"A fresh, original, and important revisionist literary history. Francesca Sawaya explores the ways that corporate-based philanthropy emerges from, without fully displacing, older forms of cultural sponsorship like patronage. By discussing how this new philanthropy intersects with the careers of key turn-of the-century writers and is manifested in some of the major fictions by these writers, Sawaya tells a new story about this period—and about American literary history generally—that is anchored in illuminating rereadings of fictional texts."—Kenneth W. Warren, University of ChicagoThe Difficult Art of Giving rethinks standard economic histories of the literary marketplace. Traditionally, American literary histories maintain that the post-Civil War period marked the transition from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and an era of self-supporting professionalism. These histories assert that the market helped to democratize literary production and consumption, enabling writers to sustain themselves without the need for private sponsorship. By contrast, Francesca Sawaya demonstrates the continuing importance of patronage and the new significance of corporate-based philanthropy for cultural production in the United States in the postbellum and modern periods.
Focusing on Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, and Theodore Dreiser, Sawaya explores the notions of a free market in cultural goods and the autonomy of the author. Building on debates in the history of the emotions, the history and sociology of philanthropy, feminist theory, and the new economic criticism, Sawaya examines these major writers' careers as well as their rich and complex representations of the economic world. Their work, she argues, demonstrates that patronage and corporate-based philanthropy helped construct the putatively free market in literature. The book thereby highlights the social and economic interventions that shape markets, challenging old and contemporary forms of free market fundamentalism.
Francesca Sawaya is Associate Professor of English and American Studies at the College of William & Mary and author of Modern Women, Modern Work: Domesticity, Professionalism, and American Writing, 1890-1950, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.