How to Become an Author: The Art and Business of Literary Advice Handbooks
This dissertation reads the archive of literary advice texts that erupted into the world of letters beginning in the mid-1880s alongside the work of Henry James, Jack London, Arnold Bennett, and Virginia Woolf. At that moment, fiction, to adapt a phrase of Edward Gibbon, was elevated into an art and degraded into a trade. The agitated coupling of art and commerce made authorship seem available and attractive on an unprecedented scale. All manner of instructional texts, from how-to manuals to plot charts, and from author interviews to fictions about fiction making, sated this sudden explosion of interest. United by a post-Romantic faith that novelists, though born to varying degrees of talent, could be made, this enterprise mobilized emerging knowledge practices and media technologies in its effort to develop a practical science of fiction, one I dub “fictioneering.”
My central field of study is not so much the “how-to” documents themselves as the practices they produced, the processes they allowed, and the techniques they fostered. In attending to fictioneering, I expose how the doctrine of the autonomous literary object arose as part of the formation of the discipline of English literature from a sort of sleight of hand. In the case of the novel, technique, which was first articulated as a writer’s tool, subtly morphed into an inherent feature of the text, dormant until uncovered by the skilled reader. “How to Become an Author” tells the story of an unexpected rivalry between fictioneering and the new-born science of literary criticism, a rivalry that profoundly shaped the signature techniques of both.