I’DA have you Clear the TAR and Ring the BELL , it’s Muckraking Season Folks

Author: Ida Tarbell
Book: The History of the Standard Oil Company
Publisher: McClure’s Magazine, Vol. XX No. 1, November 1902

As we move through the literature of the Gilded Age, we begin to read more and more work written with the purpose of exposing the serious social problems of the era. The writers of these works became known as muckrakers, a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt (see fig. 1). The muckrakers emerged during the end of the nineteenth century and were constantly looking at the flaws and problems within society, with reform in mind.

Roosevelt first used the term "muck-rake" in a speech to acknowledge the men who "looked downward for the filth"

Fig. 1 Roosevelt first used the term “muck-rake” in a speech to acknowledge the men who “looked downward for the filth”

Today in class we discussed the work of Ida Tarbell , an author, teacher, and journalist that became famous during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is best known for her book The History of the Standard Oil Company , which we read the beginning of for class. The book was published in McClure’s Magazine , a progressive magazine known for its muckraking journalism (see fig. 2).


Fig. 2 a Cover of McClure’s Magazine




Tarbell offers a detailed and factual look into the Standard Oil Company, its owner tycoon John D. Rockefeller, and how the company came into such power. Her goal is to give the readers, “a clear succinct notion of the processes by which a particular industry passes from the control of many to that of the few” (vii). She is offering a portrayal of an institution, rather than a personal account of her own experiences. This is different than what we’ve read previously, and offers us interesting insight into a more investigative type of journalism.

In order to relay her findings through her writing, Tarbell uses a distinct style that includes a factual and objective tone, long paragraphs, descriptive phrases and language, and the use of photos in her account. Many of these aspects are quite different than the style of Jack London, author of The People of the Abyss, and will be compared throughout this entry.

One of the most notable features of Tarbell’s writing is the enormous amount of investigative information she includes. In her preface, she lists five main sources for her findings: court testimonies, newspaper clippings, private correspondences, interviews, and her discussion with company officers (x). This is unlike many of the other literary journalism pieces we have read, in which the authors are simply giving us a firsthand account of their experiences and observations (as seen in London’s The People of the Abyss and Charles Dickens’s American Notes for the General Circulation).

Tarbell presents all of this research in a very factual, objective style. The book is filled with her straightforward, simple manner in which she offers the facts and lets the reader draw their own conclusions. She starts with the declarative statement, “One of the busiest corners of the globe at the opening of the year 1872 was a strip of Northwestern Pennsylvania, not over fifty miles long, known the world over as the Oil Regions” (1) and never wavers from stating the details.

One of the things we did notice was the lengthy paragraphs that Tarbell writes. This contrasted with Jack London’s use of short paragraphs in his personal account. Overall, the class seemed to view the shorter style as more favorable, but regardless of personal preference, the difference is still quite noticeable between the two authors. On one page in the magazine excerpt, a paragraph continues for the length of an entire column (12).

Within these long paragraphs, however, Tarbell displays her command of language. While she is very objective and factual, she still manages to insert descriptive language and creative comparisons that bring the details to life. One example of this is when she writes, “The story is a fair illustration both of the habits and the earnings of the Oil Creek teamsters. Indispensable to the business, they became the tyrants of the region- working and brawling as suited them, a class not unlike the flat-boatsmen who once gave color to life on the Mississippi, or the cowboys who make plains picturesque today” (8).

It is important to acknowledge the inclusion of photos in the book. Around this time, photos were becoming more and more popular in accompanying journalist pieces, including in The People of the Abyss, and Tarbell followed this trend in McClure’s Magazine. Throughout the carefully organized pages are maps of the regions, pictures of the landscapes being described, and portraits of the famous men, like the one below (see figure 3). The photos make the writing visually and aesthetically appealing.

Fig 3. Portraits like this one were included in the writing, often with a brief description below it.

Fig 3. Portraits like this one were included in the writing, often with a brief description about the photo written below it. Here is a portrait of John D. Rockefeller, born in 1893 and co-founder of the Standard Oil Co.

