Lady Baltimore teaches us though a particular work might not be a bestseller when taken out of its historical context, at the time of its publication, it might be popular merely because it expresses an important and widely-embraced sentiment of the time. Today, the descendents of the immigrants who flocked to Ellis Island at the turn of the century are unquestionably and unreservedly considered "American," but a hundred years ago, our country was challenged with an influx of people who threatened to turn the traditional Anglo-hierarchy on its head. Undoubtedly, if Lady Baltimore was published today, it would hardly raise an eyebrow. But at the turn of the century, the status of its author and the challenge of its message fit neatly into the historical context of America, and these factors inspired its brief run on the charts.
You are not logged in. (Sign in)