David Stewart. Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture

By Mulcahy, Clare | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

David Stewart. Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture


Mulcahy, Clare, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


David Stewart. Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 272 pp.; $85.00 ISBN: 9780230251786

In Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture, David Stewart makes a claim for labelling the decade following the end of the Napoleonic wars, the years between 1815 and 1825, the "age of magazines" (I). Stewart situates himself amongst other scholars of Romantic literature such as William St. Clair and Jon P. Klancher by noting that the Romantic period witnessed an explosion in the number of periodicals published; for many members of the United Kingdom, this explosion provoked anxiety about the state of literature and readership. The expansion in the reading public was mirrored by an expansion of the metropolitan population, which was commonly perceived as increasingly and bewilderingly heterogeneous during this period of time. Stewart reaches into new territory in scholarship on the Romantic press by arguing that, whereas other writers sought stability and unity through their writing, magazine writers responded playfully to these dramatic changes in urban culture and reading publics. Magazine writers, Stewart states, deliberately reflected the heterogeneity and instability of the metropolis and reading public by creating heterogeneous and unstable magazines. Stewart provides important insight into the ways that magazine writers experimented with styles, formats, and topics in this decade of uncertainty before the medium of the magazine became fixed and definable.

In order to ground his argument in text, Stewart offers a wealth of excerpts from Romantic magazines. He covers a variety of magazines, from Leigh Hunt's The Examiner to Henry Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, but focuses primarily on Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine as emblematic of experimental magazines published between 1815 and 1825. Similarly, Stewart takes Gentleman's Magazine as representative of traditional conventions of magazine writing in order to describe magazine styles and structures that preceded Blackwood's. Gentleman's Magazine remained consistent in its format since its establishment in 1731: it was composed of letters written to the Gentleman's fictional editor, Sylvanus Urban. Though Gentleman's was innovative in its time in that it provided short articles on a wide range of topics, it imagined its reading public as a homogeneous group of cultured, well-read gentlemen. By the time period under discussion in Stewart's book, Gentleman's had become outdated and defined itself in opposition to up-and-coming magazines such as Blackwood's. First published in 1817, Blackwood's operated under the assumption that its audience could be simultaneously interested in a number of disparate pieces of writing. To that end, Blackwood's took pleasure in leaping rapidly from subject to subject, creating a chaotic but entertaining reading experience. Blackwood's further bewildered its readers by introducing a number of named writers to its staff who were all fictional yet wrote in distinctive and highly personal styles. These fictional writers starred in ongoing casual conversations, entitled "Noctes Ambrosianae," which served to both create a sense of community amongst the writers and readers and to remind the reading public that these figures were not flesh-and-blood. …

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