Francesca Sawaya is author of The Difficult Art of Giving: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the American Literary Market, which rethinks standard economic histories of the literary marketplace. Traditionally, American literary histories maintain that the post-Civil War period marked the transition from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and an era of self-supporting professionalism. These histories assert that the market helped to democratize literary production and consumption, enabling writers to sustain themselves without the need for private sponsorship. By contrast, Francesca Sawaya demonstrates the continuing importance of patronage and the new significance of corporate-based philanthropy for cultural production in the United States in the postbellum and modern periods.
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Penn Press: Are philanthropy and patronage mutually dependent or independent in America?
Francesca Sawaya: Scholars have traditionally distinguished the two practices, describing patronage as a pre-modern, self-interested, individualized social practice, and philanthropy as a modern, disinterested, and bureaucratized one. But it is obvious that self-interested and individualized forms of sponsorship continue in modern times and are often indistinguishable from disinterested and bureaucratized ones and vice versa. In short, the two practices are often indistinguishable. So I argue in the book that while the historical account of the two terms is useful for charting the ways that social practices of giving or sponsorship change over time, nonetheless patronage and philanthropy easily blur into each other both historically and definitionally in the U.S. as elsewhere.
What are some of the social networks in the post-bellum era that helped shape the relationship between literature and philanthropy?
One of the central forms that I discuss is friendship, which was fostered institutionally at the turn of the twentieth century by the numerous urban-based men’s clubs. Such clubs consciously worked to bring together men from a wide range of professions. The friendships that emerged from these clubs were racial and gender exclusive, and often utilitarian. At the same time, it is also clear that these friendships created deeply felt emotional bonds and worked as a philanthropic or social welfare system (albeit of an exclusive and privatized nature), linking the worlds of business and culture. Mark Twain’s close friendship with Henry H. Rogers, the (in)famous vice president of Standard Oil, who rescued Twain from bankruptcy and served as his financial advisor and close friend till the end of his life, is a prime example of the way these networks worked.