Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Todd N. Thompson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Christopher Orchard, D.Phil.

Third Advisor

Thomas J. Slater, Ph.D.


The purpose of this dissertation is to recover the agency (in some cases, identities) of editors by examining their roles in the careers of three nineteenth-century canonical authors: Henry David Thoreau, Sara Payson Willis (Fanny Fern), and Walt Whitman. In the study, I argue that critics and literary historians often have ignored the agency of editors, their several roles in bringing canonical works to print, and the possibility of their influence on the authors themselves. The result has been that editors’ involvement in literary products has been allowed to remain in the background of scholarship, while the importance of authors has been foregrounded. At stake is whether the study of nineteenth-century literature is to gain a more complete understanding of processes—and the agents of these processes—by which canonical authors developed their craft, and their works came to be published. In my opinion, recovering the agency of editors provides a valuable perspective that is missing from most criticism of nineteenth-century authors. Without a perspective that includes the agency of editors and the roles they play in the publication process, our understanding of how canonical literary works such as Walden, Ruth Hall, and Leaves of Grass came to print is incomplete. Important to the broader application of my argument is that the three authors considered here interacted with the marketplace in quite different ways. Thoreau resisted not only the necessity of the marketplace, but also its agents—with the exception of newspaper editor Horace Greeley, who acted as Thoreau’s literary agent. When Sara Payson Willis Farrington turned in desperation to writing for newspapers, she recognized the need to engage with the marketplace and soon entered into a successful and profitable arrangement with the editor of the New York Ledger, Robert Bonner. By self-publishing and self-promoting Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman circumvented the marketplace to a considerable extent, yet employed techniques that he learned as a penny press editor in New York City. Because of the variety of relationships to the marketplace enacted by these three canonical authors, the conclusions of this study may apply to nineteenth-century authors not included here.