All the while, Tarbell is exposing the monopolizing ways of the Standard Oil Company as Rockefeller becomes the wealthiest man in the country. Her muckraking book was actually credited with speeding up the breakup of Standard Oil – showing how powerful literary journalism can be.




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You say “Potato”, I say “Potaaato”, London says “Women”, the People of the Abyss say “Wimmen”

Author: Jack London

Book: The People of the Abyss

Publisher: London, Macmillan & Co., LTD. 1904

While Jack London is well know for his famous fiction works, “The Call of the Wild“, “Children of the Frost” and “White Fang“, he has also published several works as a journalist. His non-fiction book The People of the Abbyss is his first-hand account of living in the East End of London in 1902.

As we move into reading literary journalism from the Gilded Age versus our earlier readings of Klarwill and Addison and Steele, we find that the modern literary journalism is much more engaging. London’s short paragraph structure, ethical standpoint, use of dialogue, chronological narrative and attributions are all essential elements that make his writing so captivating.

Through our class discussion of the very first chapter in this book, we perceived that London takes on the role of a literary journalist by revealing the world of the unknown. We equated this to the study of Anthropology in that this lifestyle of the urban poor in the East End may be right under our noses, but nobody truly discovers it until they put themselves in a role such as London does.

The most evident difference between London and say Charles Dickens or Michael Chevalier is differing length of paragraphs in their writing. London embodies a short paragraph structure intermixed with dialogue, and scene descriptions which we see in Chapter I: The Descent, Chapter II: Johnny Upright and Chapter IV: A Man and the Abyss. We believe that this structure engages the reader by making it more story-like versus Dickens’ style and Chevalier’s style which both embody a longer paragraph format (ex. American Notes for General Circulation).

Dialogue is an essential element to London’s narrative structure. He does not alter the original language of the urban poor rather implements their slang and contrasts it with his own American language. This allows the dialogue to indicate what the urban poor’s philosophy of life is and it characterizes the people of London as almost wild-like or animal -like. For example, London states, “But women…” (36) upon which the man responds in his own language, “Wimmen is a thing my edication ‘as learnt me t’ let alone . . .” (36).

In the above example as well as on page 37, London embodies two important literary techniques: repetition and reinforcement. London implements his standpoint on having a wife and children by saying, “Think of it, back from a voyage, little children climbing on your knee, and the wife happy and smiling, and a kiss for you when she lays the table . . .” (37). In response, the man repeats and reinforces his own personal philosophy on children (Fig.1) and women when he says, “A missus kissin’, an’ kids clim’in’, an’ kettle singin’ all on four poun’ ten a month w’en you ‘ave a ship, an’ four nothin’ w’en you ‘aven’t . . . A missus! Wot for? T’ make you mis’rable?” (37).  This brings a level of comparison to London’s journalistic style, similar to the comparison element between the American and French culture that Chevalier embodies in his book Society Manners and Politics in the United States.


Fig. 1 Where the children grow up in East End

London’s account of London in 1902 is displayed through a chronological structure. There is little evidence of  inventive structure or thought. For example, Chapter 1: The Descent follows a chronological style by beginning with his trip to Cook’s (1-3), then his departure to East End (5-7), Petticoat Lane (11), Highbury Vale (12) and so on.

Lastly, London’s distinct attributions are key to the effectiveness of his dialogue. They set the mood as well as display actions that are happening simultaneously throughout the dialogue. For example, we read, “‘Drive me down to the EastEnd,’ I ordered, taking my seat. ‘Where, sir?’ he demanded with frank surprise'” (5). Another example displays London’s sophisticated language when attributing dialogue: “‘Hello, mate,’ I greeted him, sparring for a beginning. ‘Can you tell me the way to Wapping?’ ‘Worked yer way over on a cattle boat?’ he countered, fixing my nationality on the instant” (33). It is evident that London’s attributes are much more detailed than Dickens who implements very little dialogue and writes in American Notes for General Circulation, “I observed that one of our friends . . . smote his forehead involuntarily, and said, below his breath, ‘Impossible! It cannot be!'” (4).

