William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxix + 765pp., 765 pp., £90, $150.00 (Pbk.,; 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-81006-7). (paperback edition), 796 pp., $43.99.
Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750-1850. Eds. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, and Peter Garside. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xi + 242pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-333-96455-2).
Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820. Eds. Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. ix + 263pp. $99.00 (Pbk., 2007: ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03714-3).
Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800. Eds. George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker. Cambridge University Press, 2002. x + 245pp. $90.00 (ISBN-13: 9780521808569).
Simon Fraser University
In the last decade, historians of the book have held forth the possibility that material culture might provide us with a compelling account of the historical uniqueness and special tenor of Romantic-era literary culture. By examining the dramatic rise in print publication that began in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, the Romantic period may be more easily distinguished both from what came before (the more stable rate of print production that prevailed through most of the eighteenth century) and what came after (the even larger rise in print production and emergence of a truly mass reading public in the Victorian era, enabled by new forms of mechanical reproduction—iron presses powered by steam, industrial paper-making, stereotyping, and lithography). The four books under review demonstrate the potentially transformative effect of a rigorous empiricism on literary studies, as it seeks to supplement and even supersede the more anecdotal and impressionistic material histories that preceded them.