Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book: Writers and Publishers in England, 1650-1800

Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book: Writers and Publishers in England, 1650-1800

Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book: Writers and Publishers in England, 1650-1800

Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book: Writers and Publishers in England, 1650-1800

Excerpt

The publishing practices of the eighteenth-century England may strike the contemporary bibliophile as strange. For example, who today would pay money for an installment of a book that had been in print already for thirty years? Or, imagine that the sales clerk at the local bookstore let a customer take a book without paying, trusting that he or she would pay for it at an unspecified time in the future. The books themselves would probably look strange too. Not many contemporary novelists include an index of important lines at the back of their latest novels. It is unlikely that a major publishing house today would issue a book under an untraceable pseudonym. As James Raven and others have documented, the eighteenth century was a period of massive transitions in the printing and book trades which ultimately yielded a book that was recognizably modern.1 Attention to publishing has traditionally been the province of book historians, but recent work in that field has made visible important aspects of the material book that have been overlooked by literary scholars. Notably, the dominant media forms shifted from handwritten manuscripts of personal exchange to regularized, commercialized print productions. Perhaps more significantly, the very idea of the book itself changed from a collective entity of mobile contents to a unified, organic, fixed form. It is time to investigate how this information affects our understanding of literary culture. This collection of essays takes up the questions that emerge when we look at eighteenth-century writing through the lens of book history.

More than ever before, students of eighteenth-century literature have an obligation to know the historical and material realities of the production of literature in our period. Research in bibliography and book history, greatly aided by the advent of new technologies in digital information, has made it possible for scholars to work from a more complex and quantitative understanding of the explosion of print and its repercussions. The foundational work of the English Short Title Catalogue and its electronic database has informed the creation of two important digitized collections for our period, Early English Books Online . . .
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