Pet Book 9: Serialization and Distribution

Note: This post is a lot longer than I meant it to be and than it’s supposed to be, but I wanted to get everything in and a lot of my other posts have been pretty short so I thought it was okay to just leave it like this.

I want to start this blog post by saying that in all the research I did for this post, I found no evidence of true serialization of my pet book. So for this post I’m going to try to focus on how the story of the second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin was told before and after the publication of Arctic Explorations, as I think it is similar to the idea of serialization in the sense that the public was told certain points of view over time rather than all at once.

To start off, Elisha Kent Kane had actually published a book before going on the second Grinnell expedition that was an account of the first expedition. So he was already pretty well known for being an Arctic hero from the popularity of that first book. The crew of this ship that rescued the second Grinnell expedition were essentially meeting one of their celebrity heroes when they picked him up: ““For the past two years they had consumed the stories of his amazing adventures via newspapers, magazines, panorama shows, and his own book” (Sawin 242). However, because of circumstances surrounding the publication of the narrative of the first expedition, Elisha Kent Kane took strong measures to ensure that a certain story would be released to the public about the second expedition: “He had begun preparing for this moment even before the expedition set sail, forcing each of his crewmembers to relinquish their rights to publish their own accounts of the journey” (Sawin 204). When I read this, I was quite shocked at first, not because it doesn’t make sense, but until now I didn’t really have an idea of how famous he really was and how much power he really had. As far as the telling of the story, Kane had a lot of power over exactly what narrative was told, and this requirement he had before the expedition was underway ended up being incredibly important after the fact.

During the second expedition, there were a lot of problems surrounding the leadership of Kane. There were times when his crewmembers lost all support they had for him, to the point that they even tried to oust him as leader. But the account that Kane went on to publish glazed over all of the issues and largely framed him as an ideal, good leader. And not only did his book glaze over that sort of thing, but all of the media publications regarding the narrative of the expedition (I’ll get to that in a little more detail soon). One point that I really liked in the book about Kane that I was reading was this: “Even though in later years [Petersen], Godfrey, and Wilson would each publish or threaten to publish negative accounts of Elisha’s leadership, in the months immediately following the expeditions return, the crew remained united behind their commander and his sanitized version of their journey” (Sawin 244). Sawin adds later that this unity shortly after their return was probably heavily incited by the unity that they had to have in order to survive and escape the Arctic. The important thing here is that because Kane had forced his crew to agree not to publish their stories, for a long time the only account that anyone read was that of Kane.

Kane’s story was first published practically as he stepped off the ship in New York City: “[Kane] greeted the throngs of newspaper reporters gratefully and provided them with a detailed account of the expedition, which he had prepared during the voyage home” (Sawin 242). So immediately a specific, condensed version of the narrative of the second expedition began circulating through the public. Along the same lines, a photo was quickly taken of Kane and some of his crew to promote his ruggedness (he wasn’t really a rugged man otherwise) and that image in particular was transferred quickly between newspapers in the time and later used in the book. In a similar vein, I interpreted from the article that more theater shows, songs, and a panorama show called Arctic Regions! (yes, the exclamation point was originally in the title) were created based just off of this early newspaper account.

When Kane initially decided that he wanted to publish a book based off this second expedition, he was first approached by the government as a publisher. However, he was desperately in need of some money because of some circumstances in his personal life, so he declined the government because they would be able to publish the book with almost no publicity, thus causing weak sales, and without having to pay him any royalties because he was a government employee as an officer in the military. So because of his powerful father, he was able to come into possession of the copyright so that he could go to his own publisher (Sawin 274).

As I discussed in my last post, Arctic Explorations was published by Childs & Peterson. The publisher of his previous book, Harpers, had also done it in an extravagant style with many engravings, but Kane’s relationship with Harpers had deteriorated quickly during the publication process (Sawin 275). So he chose Childs because “[Childs] offered a huge royalty of one dollar per edition sold and agreed to print the massive two volume edition in a timely and stylish manner, complete with the more than three hundred engravings and the multiple maps and charts Elisha insisted upon” (Sawin 275). As I said in my previous post, Childs became very involved in the publicity of the book.

