chapter  1
35 Pages

Perplexity, myth, “hedge”

WithBarbara Ryan

Scholars agree that Ben-Hur’s sales were slow at first. I chart how sales gained energy. Presidential tributes, first recorded in fan mail of 1885, “ground” my argument that the US Presidential campaign of 1884 was a big event in Ben-Hur’s ability to please crowds. The key discovery is that in this election, lettered men took a stand that drew gendered slurs (e.g., “Miss Nancy”). As these men’s stature sagged, I argue, literary authority sagged too. Afterward, “ordinary” story lovers felt justified in ignoring lettered men’s agreement that Ben-Hur is a “failure, artistically.”