In my last post, I asked for the identity of a nineteenth century female writer in the US who was so wildly popular that her fourth novel sold 1,000,000 copies in its first 4 months of publication.
Augusta Jane Evans was one of the most successful writers of the US in the second half of the 1800s, active in the Civil War on the side of the South.
As was typical of female writers of the day, she did it because she needed the momey. Indeed, the proceeds of her second novel, Beulah, when she was 18 – it sold over 22,000 copies in its first year of publication – was used to buy a family home. Evidently her father wasn’t the best at holding onto money.
Hunger Games, by the way, in terms of ratio of copies to population in the US comes in at about 1:20. St Elmo, written in the 1860s, 1:40. I find that quite an incredible statistic, imagining that less people read books back then, they were more expensive to buy and there was none of that marketing hype thing where everybody now reads a certain book or two because everybody else is. I’m sure word of mouth must have counted for lots, but not the kind of instantaneous easy thing that is now. No Twitter, no facebook, blogs, internet. And still the book spread like wildfire.
An interesting essay on the way in which myths are perpetuated, even at the level of academic scholarship, is The Publishing History of Augusta Jane Evans’s Confederate Novel Macaria: Unwriting Some Lost Cause Myths by Melissa Homestead. Fascinating on the process by which facts are made, literally out of nothing.
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Evans, by the way. Like almost all female writers of the nineteenth century, she is excluded from the literary canon, along with the other hugely influential, most widely read authors of her day.
Well. We seemed to have saved ourselves $20 by making this too hard. I’m uncertain about giving things away too easily – with the internet it would have taken seconds for anybody to figure this one out with another hint or two. Still, I’ll try to make the next one more readily solvable.