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  • London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800–1850 by Joseph Rezek
  • Melissa J. Homestead (bio)
London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800–1850. By Joseph Rezek. ( Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Pp. 286. Cloth, $59.95.)

Like Meredith McGill's American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting (Philadephia, 2003) and Trish Loughran's The Republic in Print: Print Culture and U.S. Nation Building, 1770–1870 (New York, 2007), London and the Making of Provincial Literature is ambitious in its scope and argument and fundamentally challenges our understanding of the nation as a category of analysis in American book history of the first half of the nineteenth century. Joseph Rezek offers a bracing reorientation of the literary market in the early nineteenth century, arguing that the United States shared with Scotland and Ireland a provincial orientation toward London as a center of English-language publishing. In The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA, 2004), Pascale Casonova uses Pierre Bourdieu's literary sociology to argue that Paris's dominance in the early twentieth century set an aesthetic program for modernism across the globe. Rezek, also relying on Bourdieu, similarly focuses on how an orientation toward London in the "Anglophone Atlantic" by Irish, Scottish, and American authors registered at the level of aesthetics; he also argues, however, that these authors embraced the market in a search for aesthetic prestige, rather than disavowing commercial success (13).

Rezek's introduction situates the dilemma of the provincial author in relation to Enlightenment aesthetic theories and defines the "aesthetics of provinciality" as a "range of representational modes" that "vacillate [End Page 555] between national and universal conceptions of art" but ultimately "takes refuge in the belief that literature enjoys an exalted role in human affairs" (15). Chapter 1 synthesizes published scholarship on the history of the book in Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and England in order to recast these histories as a heretofore unrecognized "interconnected system" with London at its center (25). After this sweeping, rapid, and highly persuasive survey of half a century in fifteen pages, in Chapter 2 Rezek zooms in for a finely grained archival case study of the complex negotiations between Edinburgh, London, and American publishers over the circulation of Walter Scott's historical novels (a version of this chapter appeared in Early American Studies in 2013). Notably, as a literary historian Rezek close reads "the language of the book trade" as "an expressive form, a means of establishing credit in business negotiations, and a performative rhetoric of the marketplace" (41). His third chapter reads novels by Irish authors Maria Edgeworth and Sydney Owenson in light of London's centripetal pull in the book trade, arguing that these authors' developing literary strategies (namely the marriage plot, travel narratives, and paratextual apparatuses) enabled them to "project an ideal relationship with English readers that downplays the otherwise vexed political intercourse between Ireland and England" (63). He turns in Chapter 4 to Washington Irving, first analyzing Irving's engagement with reprinted British texts during his two years editing the Analectic Magazine (1813–1815), and then analyzing how being taken up by London publisher John Murray for the second volume of his Sketch Book (1819–1820) spurred Irving to undertake a transformative revision of individual stories and to add and revise materials he had first written for the Analectic. The result, as Rezek argues through a fascinating close reading of revisions both large and small, is a version of the Sketch Book that differs fundamentally from Irving's initial nationalist conception in its "promot[ion of] Anglo-American literary fellowship" (102).

In a somewhat disorienting move chronologically, Rezek's next chapter juxtaposes the London editions of James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers (1823) and Walter Scott's The Heart of the Midlothian (1818). Rezek locates in Scott's novel an allegory of its "relation to the marketplace" through the "pilgrimage from Edinburgh to London" by a central Scottish character; her journey doubled "the journey most copies of a Waverley novel took from Scott's Edinburgh printers to England for distribution" (116). Rezek finds Cooper's address to English...


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