Overall, London employs many modern elements of literary journalism such as dialogue, detailed attribution, pictures with captions, and a chronological structure which all contribute to an enjoyable and easier read.


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Spectating the Spectator

Authors: Joseph Addison and Richard Steele

Book: The Spectator, vol. 1 (1710-1711)

In Tuesday’s Class, we read some of the literary journalism written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. These two wrote newsletters that appeared in coffee shops everyday from 1710-1711. This was not the first literary work that Steele had written as he also had published a paper called The Tatler, which Addison had also contributed to. We read six newsletters from The Spectator, vol. 1, which contains a collection Addison and Steele’s observations collected at the Royal exchange and published anonymously.

The start of these newsletters begins with the introduction of “Mr. Spectator”, who “lives in the Word rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species” ( 11). Mr. Spectator’s main goal was to observe and write what he saw around him without engaging with those around him.

We specifically looked at No. 49, which talks of how Mr. Spectator collected his information for the newsletter as well as a commentary on those men that frequent the coffeehouses. The start of this newsletter reads “It is very natural for a Man who is not turned for Mirthful Meetings of Men, or Assemblies of the fair Sex, to delight in that fort of Conversation which we find in Coffee-houses” ( 197). This method of collecting information from the coffeehouses is how Steele and Addison wrote anonymously in real life.

There are two different types of men that arrive at the coffeehouse as the day grows busy, “men who have business or good sense in their faces, and come to the coffee-house either to transact affairs or enjoy conversation” (198). The tone that Mr. Spectator uses to describe these men he sees is not in a condescending tone but rather explanatory he goes through each type of man that can be seen at the coffeehouse. For example, he says “Every man about him has, perhaps, a news-paper in his hand; but none can pretend to guess what step will be taken in any one court of Europe ‘till Mr. Beaver has thrown down his pipe, and declares what measures the allies must enter into upon this new posture of affairs” (198).

We also looked at No. 69, which describes Mr. Spectator’s fondness of the Royal Exchange. This letter contains beautiful language and captures the intensity of the feelings he feels for the people he encounters at the royal exchange. For example, “As I am a great lover of mankind, my heart naturally overflows with pleasure at the sight of a prosperous and happy multitude, insomuch that at many public solemnities I cannot forbear expressing my joy with tears that have fallen down my cheeks” (278).

Overall, Addison and Steele wrote in a well-written style that reads with both wit and beautiful language. The purpose of these newsletters was not to criticize or pass judgment on those topics or people that each newsletter covered but rather to instruct and educate on important issues of the time. This included such issues as the Tories vs. the Whigs or increasing female readership. He says, “But there is none to whom this paper will be more useful, than to the female world. I have often thought there has not been sufficient pains taken in finding out proper employments and diversions for the fair ones” (47).

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The Steam-Engine Whistles, “Choo Choo Chevalier”

Author: Michael Chevalier

Book: Society Manners and Politics in the United States (1833-1835)

Publisher: Weeks, Jordan and Company in Boston, 1839

Michael Chevalier was a French engineer and free market liberal who made various observations during his trip to the United States. Sent by the French to inspect American institutions, Chevalier reflects on his trip through various letters which touch upon American prisons, the banking industry, railroads, factories, democracy and religion.

We specifically analyzed Letter XI titled “Lowell” and Letter XII titled “The Factory Girls of Lowell”. Chevalier structures these letters by setting up a descriptive introduction to the town of Lowell. Literary journalism’s unit of construction is scene and thus Chevalier implements this quality by using the town of Lowell as a “poster child” to display his observations of the American lifestyle.

