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Grant number like: FB-50229-04

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Laura Ruth Saltz
Colby College (Waterville, ME 04901-8840)

Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars
Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2005 – 6/30/2006

Overexposures: Literature and Photographic Meaning in 19th-Century America

Overexposures examines nineteenth-century meanings of "the photographic" in order to rethink the way authors used photographic metaphors in their fiction. Aligned with empirical vision, photography is often understood as a model for American literary realism. Examining the work of Poe, Hawthorne, Henry James, and Wharton, I demonstrate that photographic metaphors such as exposure were as crucial to other literary genres as they were to realism. To explain why, I situate responses to photography within a broader visual culture that includes the publishing market, and I examine the nineteenth-century photographs and the responses they engendered. I demonstrate both that a realistic visual culture antedates the invention of photography and that responses to photography increasingly questioned the equation between vision and empiricism. Overexposures complicates our understanding of the meaning of "the photographic" in the nineteenth-century; in doing so, it suggests continuities between modernism and its literary predecessors.