Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Robert Sattelmeyer

Second Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Pearl McHaney

Fourth Advisor

Matthew Roudane

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to trace how Sara Willis Parton achieved unprecedented literary celebrity status as Fanny Fern during the first three years of her professional career, 1851-1853. While most critics point to her famously lucrative contract with the most popular newspaper of the 1850s, the New York Ledger, in 1854 as the beginning of her fame, I argue that she had already fully achieved that fame and had done so by writing for small Boston newspapers and publishing a highly successful collection of her articles by 1853. Further, Fern was able to achieve such a high level of success because of a keen business sense, intuitive marketing savvy, an ability to promote herself, an original writing style, and a creative use of personas. My study provides an important addition to Fern scholarship by addressing the largely overlooked early years of her writing career. To date, scholars either make no mention of her first three years or do so only to demonstrate the point that Fern achieved notable success when she signed a contract for one hundred dollars a column with Robert Bonner, publisher and editor of the New York Ledger. Prior to that contract, Fern worked as a freelance writer for the Boston Olive Branch and the Boston True Flag, earning less than five dollars for each sketch she submitted. The critical assumption has been that her initial work prepared her for the fame she would achieve writing for Bonner, but in fact Bonner would not have hired her had she not already achieved significant fame, for Bonner hired only highly celebrated writers. My study explores how Fanny Fern became a famous writer. When she began writing, Fern wrote under a number of previously unknown pseudonyms for local newspapers, but within three years her distinctive style, rhetorical skill, and iconoclastic persona had made ―Fanny Fern a household name. Fern‘s unique ability to engage a popular audience, I would argue, is the principal difference between Fern and other famous contemporary women writers.

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