The Tact of Ruthless Hall

Michael J. Everton

in The Grand Chorus of Complaint

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199751785
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199896936 | DOI:
The Tact of Ruthless Hall

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Fanny Fern's novel Ruth Hall, about a popular female magazine writer trying to make a living from her pen and encountering various wretched literary tradesmen along the way, probably contributed to stereotypes of immoral literary tradesmen. The novel's publication in 1854 caused a scandal, in part because of the vitriol with which Fern attacked the trade. Much scholarship on this novel focuses on this attack and on the ways in which Ruth does and does not represent the condition of women in the mid-nineteenth century. However, little of this scholarship takes note of something Fern's narrator calls attention to: that as an author Ruth is also a “business woman.” Chapter 6 asks what it meant to be a businesswoman in the mid-nineteenth century and what it meant to be a woman conducting literary business. Through Ruth, Fern arrives at a different theory of trade morality from that of Melville. Ruth Hall theorizes the potential for a moral capitalism based on the very ideal publishers themselves espoused. Fern, who is often characterized as one of the most despondent critics of American print culture, argued that there could be love between Putnam's eater and eaten, between trade and author, even if only in theory.

Keywords: Fanny Fern; Ruth Hall; authorship; ethics; publishing; economics; Adam Smith; gender; business

Chapter.  12111 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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