The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from the New England Primer to the Scarlet Letter

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Stanford University Press, 2000 - 315 páginas
Richly illustrated with often antic images from alphabet books and primers, The Story of A relates the history of the alphabet as a genre of text for children and of alphabetization as a social practice in America, from early modern reading primers to the literature of the American Renaissance.

Offering a poetics of alphabetization and explicating the alphabet's tropes and rhetorical strategies, the author demonstrates the far-reaching cultural power of such apparently neutral statements as "A is for apple." The new market for children's books in the eighteenth century established for the "republic of ABC" a cultural potency equivalent to its high-culture counterpart, the "republic of letters," while shaping its child-readers into consumers. As a central rite of socialization, alphabetization schooled children to conflicting expectations, as well as to changing models of authority, understandings of the world, and uses of literature.

In the nineteenth century, literacy became a crucial aspect of American middle-class personality and subjectivity. Furnishing the readers and writers needed for a national literature, the alphabetization of America between 1800 and 1850 informed the sentimental-reform novel as well as the self-consciously aesthetic novel of the 1850s. Through readings of conduct manuals, reading primers, and a sentimental bestseller, the author shows how the alphabet became embedded in a maternal narrative, which organized the world through domestic affections.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, by contrast, insisted on the artificiality of the alphabet and its practices in his antimimetic, hermetic The Scarlet Letter, with its insistent focus on the letter A. By understanding this novel as part of the network of alphabetization, The Story of A accounts for its uniquely persistent cultural role. The author concludes, in an epilogue, with a reading of postmodern alphabets and their implications for the future of literacy.

 

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Contenido

Figures xi
1
Allegory of Grammatica from Margarita Philosophica
2
The Alphabet Ladder
3
The Genre of the Alphabet from
15
A to F from The New England Primer
16
G to S from The New England Primer
17
A nineteenthcentury hornbook
20
The Christcross row
21
Blockhead from The Royal Alphabet
81
N from Aldiborontiphoskyphorniostikos
82
Four and Twenty Blackbirds from Tom Thumbs Song Book
86
Christmas Pye from A Little Pretty PocketBook
87
Old Gaffer Gingerbread from The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread
88
PostureMaster
89
X from Pictured A B C
90
Alphabet array from The Royal Primer
92

The alphabet in the form of the Latin cross
22
The Invitation from the Orbis Pictus
29
The Tormenting of Malefactors from the Orbis Pictus
30
Temperance from the Orbis Pictus
31
Arts Belonging to the Speech from the Orbis Pictus
32
God from the Orbis Pictus
33
The alphabet phonology from the Orbis Pictus 3435
34
Cat and Fiddle from Nurse Lovechilds Tom Thumbs Song Book
46
Cat and Fiddle from a fifteenthcentury Book of Hours
47
The sign of Adam
49
The sign of the Royal Oak
51
Alphabetizing Americans 17501850 55
55
2o A Apple Pye from The Childs New PlayThing
66
A was an Archer from The Childs New PlayThing
67
A apple pye from Dunigans History
69
The History of an Apple Pie
70
The Youth and Zany from Men among the Letters
71
A was an archer and shot at a frog The old alphabet with new explanations for the Tommy Thumbs of Yankeedom
72
The Zany from Mothers Own Primer
74
Youth and Zany from The Alphabet Ladder
75
Youth and Zany from childrens story cards
76
Harlequin teaches his son from Maternita di
77
Zany from Ladder to Learning
78
The Quack Doctor from A Little Lottery
79
Quack Doctor from The Uncles Present
80
Alphabet array from Youths Battledoor
93
Copleys John Hancock
94
The Alphabet Gender and Narrative
103
Without my book what should I do? from The Illustrated Primer
104
49 Old Mothers from The Comical Hotch Potch
106
A and B from The Comical Hotch Potch IQJ 51 ABC dancers horn The Comical Hotch Potch IQJ 52 Mother Jumper from The Comical Hotch Potch
109
From The Illuminated A B C
112
A to L from The Good Boys and Girls Alphabet
114
Y and Z from The Good Boys and Girls Alphabet
115
R from The Good Boys and Girls Alphabet
116
E and F from The Illuminated American Primer
117
Christmas ABC
118
The Childs Picture Book of ABC
119
Crusoe and Friday from Rational Sports
121
The Mothers Remarks on a Set of Cuts for Children
122
The Mothers Remarks Plate XVI
123
The Wide Wide Worlds Web
143
Alphabetization in The Scarlet Letter 173
173
From John Wilkins Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language
204
From Charles Davy Conjectural Observations on the Origin and Progress of Alphabetic Writing
205
F etc
211
F House
212
From On My Way with Sesame Street
222
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Acerca del autor (2000)

Patricia Crain is Associate Professor of English at New York University.

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