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InfoGuides | Pepperdine Libraries

American Literature in Special Collections: 19th Century Literature

An overview highlighting 19th, 20th, and 21st American literature and poetry held in Pepperdine's Special Collections. Compilation includes first editions and copies with inscriptions from writers.

19th Century American Literature

Narrative-style writing, fiction, and the contemporary novel took grounding throughout the 19th century. Many scholars argue that the rise of the middle/working-class, “with its emphasis on social fluidity and individual self-determination,” led to increased literacy, reading, and thus production and consumption of novel-like texts (Lumen Learning). 19th century America welcomed a variety of literary genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, personal journals and letters, and writing addressing a myriad of topics like politics, science, religion, and philosophy. This page highlights a number of first editions and early editions from well-known 19th century writers: Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Maria Ward.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott


Louisa May Alcott was a passionate, imaginative writer with a simple and elegant style. Born in Pennsylvania in 1832, she began writing at age eight and published her first book by age twenty two. Alcott studied under other writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and she was also inspired by the 19th century transcendentalist movement that both she and her parents were born into. Though Little Women is at times associated with a traditionalist outlook on womanhood, Alcott was actually progressive for her time, promoting women’s rights through her writing and becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Connecticut.


Little Women; or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Louisa May Alcott 
Call Number: Children's 813.4 A355L
Alcott, Louisa May, and Hilda Van Stockum. Little Women: Or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. World Pub, 1946.
Alcott’s most well-known novel which follows the stories of four 19th-century New England sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. Little Women is a coming-of-age story in which each of the four sisters comes to reconcile with her own distinct personality and aspirations. This beloved piece has remained at the forefront of the literary canon of American classics, as it features themes of sisterhood, love,  maturation, and wisdom that surpass time and culture. This edition was published in 1946 and contains an inscription from a previous owner, reading: “Marilyn Pepperdine, December 25, 1948.” 





Moods by Louisa May Alcott 


Call Number: Children's 813.41 m    

Alcott, Louisa May, et al. Moods. Loring, Publisher, 319 Washington Street, 1864.


Third edition novel by Louisa May Alcott that has often been proposed as the first. Moods was Alcott’s first novel and features the challenges of womanhood through the interactions of a “little woman,” a spinster, and “fallen Cuban beauty” (Barnes and Noble).


Herman Melville

Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas by Herman Melville

Call Number: PS2384 .O45 1847

Melville, Herman. Omoo : A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. First ed., Harper & Brothers, 1847.undefined

First edition novel by Herman Melville, 19th-century American writer best known for his novel Moby-Dick, published four years later. Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas was Herman Melville’s second book, serving as a sequel to the story of Typee, his first novel. Omoo illustrates the influence of foreigners on Polynesian life. As Melville stated, “[-]t embraces adventures in the South Seas (of a totally different character from ‘Typee’) and includes an eventful cruise in an English Colonial Whaleman (a Sydney Ship) and a comical residence on the island of Tahiti” (qtd. Northwestern University Press).

Though Herman Melville is primarily known for his “novels of the sea” (Poetry Foundation), he was also a successful short story writer and poet. Melville undertook a variety of trades throughout his early life, including bank clerking, teaching, farming, and eventually seafaring, the experience which greatly inspired much of his writing.

Mark Twain



Mark Twain


Born with the name “Samuel Clemens,” Mark Twain was a 19th-century American writer to whom several literary classics are attributed, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout his lifetime, Twain’s financial status fluctuated, as he created his own publishing company (The Charles L. Webster Company) and just a few years later suffered  bankruptcy following several unsuccessful investments. During these challenging times, Twain turned to lecturing to regain financial stability, addressing dark and controversial topics in the process. Despite this adversity, Twain remains a central figure in the canon of American literature for his distinct regional style, humor, and profound thematic writing, and he is considered by writer William Faulkner to be the “Father of American Literature.”




The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain


Call Number:  PS1312 .A1 1879    

Twain, Mark, et al. The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims' Progress : Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land : With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author : With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. American Publishing Company, 1879.




