Magazines in Literature

One non-quantitative way to categorize magazines — or, at least, the way people perceived magazines — is to track different instances of magazine reading in literature. Certainly this is highly unscientific but it can give us a way of seeing the work a particular magazine title does in the period. For example, is the magazine placed in an oppositional relationship to the literary work in which it appears? Or not?

This came up because I just finished reading In Cold Blood for fun and periodicals kept popping up. (Periodicals are everywhere now!) So, Perry (one of the killers) is described as being bored by the magazines that the sheriff’s wife gives to him while he is in a holding cell: Good Housekeeping and McCall’s (Vintage 254). In contrast, Mrs. Clutter, one of Perry’s victims, is described as subscribing to Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Reader’s Digest, and Together: Midmonth Magazine for Methodist Families (30). On a purely simplistic level, this highlights the difference between Perry and Mrs. Clutter; it also shows Perry’s distance from a particular kind of domestic world. It also reveals the kind of women who may be reading these kinds of magazines. There’s actually a ton of reading material in Capote’s book, including an excerpted article from The American Journal of Psychiatry (298) and Doc Savage pulp magazines (306).  In fact, Reverend Post makes a connection between Perry and Doc Savage (who is described as a “fiction hero popular among adolescent readers of pulp magazines a generation ago.”)  The book was serialized in the New Yorker, which also provides a contrast between Capote and the people he writes about. This is a pretty simplistic reading, and I’m sure more interesting things can be done with this.

Similarly, Toomer mentions Literary Digest in the “Kabnis” section of Cane; Halsey (who is a black Southerner) says, “I gets t thinkin. I used to subscribe t th Literary Digest an that helped a bit. But there werent nothing I could sink m teeth int.” Parts of “Kabnis” were published in the little magazine, Broom, so there’s an interplay between those who read Literary Digest and those who read Broom.

I’m sure there are many more examples of magazine reading in literature, so feel free to post them in the comments if you’d like. There’s also a Modernist Journals Project wiki page on this topic.  I think this can give us a way of thinking about perceived readership of the magazines and also give us more information about what work the magazines are doing in the literature.  Eurie.

9 responses to “Magazines in Literature

  1. I love hunting down such references. As I always tell my students, no writer references any printed matter lightly… as soon as you see italicized titles, start researching. Here are a few off the top of my head.
    In Faulkner’s Light in August, Joe Christmas reads a pulp magazine before murdering Miss Burden (in a scene that replicates the cover of the pulp.)
    In To Have and Have Not, one of the drunken vets asks Richard Gordon, the writer character, if he ever published in “Western Stories, or War Aces? I could read that War Aces every day.”
    In Black Boy, Wright confesses “I read tattered, second hand copies of Flynn’s Detective Weekly or the Argosy All-Story,” and later he gets caught reading American Mercury at work as a dishwater.
    And finally, there is the reference to Town Tattler in The Great Gatsby, which was Town Topics, a society gossip mag started By Col. D’Alton Mann, who also started The Smart Set.
    Thanks Eurie, great scavenger hunt idea. Can’t wait to go and re-read In Cold Blood.

    • Thanks for all these great references, David (and I like your advice to your students)! I’m especially interested in the Gatsby one due to my fascination with William d’Alton Mann’s blackmail plots.

  2. In Kate Chopin’s short story, “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” the protagonist, Mrs. Sommers includes a magazine in her list of self-indulgent purchases. This seems like a concrete example of print culture just before the explosion of modern advertising and the production of inexpensive periodicals.

    • Thanks for this reference, Adam. I’m interested in the fact that a magazine is listed as a “self-indulgent purchase.” I just looked up the story and read it, and those magazines are listed as “two high-priced magazines” that she carries “without wrapping.” The magazines act as status symbols since she also reads one of them in public (and cuts the pages). It makes me wonder what magazines they were! Especially since the story itself was published in Vogue originally. This might be a great text to teach, especially if one were able to get a copy of the September 16, 1897 Vogue issue.

  3. Eurie,
    I haven’t read it but heard the author give a great paper once, and I think this book would be up your alley: Garrett Stewart’s The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text. It deals more squarely with 19th c painting, but I remember his talk as having an amazing compendium of reading scenes from that tradition, and I’m guessing that the way he frames them theoretically and critically might be useful for this project of yours?

    Also, would it be worth looking through Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated for specific titles of magazines you’re looking for (or for something like “periodicals” in general)? Only Bloom’s reading Titbits comes to mind immediately, but there must be some good ones in there. The only other thing coming to mind right now is the one I think I mentioned to you before, the newspaper-reading scene in Woolf’s Between the Acts–might be some periodicals there, I can’t recall–? I’ll keep my eye out for others; I love projects like this, too.

    • Thanks for this, Gayle. I’ll have to check out the Garrett Stewart soon; I just looked it up, and it sounds great. In a quick scan of Gifford, I see mentions of the National Police Gazette (a weekly newspaper in New York), Stubb’s Weekly Gazette, T.P. O’Connor’s Star, the Daily Express (the newspaper Gabriel Conroy writes for), Harmsworth’s Magazine, and many others. Obviously there are a ton of references to newspapers in the “Aeolus” episode. Excellent suggestion!

  4. Hi all: I’ve reposted some of your observations on the “Periodicals in Literature” page on the MJP wiki, so they’ll appear in an author-ordered list; I hope that’s okay with everyone. Best, Mark

  5. Pingback: Mag Mods Culturomics | Magazine Modernisms

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