Printing The Spectator: Hawthorne’s Play with Media Materiality

Stream: Session A
Date: Wednesday, 20 July 2022
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Stella Benson (6 January 1892 – 7 December 1933), British author of the award-winning Tobit Transplanted (1931) and suffragette novel This Is the End (1917), gained marginal fame as a travel writer, fantasy, and post-impressionist novelist after the first World War. Benson’s fame as an author was limited and she has largely fallen into obscurity. Born into a landed gentry family, Benson’s frail health and sporadic education, coupled with her father’s rampant womanizing and alcoholism, created a chaotic, nomadic, and unhappy childhood. Despite her father’s insistence that her poetry was naïve and his recommendation that she wait to write when she was older, Benson was a prolific juvenile writer. Benson kept a diary, wrote poetry, short stories, and eventually novels throughout her childhood and adolescence. Benson ultimately published eighteen novels, collections of stories, and travel writings inspired by her early life and her travels in North America and Asia. Benson’s early literary exploration was fueled by a home filled with literary figures, including her aunt, Mary Cholmondeley, and Lucia and Mapp novelist, Edward Frederic Benson. This paper will primarily focus on Benson’s editing of four issues of her family’s “Holiday Magazine” (Summer 1903, Christmas 1903, Easter 1904, Summer 1904). Each contains a mixture of written works, mainly non-serialized short stories and poetry, produced by Benson and her family: Ralph Benson (father), Mary Cholmondeley (aunt), Edward F. Benson, and her brothers, George and Stephen. During the year of production and publication, the family magazines become increasingly complex and sophisticated in their printing. The first edition is completely handwritten with hand-drawn illustrations. The second edition is typed on a typewriter with hand-drawn cover and hand-drawn, but possibly mimeograph illustrations. Editions three and four are typeset with printed illustrations and section divisions. The magazines include writings of all ages from adults to children and has section editors. Unlike many family magazines, these were sold, though circulation is unknown, and, according to the publication, some profit was made. This paper will locate the work of Benson in the larger context of juvenilia studies with particular focus on the common theme of the family literary magazine. Benson’s editorial efforts can be naturally likened to others. One such comparison can be made between Benson and, her friend and contemporary, Virginia Woolf’s “Hyde Park Gate News”. Both collections were produced by siblings at roughly the same age and just a decade apart. Like Woolf’s newspaper, Benson’s effort is diverse in its content and occasionally draws on the works of family members. The influence of the family’s mature writers is evident in their contributions. Additionally, building on the work of Christine Alexander on the Bronte family’s magazines, we see a growing sophistication in the publication of the works and effort to imitate professional publications. The significant technical changes in the publication over a short period of time warrants further examination.

From the launching pad of this material play, Hawthorne constructed a full-fledged fantasy of running a printing business, The Spectator Printing Office, whose address—“No. 2, Herbert St. up two pair of stairs”—was his bedroom. Because he “printed” The Spectator (i.e. wrote it in print hand), he described himself as his own “Printers, Printing-Press and Types.” Thus, casting himself fancifully in the role of a thing (printing press and types), he also thereby invested his printing office whimsy with a significant level of material detail, intensified through want ads for supplies of paper, skilled journeymen whom he promised “good wages,” and newspaper carriers, noting regarding the latter that “Good recommendations for honesty and activity will be required.” With items like these, he specified both the equipment and the personnel required for him to run his imaginary business. He thereby exhibited an imaginative interest not only in the materiality of texts but also in the broader material world that texts, when understood as material objects, inhabit.

PATRICIA ROYLANCE is an Associate Professor of English at Syracuse University, where she teaches courses in early American literature and culture, literary theory, and book history (the study of books as material objects). Her first monograph, Eclipse of Empires: World History in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture, was published by the University of Alabama Press in 2013. Her current book-in-progress, tentatively titled The Textures of Time in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Media, tracks the shifting meanings of particular texts and stories—John Winthrop’s journal, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the story of the founding of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) Confederacy—as they move through varying media forms. As part of her research into Nathaniel Hawthorne’s discussion of John Winthrop’s journal in his local newspaper, the Salem Gazette, she discovered The Spectator, a handwritten newspaper that Hawthorne had produced in his youth.