Early edition travel book written by 19th-century author Mark Twain, listed here with a shortened version of the original title (as follows): The Innocents Abroad, or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City’s Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land: With Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents, and Adventures As They Appeared to the Author: With Two Hundred and Thirty-Four Illustrations. In this book, Twain shares his stories traveling throughout Europe, effectively embedding humor through his exaggeration and satirizing of his fellow travelers. The Innocents Abroad was Twain’s best-selling book during his lifetime.




Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography; And, First Romance by Mark Twain


Call Number: PS1322 .M37 1871

Twain, Mark, et al. Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography : And, First Romance. Sheldon & Company, 677 Broadway, Under The Grand Central Hotel, 1871.


First edition book by Mark Twain, offering a comical and inaccurate “autobiography” featuring two main figures who are allegedly part of Twain’s lineage.


A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain


Call Number: PS1321 .A1 1880 

Twain, Mark, et al. A Tramp Abroad. American Pub. Co, 1880.


Early edition novel by Mark Twain covering his travels abroad in Europe. A Tramp Abroad is often considered an “unofficial sequel” to The Innocents Abroad, through which he offers sharp-witted commentary on Old World culture and takes readers on excursions rafting down the Neckar river and climbing Mont Blanc.



Ralph Waldo Emerson

Representative Men: Seven Lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson 


Call Number:  PS1600 .E83 1890

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Representative Men : Seven Lectures. Hurst, 1890.



A series of seven lectures written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American writer known for his poetry, essays, lectures, and philosophical writings. According to Harvard University Press, Representative Men is “the most alien of Emerson’s books” and addresses the romantic concept of a single voice of truth realized through specific individuals. “It was an appreciation of genius as a quality distributed to the few for the benefit of many” (Harvard University Press). 

Much of Emerson’s work discusses nature and is philosophically-driven with Transcendental and rationalist thinking. Emerson is known for his unprecedented exploration of Asian and Middle Eastern literature and religion. Interestingly, it is in Representative Men (specifically the lecture “Plato; or, the Philosopher” found within this collection) that critics point out Emerson’s flaws and limited understanding of the East in his writings. His use of generalizations suggest his lack of concern in distinguishing between the diverse Asian and Eastern cultures.

Washington Irving


Washington Irving


Compared to many of his contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving embraced a rather hopeful, lighthearted tone. While this distinguished style brought him success in his selected genres, Edwin W. Bowen of The Sewanee Review argues that Irving’s appeal to “sensibilities” and “the heart” inhibited him from obtaining a broaderliteraryspan and impact: “There are notes he never sounded, depths and heights he never reached. The tragedy of life, the profoundest problems of human existence, the realm of philosophical speculation— these were to Irving an unexplored country which his creative mind never entered” (181-182). Yet, it is undeniable that his language, content, and tone effectively capture the nature of “America,” establishing him as a notable force in American literature.


Life of Mahomet by Washington Irving 


Call Number: BP75 .I7 1850

Irving, Washington. Life of Mahomet. Henry G. Pohn, 1850.


First edition written by Washington Irving, early 19th-century American writer known especially for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Life of Mahomet “covers the period of Muhammad’s birth in 571 to the Moorish invasion of Spain in 710 A.D.” (Pirages). Critics argue that the piece is flawed with biases familiar to Irving’s time regarding Islamic life and culture, and yet the interest of a 19th century American writer in Islam and his ability to spread information and awareness of this culture is significant. 



Old Christmas by Washington Irvingundefined


Call Number: PS2069 .C4 1876

Irving, Washington, et al. Old Christmas : From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. Macmillan, 1876.


First edition book celebrating old English Christmas traditions through a selection of thematic chapters: "Christmas," "The Stagecoach," "Christmas Eve," Christmas Day," and "The Christmas Dinner." This edition has several physical distinctions, including a green cloth case binding and a monochrome wood-engraved illustrated title page. 



