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Reviews199 the nation's children — a view commonly articulated in contemporary waif fiction. Parliament and by individual observers. The idea of getting children off the street and inside the home or school, and later the statesponsored Home, while not specific to the late-nineteenth century, nevertheless occupied an increasingly important place on the social reform agenda. It was at this level that middle class ideology and working-class practice collided. If this book has any faults, it is that its stopping date, 1914, goes widiout comment. Nevertheless, this is a suggestive book that balances new evidence and sound analysis. Its extensive bibliography and wellintegrated photographs add to the merit of this study. BRENDA ASSAEL University of Toronto Lee Erickson. the Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing, 1800-1850, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. xii + 219. $35.00 US (cloth). A student of nineteenth-century writing might legitimately ask her professor why poetry seems to decline as a literary form, just at the time when die essay begins to flourish, especially since both are apparently superseded in importance when the novel comes into its own. The configurations of the conventional literary canon, as reflected in the curricula of Departments of English, make it look as if authorship as a profession moved out of one kind of writing and into odiers. Such a student will be fortunate if her teacher is plugged into the scholarly network of the history of the book, connected to the recent burgeoning of print electronic and conference discussion of audiorship, reading and publishing, because she will likely be told diat the composition and circulation of poetry and essays have continued to flourish alongside fiction. The professor will caution her that a too narrowly literary interest in only the highest-quality and longest-surviving artefacts of the book trade may obscure the way in which contemporary writers, publishers and readers categorized die works diey were producing, distributing and consuming. Lee Erickson's answer to such a student would be different: he would tell her diat changes in genre were driven by changes in technology, and that the direction of change was a decline in absolute aestiietic quality. The Economy of Literary Form approaches a literary problem in commercial terms, by recasting the 200Victorian Review question in the language of the marketplace — why did die market for poetry close up as the market for the other forms emerged? The result is an odd hybrid of a book — an economic (but not sociological or political) analysis of a problem defined in terms of literary criticism. Erickson begins with an introduction on "The Marginal Utility of Literary Form" in which he introduces die economic concept of marginal utility; his approach "offers a historical and economic reformulation of an aesthetics of literary reception that analyzes the relative marginal utility for readers of literary forms by investigating the publishing market" (8-9). Good books, he argues, offer more satisfaction to their readers than trash, because they can stand up to rereading. If books are also expensive, as they were in the first half of the nineteenth century, purchasers can be depended upon to make the sound economic decision to buy a form whose intrinsic literary value is most concentrated. When books are cheap, readers can afford to be less discriminating and the greedy publishing trade will supply them accordingly. For Erickson, mis analysis puts poetry at the top of a list that declines through the serious journalism of the essay and on down to the novel. And it draws him towards a technologically determinist explanation of the changes in the book trade at the time that population increase and extended literacy were expanding the reading public. At a time when the price of paper was high, as it was after die Napoleonic Wars and until a reliable replacement was found for rags as raw material, the compactness on the page of poetry seems to explain why Byron and Scott found so many readers. "Once die materials and means of printing became cheaper, diffuse prose was no longer at a comparative economic disadvantage widi compressed poetry" (47-8). The book is divided into three sections of two chapters...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 199-202
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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