Unpopular By Design

Randall Fuller reviews Michael Kearns Writing for the Street, Writing in the Garret, which details the ways Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson turned "their backs on antebellum America’s burgeoning mass audience" and imagined "themselves as romantic artists governed solely by inspiration." How their example resonated in the literary efforts that would follow them:

Although Kearns focuses exclusively on Melville and Dickinson, his book is suggestive for the way in which both authors serve as forerunners to the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It was precisely their distaste for a mass audience—which they viewed as degraded by the yellow journalism of daily newspapers and magazines—that impelled modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and others to produce difficult works meant to distance themselves from the democratic readers of their period. Their solution to the problem of producing art in a democratic society has sent generations of students through the thickets of footnotes and reference guides.