Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Gerald Kennedy


In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, weekly and monthly periodicals emerged as the primary forum for new American literature. In several respects periodicals reflected the multiplicity of rapidly growing Eastern cities: they assembled a variety of "voices" in single texts and maintained a dialogue between editors and readers. At the same time, the magazines sought to "create" a more homogenous middle-class audience that would equate the capitalist transformation of American society with the "natural" progress of democracy. This dissertation examines that process by analyzing the writing and careers of four "magazinists": Nathaniel Parker Willis, Caroline Kirkland, Lydia Maria Child, and Edgar Allan Poe. All four edited periodicals, all were a part of the New York literary scene of the 1840s, and all wrote numerous prose pieces that would be classified today as short stories. However, their careers took very different directions as each writer focused much of his or her writing on a distinct segment of American society: Willis on "aristocratic" New Yorkers and Saratogans, Kirkland on Western settlers, Child on oppressed minorities, and Poe on "modern" businessmen and the members of his own profession. I argue that as these four writers exploited the desire of their audience to know about and categorize these American subcultures, they both embraced and challenged--to various degrees--the optimistic myths that would solidify a national middle-class culture. Their work and their careers in what Poe called the "magazine prison-house" present four contrasting visions of American democracy.