Literary annuals from the 1820s and ’30s not only shaped the way women imagined giving by modeling scenes and styles of exchange but, by cultivating a larger ethos of generosity for this publishing enterprise, also positioned readers as gift recipients, placing them under the burdens and benefits of gift exchange. As gifts, annuals created a reading community and urged that community to engage in reciprocal efforts—either by passing along the gift of the annual itself or by engaging in the other kinds of exchange (charitable, abolitionist) it promoted. However, their focus on reciprocity limits the communities they endorse; the narratives direct readers’ sympathies away from less-fortunate recipients and back toward peer relationships with donors. Annuals are thus a key site for exploring how women’s literature helped to construct, not just represent, the giving subjects and networks that this book explores.
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