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Romantic Readers

Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia

H. J. Jackson
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Romantic Readers
    Book Description:

    When readers jot down notes in their books, they reveal something of themselves-what they believe, what amuses or annoys them, what they have read before. But a close examination of marginalia also discloses diverse and fascinating details about the time in which they are written. This book explores reading practices in the Romantic Age through an analysis of some 2,000 books annotated by British readers between 1790 and 1830.This period experienced a great increase in readership and a boom in publishing. H. J. Jackson shows how readers used their books for work, for socializing, and for leaving messages to posterity. She draws on the annotations of Blake, Coleridge, Keats, and other celebrities as well as those of little known and unknown writers to discover how people were reading and what this can tell us about literature, social history, and the history of the book.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12949-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. introduction: The Reading Environment
    (pp. 1-59)

    What did the reading environment feel like to Romantic readers? Exciting. Unstable. The period is so routinely portrayed as an age of revolution that it is hardly surprising that even the peaceful occupation of reading is sometimes said to have been revolutionized during those turbulent years.¹ At the time, commentators in the press alerted their readers to the remarkable upheavals they were experiencing. These days, historians like to quote the memoirs of the rags-to-riches bookseller James Lackington, published in 1791, which claimed that the poorest country laborers ‘‘now shorten the nights by hearing their sons and daughters read tales, romances,...

  6. chapter one Mundane Marginalia
    (pp. 60-120)

    The case for the centrality of print in British culture in the Romantic period does not rest on the impact of a handful of great works or popular best-sellers but on the widespread everyday service of publications of all kinds. It is hard to speak up for the everyday: it seems dull or low or self-evident, therefore uninteresting. It is by definition tedious, if we let definitions go unquestioned. The everyday of two hundred years ago, however, has a degree or two of exotic glamour more than the everyday that we are used to, so I turn first to the...

  7. chapter two Socializing with Books
    (pp. 121-197)

    We have already noticed some readers referring to books as though they were living friends—Dibdin, for example, walking abroad with Pope, Dryden, or Milton ‘‘as my companion’’ for the day. Hester Piozzi similarly describes ‘‘our Leather-coated Friends upon the Shelves; who give good Advice, and yet are never arrogant and assuming’’ (Letters,4:221). When Coleridge left Southey after an extended visit, Southey registered both loss and consolation: ‘‘Coleridge is gone for Devonshire and I was going to say I am alone, but that the sight of Shakspeare, and Spenser, and Milton, and the Bible, on my table, and Castanheda, and...

  8. chapter three Custodians to Posterity
    (pp. 198-248)

    Romantic readers were hunter-gatherers by training and necessity. They sought out and assembled useful bits of writing even if they could only transcribe and not own them; some of the poorest among them cherished chapbooks and broadsides and salvaged odd volumes. Even the Cheap Repository Tracts that were often distributed free were advertised as collectible items. The activity of these readers is partially registered in the books they wrote in. To us who follow, those books all appear as artefacts, though some were and are more obviously artefactual than others. This chapter deals with the deliberate marking and adapting of...

  9. chapter four The Reading Mind
    (pp. 249-298)

    Earlier chapters aimed to establish the common environment of readers in Britain in the Romantic period and to lay out the evidence of their marginalia. The time has come to bring that evidence to bear on the question we started with: what can we learn or infer from these marginalia about the experience of reading at the time? But the question itself is open to so many objections that it might appear to be hardly worth raising. Perhaps the way to begin is briefly to consider obvious objections and attempt to clarify the issues. Then the question might be reformulated...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 299-306)

    Let us return to the questions with which this study began. What does the evidence of marginalia have to contribute to the history of reading in Britain? Though the response must be as provisional as the survey was limited, it is possible to sketch out some answers by approaching the question from three different angles. What does the evidence reveal about the history of marginalia? About actual readers? About the history of reading in general?

    In the English-speaking world of the early twenty-first century, writing notes in books is almost universally condemned as a selfish and messy business, so unless...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 307-324)
  12. Bibliography of Books with Manuscript Notes
    (pp. 325-339)
  13. Bibliography of Secondary Sources
    (pp. 340-352)
  14. Index
    (pp. 353-366)