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Downwardly MobileThe Changing Fortunes of American Realism$
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Andrew Lawson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199828050

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199828050.001.0001

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A Hunger for the Real

(p.1) 1 Introduction
Downwardly Mobile

Andrew Lawson

Oxford University Press

The introduction shows how Americans in the antebellum period were troubled by a growing sense that reality was becoming opaque and abstract, with the economic structure resting on an expanded credit system consisting of promises to pay. By contrast, the household economy of the rural Northeast offered the vision of a world more securely based on the local, the bounded, and the concrete. The introduction traces the origins of realism to the moment of the 1837 financial panic, which forced the entry into the literary market of downwardly mobile women writers from within the Northeastern gentry class. These writers attempted to restore a sense of reality to a dematerializing and radically destabilized world. The introduction shows how their experience was shared by the urban lower middle class, whose economically precarious and culturally marginal position led them towards the “solider ground” of a mimetic rather than a sentimental literature.

Keywords:   financial panic, paper money, credit system, fictitious capital, mimetic literature

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