Henry David Thoreau


Friendship, Love & Marriage by David Henry Thoreau


Call Number: PS3051 .F7

Thoreau, Henry David. Friendship, Love & Marriage. Roycrofters, 1910.


Philosophical book written by poet, essayist, and philosopher David Henry Thoreau, author of the well-renowned Walden. Much of Thoeau’s work is transcendental and reflective in nature, partially the result of his studies under mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, a marked transcendentalist. 




Thoreau was a student of the classics and was influenced by the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, in addition to his scientific contemporaries including Humboldt and Darwin. His works provide insight into an array of different studies including philosophy, existentialism, ontology, and politics.

Even as Thoreau grew in popularity and began producing more essays and lecturing, his main priority remained his connection with nature and the reflection of these observations in his writing, living according to his transcendentalist ideals.

James Fenimore Cooper

The Water-Witch: Or the Skimmer of the Seas, a Tale by James Fenimore Cooper 
Call Number: PS1418 .W3 1860
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Water-Witch : Or, the Skimmer of the Seas, a Tale.

W.A. Townsend, 1860.
Early edition novel by James Fenimore Cooper, first published in 1830. This edition’s preface (written after the author’s death) argues that this is Cooper’s most imaginative novel, and yet its attempt to blend realism with idealism proved too complex a task to be done successfully with the selected context and setting. Featuring a narrative romance, the story of The Water-Witch comes off as more light-hearted and less morally-superior in comparison to some of Cooper’s other works.
James Fenimore Cooper was an early 19th century American writer, well-known today for his historical, romantic novel The Last of the Mohicans. After being expelled from Yale for behavioral misconduct, Cooper joined the United States Navy, serving as a sailor and a midshipman. His experiences at sea in addition to his European travel inspired a number of his works, and some argue that his writing became increasingly political as he progressed.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Well-acclaimed for his classics The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th-century novelist and short story writer whose works remain potent in the American literary canon. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, much of Hawthorne’s works illustrate the New England, Puritan experience, “explor[ing]problems of sin, guilt, and hypocrisy through allegory and emphasis on the supernatural,” (New World Encyclopedia) in addition to other spiritual theories such as transcendentalism. Hawthorne’s contemporaries include Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, the latter of which is known for similar themes and settings in his writings.
The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Parsons Lathrop 
Call Number: PS1850 .E83 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and George Parsons Lathrop. The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Riverside ed., Printed at the Riverside Press, 1883. 
12-volume collection of Nathaniel’s Hawthorne’s works, arranged by George Parsons Lathrop and published in 1883. Only 250 copies of this edition have been printed. Contents include the following: Twice-Told Tales; Mosses From an Old Manse; The House of the Seven Gables,;The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales; A Wonder-Book: Tanglewood Tales and Grandfather’s Chair; The Scarlet Letter; The Blithedale Romance; The Marble Faun; Our Old Home; English Note-Books; Passages from the American Note-Books; Passages from the French and Italian Notebooks; The Dolliver Romance; Tales, Sketches, and Other Papers.


Doctor Grimshawe's Secret by Nathaniel Hawthorne 
Call Number: PS1856 .A1 1883a
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Doctor Grimshawe's Secret. Edited by Julian Hawthorne,

Printed at the University Press, 1883.


Hawthorne wrote Doctor Grimshawe’s Secret in 1861, but never actually completed or published the work during his lifetime. Julian Hawthorne, the 19th century writer’s son, published the work in 1883. Literary critics and historians suggest that the novel is somewhat autobiographical in nature, contending that Hawthorne reflects his own childhood guardian in the main character in addition to illustrating some of his own experiences of guilt and isolation.

Harriet Beecher Stowe


Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Negro Life in the Slave States of America: With Fifty Splendid Engravings by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Call Number: PS2954 .U5 1852f
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Cairns Collection of American Women Writers. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Negro Life in the Slave States of America : With Fifty Splendid Engravings. The people's illustrated ed., Clarke, 1852.
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Call Number: PS2954 .U5 1853
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, et al. Uncle Tom's Cabin: Or, Life among the Lowly. Illustrated ed. ed., J.P. Jewett, 1853.
Most females of the 19th century did not have the advantages or support to accomplish what Harriet Beecher Stowe pursued as a young woman. With the opportunity to receive a formal, academic education and through her career as a writer, Stowe had a unique capacity to use her voice, express her beliefs publicly, and provide income for her family. Throughout her career, Stowe published 30 books in addition to poetry, essays, and short stories. Stowe is best known for her anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was first published as a series of installments in abolitionist newspaper The National Era. Stowe contended that the story “would ‘paint a word picture of slavery’” (qtd. Harriet Beecher Stowe Center). 
Stowe's exposure to slavery likely began as a young girl, as her home state of Connecticut abolished slavery last of all the New England states. Her husband and brother were involved with the underground railroad, and as an adult she had the opportunity to hear stories from former slaves directly regarding the cruelty and brokenness they experienced. Stowe lost one of her children, Samuel Charles, when he was only 18 months old to a fight with cholera. Grieving over the loss of her son reinforced the inhumanity of the mother-child separation inherent within the slave business. This adversity, in addition to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law and the growing racial tensions of the time, inspired Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a means of illustrating this unjust reality with the hope for change.
The two copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin featured in Special Collections are both early editions, published in 1852 and 1853 respectively.









Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman is considered one of America’s most renowned 19th-century poets and is known for his celebration of “democracy, nature, love, and friendship” (Poetry Foundation). His style and approach were progressive for his time, for he often strayed from traditional rhythmic and meter patterns and echoed much of the discourse and rhetoric of biblical verse. Leaves of Grass, the collection from which the following edition originated, is Whitman’s most well-known circulating piece.
The Poems of Walt Whitman (Selected) by Walt Whitman
Call Number: PS3203 .R45
MLA: Whitman, Walt. The Poems of Walt Whitman (Selected). Walter Scott, 1886. undefined
Collection of poems drawn from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, selected and arranged by Ernest Rhys and published by Walter Scott in 1886. Countering the intended “literary elite” audience of the 1868 edition, Rhys strove through the 1886 edition to market Whitman’s work to a broader range of social and economic classes. In the book’s introduction, Rhys suggests that Whitman is a voice for all to hear and follow in his view of “Leaves of Grass as a new poetry of love and comradeship at this time of social misgiving” (x). Appealing to previously excluded audiences, Rhys contends that the poet’s works “are touched with a wider spirit, and in their sweeping music take  in the whole scope of Time and Space open to the modern mind” (x). 

Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Call Number:  PS3202 1897
Whitman, Walt. Complete Prose Works. D. McKay, 1897.
Compilation of Walt Whitman’s prose writings through six distinct sections: “Specimen Days,” “Collect,” November Boughs,” “Good Bye, My Fancy,” “Soma Laggards Yet,” and “Memoranda.” Though celebrated chiefly for his poetry, Whitman also produced beautiful and successful prose works addressing the 19th-century New York City experience, memories of the Civil War,  and other settings relevant to his time.

Maria Ward

Female Life among the Mormons: A Narrative of Many Years' Personal Experience by Maria Ward
Call Number: BX8641 .W37
Ward, Maria, et al. Female Life among the Mormons : A Narrative of Many Years' Personal Experience. J.C. Derby, 1855.
A unique narrative selection written by Maria Ward, wife of an Elder in the Mormon Church. Ward addresses what she perceives to be the oppression and cruelty of the Mormon Church, presenting her initial claims in the novel’s introduction: “Knowing, as I do know, the evils and horrors and abominations of the Mormon system, the degradation it imposes on females, and the consequent vices which extend through ramifications of the society, a sense of duty to the world has induced me to prepare the following narrative, for the public eye” (Ward v-iv). Female Life Among the Mormons is Ward’s only known piece, but historical critics have questioned the true authorship of the work in more recent decades.