Another thing that interested me from this book was the way that Childs chose to advertise the book and how that also affected how people received the story of the second expedition. Childs used a thing along the lines of a “campaign biography” (which were popular in the time for presidential candidates) written by a friend of Kane that was reprinted across the US and England to advertise the book—rather than saying, “buy this book, everyone!”, it implied, “Wow, look at this great, interesting guy!”. In addition, Childs also offered to give the newspapers engravings so they could illustrate them cheaply, which helped sell newspapers so the printers were happy to do it. Some of his crewmembers were very offended by this “campaign biography” because it added to the well-publicized idea that Kane was this great hero, while they knew that he hadn’t really been that great on the actual expedition. This also fueled a couple of them to become more interested in writing their own accounts, which I’ll get back to after this brief aside.

I want to quickly address a couple of things we talked about in class before Thanksgiving regarding my pet book. Professor Cordell brought up the idea of the two volumes being published separately and how sales of the book were managed. According to this book, the two volumes were indeed advertised and printed together at the same time. Childs decided to use both trade sales and subscriptions to sell the book. The book was quite expensive for the time with the cloth-bound version retailing at $5 and the leather-and-gilt version (the one on the Special Collections) at $10 (289).

Newspapers at the time of print reviewed the book in a very positive light, which definitely affected sales after the initial trade sales/subscriptions. One major factor of this book’s success was that it was widely viewed as being suitable for all readers, including children and women (291). I think this fact really shows how the story is told from only Kane’s perspective, because it was seen as a motivational story and one that told a story of an American hero. If people had been exposed to the real truth then, they definitely would not have seen Kane in the same light. I was surprised by just how widespread the popularity of this book was: “Henry David Thoreau, back from his own ‘expedition’ to Walden Pond, was so inspired by Arctic Explorations that he filled five pages of his journal with information from the book” (Sawin 292-3).

I realize now as I reach the end of my post that I haven’t actually included a lot of evidence of different narratives specifically, but we know there must have been some because historically we know a lot more about what actually happened than is represented in his book. One reason I think we might have that information is the fact that he had to submit an account of the trip to the government. Though I’m not sure if this account varied a lot from the book, I think it’s possible that that account could have held more detailed information. It is also really important in the story of the book to remember that Kane was really ill during this time and he died shortly after the publication of the book—a matter of months, really. I think it’s totally possible that his death would have caused a lot more crewmembers to stand up and tell their story, as indicate in one of the quotes I used in the beginning of this post. I think his sudden death meant some of the crew no longer felt so bound to their word, so they were able to share their stories more freely. I think the general idea here is that when Arctic Explorations originally came out, it was very biased in Kane’s favor so people thought they knew a lot about the expedition when in reality they actually only knew a very secretive account and more shocking details were slow to immerge in the time after its publication.

As a final note, I finally had the time to look at some of Hester Blum’s articles, and one thing that she said was just so awesome: “Hayes had been the surgeon aboard fellow Philadelphian Elisha Kent Kane’s closely followed Second Grinnell Expedition (1853–5), which was searching for the fate of the Franklin expedition (and which produced its own newspaper, the Ice-Blink)” (Blum 167). The crewmembers of the expedition made their own manuscript newspaper!!! That’s so cool!!!!


Works Cited

Blum, Hester. “The News at the Ends of the Earth: Polar Periodicals.” Unsettled States: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies, Edited by Dana Luciano and Ivy G. Wilson, NYU Press, 2014, pp. 158–188,

Sawin, Mark Metzler. “Raising Kane: Elisha Kent Kane and the Culture of Fame in Antebellum America.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 98, no. 3, 2008, pp. i-368.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *