The introduction makes the case for age as a crucial—and overlooked—analytic for reading nineteenth-century American literature. It offers a brief historical overview of how chronological age became a key rubric in the organization of social and political life. Over the course of the century, age was added to the census; schools were organized around age groups; birthday cards were mass-produced; geriatrics became a medical specialty. The chapter argues that American literature serves as a rich, critical account of this modern culture of age, demonstrating how our most well-known writers registered––and often resisted—age expectations, particularly as they applied to women and people of color.
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