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"Take a Taste": Selling Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales in 1934
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of language studies.
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study explores the marketability of Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales, published in the US in 1934. The term marketability is used to refer to the book as a potentially desirable object for sale on the market, successfully promoted by the Book-of-the-Month-Club whose members were intent on educating themselves and refining their taste. The set-up and marketing strategies of the Book-of-the-Month-Club are considered in relation to the role of advertising as a discourse teaching social and personal values in a developing consumer culture where identity and personality were represented as never-ending, imperative projects. 

The consuming self is an individual freed from the restraints of tradition and communal values, making her free choice of whom to be on an increasingly diverse market, endlessly reinventing her identity. But this self is also a commodity on an increasingly complex and impersonal market where appearance is destiny. A historically contextualized reading of Seven Gothic Tales makes it possible to use the term marketability to refer to the work itself as a literary investigation of the conditions of identity-construction in a culture dominated by market-mediated relationships. In this reading, the Great Depression figures as a moment that reveals the degree to which consumerist ideology and logic had come to determine the possibilities of imagining being and identity, a condition that Seven Gothic Tales both reflects and resists.

The effect of globalized transformation of production and consumption were felt in the two places that went into the making of Seven Gothic Tales: the US where it was first published and colonial Kenya where the author lived between 1914 and 1931 and where the book was begun. This study argues that the success of Seven Gothic Tales in the US depended on the way in which Blixen/Dinesen's experience of colonial Kenya was an experience of commercial modernity that reverberated with the experience of the American readers. Central to this argument is the ideal of feudalism as an explicit and decisive element in the creation of colonial Kenya. The aristocratic theme that permeates Seven Gothic Tales must be understood in relation to a colonial socioeconomic context that reinvented the feudal ideal as a marketable commodity at a time when social status and identity had become negotiable on a consumer market.  

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2014. , 199 p.
Umeå studies in language and literature, 22
Keyword [en]
marketability, Book-of-the-Month-Club, consumer culture, commercialism, colonial Kenya, feudal ideal, aristocracy, identity, malleability
National Category
Languages and Literature
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-86705ISBN: 978-91-7601-013-6OAI: diva2:703038
Public defence
2014-03-28, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2014-03-07 Created: 2014-03-05 Last updated: 2016-05-10Bibliographically approved

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