Chevalier set the scene of Lowell for his audience with details of every observation he could recollect. For example, when first introducing the town of Lowell he states, “It is a pile of huge factories, each five, six, or seven stories high, and capped with a little white belfry, which strongly contrasts with the red masonry of the building, and is distinctly projected on the dark hills in the horizon” (128). Chevalier provides descriptive language which denotes size, color, and location. These are all elements that bring success in his literary journalism.

Moving to Letter XII: “The Factory Girls of Lowell”, Chevalier’s language becomes even more sophisticated as he brings the steam-engine to life . For example, he writes, “Is there any thing which gives a higher idea of the power of man, than the steam-engine under the form in which it is applied to produce motion on railroads? It is more than a machine, it is almost a living being; it moves, it runs like a courser at the top of his speed; more than this, it breathes; the steam which issues at regular periods from the pipes, and is condensed into a white cloud, resembles the quick breathing of a racehorse” (135).


Chevalier’s desire to understand what makes America so great is displayed through these descriptive details of a locomotive engine. He firmly believes that the machine will liberate the people as evident when he says, “A steam-engine has a complete respiratory apparatus, which acts like our own by expansion and compression it wants only a system of circulation to live” (135).

Lastly, Chevalier displays control of a pertinent element of literary journalism: comparison. He compares American and English culture to French culture. For example, he writes, “The manners of the English race are totally different from those of us French; all their habits and all their notions wholly unlike ours” (138).

His greatest comparison that he makes among these cultures is their different religious practices: “The Protestant education, much more than our Catholic discipline, draws round each individual a line over which it is difficult to step” (138). He digs deeper into these religious differences by discussing the meaning behind the day of Sunday. He writes, “In regard to Sunday, which with us is a holiday, a day of amusement and gaiety, it is here a day of retirement, meditation, silence and prayer” (142).

Overall, these two readings that we analyzed display that Chevalier was a sophisticated literary journalist who focused on the depth of his observations in America through his example of the town of Lowell, sophisticated and detailed metaphors, and most importantly, the element of comparison.

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What the Dickens is He Saying?

Author: Charles Dickens

Book Title: American Notes for General Circulation

Published by: Baudry’s European Library in Paris, 1842


For today’s class we read some literary work by the famous English writer Charles Dickens. While many people know him for his great works of fiction, such as Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, he actually started out as a journalist in the early 1800’s. We read a couple excerpts from his book American Notes for General Circulation, which contains a series of descriptions and observations of America from his English eyes.

In this entry we will be looking at Chapter Four, entitled: “An American Railroad, Lowell and its Factory System.” In this chapter, Dickens describes his experience riding on an American railroad to and from the emerging city of Lowell, and what he sees in the factory system and workers there. We are going to focus on Dickens’ description of the American railroad, which seems to us to be a rather biased viewpoint.

Throughout the written observations, Dickens is constantly comparing the American ways to the English ones. These English references make it evident that he is writing for an English audience rather than American one. For example, in one description he writes, “Now you emerge for a few brief minutes on an open country, glittering with some bright lake or pool, broad as many an English river” (76). Later on, he describes the writings of the factory girls by saying that they, “compare advantageously with a great many English annuals” (83).

This contrast between England and America also allows for Dickens’ disdain to shine through in his observations of some of the American practices. One way he does this is through using extremely descriptive language and specific details. These distasteful observations especially are evident when Dickens describes his experience on the railroad. He writes that, “The cars are like shabby omnibusses” (75). The stove is “red-hot” and “insufferably close” (76). Of the scenery, he describes, “Mile after mile of stunted trees” with “many mere logs half hidden in the swamp, others moldered away to spongy chips” (77).

Not only does Dickens use his power of words to paint America in a negative light, but he also focuses on specific points and exaggerates them to do so. He integrates dialogue into his observations, although it does not seem to be from a specific interaction, but instead a sort of parody of a stereotypical American. Dickens describes the conversation between himself and the American, who repeatedly just asks, “Yes?” and refuses to accept that the Englishman’s trains are faster and better (76). Not only that, but you supposedly learn that wherever you are going, you can’t get there without immense difficulty and danger.

