Romantic Periodicals and Print Culture

Romantic Periodicals and Print Culture

Romantic Periodicals and Print Culture

Romantic Periodicals and Print Culture

Synopsis

Comprising a number of essays that discuss periodical writing during the British Romantic era this volume provides an analysis of how periodical articles influenced early 19th century debates on social issues like gender, marriage and celibacy.

Excerpt

Stephen C. Behrendt

Ours is not the first age to fuss about the role and function of “the media” in public—and therefore political—life. in the twenty-first century “the media” is increasingly both “mass” and electronic, but its powers—and the fears about them that arise from seemingly all quarters—bear some remarkable similarities to the situation that existed in Great Britain two centuries ago. the Romantic era witnessed a wholesale redefinition of the relationships of individual citizens to the various and sometimes (but not always) overlapping communities to which they belonged—including the nation. Typically defined by the religious, economic, ideological, intellectual, or aesthetic convictions of their members, these communities were invariably partisan, reflecting the volatility of any culture during times of social and political revolution and extended war-making. Vital to all such partisanship is a mechanism for rallying support and enthusiasm behind any group’s principles and spokespersons and for demonizing its opponents and their spokespersons.

Periodical literature provided much of that mechanism during these years. While earlier periodicals had begun to transform the public sphere along the lines suggested some years ago by Jürgen Habermas, enfranchising increasing numbers of variously configured and largely male “publics” in a burgeoning discourse about ideas, the state, and civil institutions, the mid-eighteenth century periodical was nevertheless largely an eclectic, urbane, and masculinist organ that both presumed and therefore shaped a middle- to upper-class readership of well-rounded, largely cosmopolitan Britons. By the century’s end, however, the situation was much altered. Rocked by political and ideological revolution, Western Europe presented new and eager audiences whose tastes ran far from the staid standard set by those earlier periodicals. Already were emerging in England what modern media studies call “niche publications, ” periodicals whose contents were defined by the particular readerships to which they were directed. This meant greater specialization and a partitioning of the general public readership into what are now called interest groups, a phenomenon against which William Godwin had warned already in Political Justice (1793). Partisanship became both more widespread and more aggressive under these conditions, as the total number of periodicals—and therefore of real or imagined sub-readerships—multiplied. Indeed, periodical literature at the dawn of the nineteenth century . . .

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