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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays by Isabel Rivers


Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays
 edited by Isabel Rivers
p. 2003
Leicester University Press
A Continuum imprint

 Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays should NOT be confused with the original Books and Their Reader in Eighteenth-Century England, published in 1982.  This volume revisits the same area of inquiry with the benefit of two decades of additional research.  This volume is a compilation of essays around the theme.  There are chapters on The Book Trades, The English Bible and its Reader in the Eighteenth Century, Theological Books from The Naked Gospel to Nemesis of Faith, The History Market in Eighteenth-Century England, Biographical Dictionaries and their Uses from Bayle to Chalmers, Review Journals and the Reading Public, Literary Scholarship and the Life of Editing and OF COURSE, The Production and Consumption of the Eighteenth-Century Poetic Miscellany.

  If a reader is actually looking for a discussion of any of the above subjects, Books and Their Readers is a must.  For a general reader, there isn't much there. Of the eight included essays, the only one with some general reader value is Review Journals and the Reading Public by Antonia Foster.  This essay gives a succinct summary of the origins of literary criticism, and anyone who writes or reads literary criticism or any of its descendants would do well to take the half hour it takes to read this brief essay.

  In Foster's telling, literary criticism was invented because of an upsurge in both titles available and readers.  This development happened in England, in the mid 18th century, although Foster does reference a French journal from the 16th century that inspired the English writers.  The origins of literary criticism are tied to publishers- several of the early critical journals were founded by publishers themselves.

  The original justification for literary criticism was to provide a guide to the public as to whether they should spend their money or not on a particular book.  When one considers the self-righteous path that criticism took into the 20th and 21st century, the financial/practical considerations which lay behind the origins of literary criticism are worth taking into account. bv

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