Furthermore, the land that the American railroad travels through is not nearly up to Dickens’ standards. Stunted trees, stumps, stagnant water; just to be broken up by a station in the woods that have the “wildest impossibility” of anyone wanting to get out, only rivaled by the “desperate hopelessness” of anyone wanting to get in (77-78). We would like to inquire if Dickens asked anybody why these stations were built (as he seems to imply their construction was extremely foolish and unnecessarily placed), but we guess the reader is to assume that the American on the railroad would not be adept enough to talk about anything other than politics, banks, or cotton, as Dickens notes.

All in all, Dickens use exaggeration, dialogue, and description, along with many interjections and comments, to present his observation of the American railroad. The result is a very English-dominated one, which of course is far superior to any American copycat equivalent.

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Fugger Family Feud

Author: Victor Klarwill

Book: The Fugger News-Letters, 1568-1605

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York & London, The Knickerbocker Press


Fig. 1: The Fugger News-Letters

The Fugger family was an extremely wealthy and influential family in Germany during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, accumulating enormous wealth from their banking practices by the sixteenth century. During their time of affluence, the family recorded and collected thousands of newsletters that were written by their network of merchants and diplomats.

The Fugger News-letters (see fig. 1) were discovered later, when their library was sold to another family in lieu of their company’s demise. While the newsletters are not considered an extremely credible history source, they did contain an enormous wealth of information on a variety of topics. More importantly, however, is their role in the development of modern journalism. The Fugger News-Letters set the stage for modern newspapers and tabloids, providing detailed accounts of economics, politics, and gossip during the time period.

A significant aspect of the Newsletters was their use of scene to explain the events. The writers would not just supply the facts at the onset of each article, but would instead take the reader through a chronological narrative of the event. When offering details, the writers would add detailed descriptions of the actions, setting, and people in the story. This use of description, and focus on scene, was a precursor for the literary journalism that would develop later on.

After reading a few of the letters, we immediately noticed varying sentence structures in each piece. Most evident was the contrast between letter 6: The Razing of the Cuilembourg House in Brussels and letter 8: Malversation of the Civic Treasurer in Antwerp.

In letter 6, the structure is set in the scene of Brussels where formerly there stood the mansion of the Count de Cuilembourg but now there is a large pillar of grey stones. This very short letter is only one long sentence and includes the engraved inscription that is on the large pillar. It is straight forward, to the point of merely broadcasting this news and there is no element of dialogue, characterization, or setup of a conflict such as in letter 7 and letter 1.

In contrast, letter 8 embodies a short sentence structure. This structure adheres to the letter’s important scene setup. Christoph Braun’s escape embodies many short, detailed descriptions in order to set the scene such as where the guards were at the time, how Braun got past them by getting water, his locations throughout the process, and his ultimate escape. It is interesting to see how different sentence structures adhere to different types of news reports and letters.

A significant attribute of the Fugger News-Letters is their use of dialogue because it gives each piece a more human and descriptive reading then a sole recounting of the facts. In the “Execution of Count Egmont and Count Horn in Brussels”, the use of dialogue adds to the stylistic nature of the piece by providing details about the Counts before their execution. It gives the reader a better understanding of the emotion they were going through. One example of this is when the Count says that “There is naught that troubles my heart or lies heavy on my conscience” just before his death.

This dialogue contributes to the overall style of the piece but because we do not know who is recording what exactly someone is saying or whether the quotes are correct or not, it is hard to judge the authenticity. For example, it seems forced when Count Egmont is lead to the King’s Bread-House and then says, “Now I have lost all hope!” especially with the use of punctuation.

Another aspect of dialogue in the Newsletters is that each story’s dialogue is very cut and dry where every line of dialogue is in a “he said” format. An example of this is all the quotes that Count Egmont or the Bishop says. They all begin either as “said to him” or “the Bishop of Ypres addressed him”. Although this aspect makes the piece less fluid, the use of dialogue makes this piece more a piece of literary journalism than a simple news story.

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