American Literary Misfits

The Alternative Democracies of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Print Cultures

By D. Berton Emerson

250 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7840-5
    Published: April 2024
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7841-2
    Published: March 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7839-9
    Published: April 2024

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The study of nineteenth-century American literature has long been tied up with the study of American democracy. Just as some regions in the United States are elevated to stand in for the whole nation—New England is a good example—D. Berton Emerson argues the same is true for American literature of the nineteenth century; a few canonical texts overrepresent the more motley history of American letters. Emerson examines an eclectic group of literary texts that have rarely, if ever, been considered representative of "the nation" because of their unseemly characters or plots, divergence from dominant literary trends of the era, or local particularity. These are his "literary misfits," authors and texts that show different forms of egalitarianism in action that existed outside and even against the dominant liberal narratives of American democracy.

Emerson’s unique contribution is revealing these texts and the people they represent as rich with political knowledge. This knowledge, he argues, finds its most potent expression in the local. Such texts show us a different kind of democratic politics: one that is egalitarian, disorderly, and radical rather than homogeneous.

About the Author

D. Berton Emerson is associate professor of English at Whitworth University.

For more information about D. Berton Emerson, visit the Author Page.


"Emerson offers fascinating, unexpected readings of popular fictions usually classed as regional, sloppy, or weird—as 'misfits'—within US literary history. A lively, original work.”—Hester Blum, Penn State University

"Raising timely questions about the sustainability of American democracy, Emerson provides an account of an unruly, chaotic, and local form of political being in the nineteenth-century United States. This will be an important work for all those interested in how the American political experiment shaped its emergent aesthetics."—Edward Sugden, King’s College London