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MARK ITTENSOHN “A Story Telling and a Story Reading Age”: Textuality and Sociability in the Romantic Frame Tale I N RECENT YEARS, ROMANTIC STUDIES HAS COME TO DEVOTE MORE AND more attention to the period’s conception of sociability in connection with the production and dissemination of literary texts.1 What is often stressed in contemporary scholarship is that behind Romanticism’s ro­ mance with individualism and solitariness lay an environment of sociable and interpersonal exchange that decisively conditioned the parameters un­ der which texts were actually produced. As William St. Clair notes: “[w]hatever the initial transfer from mind to paper, the creation of a text was seldom a solitary activity. ”2 In Romantic Sociability, their recent standard volume on the topic, Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite stress that the elucida­ tion of individual modes and forms of sociability during the Romantic pe­ riod has two chief benefits. First, it helps further contextualize Romantic works, since, as they note, various types ofinterpersonal exchange “formed i. The best classic examples are without a doubt Jeffrey N. Cox, Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School: Keats, Shelley, Hunt and their Circle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Jack Stillinger, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of the Solitary Genius (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). More recently, these studies have been joined by more broad and internationally wide-ranging works such as: Angela Esterhammer, Ro­ manticism and Improvisation, 1750—1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Tim Fulford, Romantic Poetry and Literary Coteries: The Dialect of the Tribe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Jon Mee, Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention and Community 1762 to 1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Gilllian Russell, Women, Sociability and Theatre in Georgian London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Russell and Tuite, eds., Romantic Sociability: Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 1770—1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Susanne Schmid, ed., Einsamkeit und Geselligkeit um 1800 (Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag Winter, 2008); Susan Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). 2. St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 158. SiR, 55 (Fall 2016) 393 394 MARK ITTENSOHN the sociable contexts in which literary production was discussed, circulated and sometimes created.”3 Second, and more importantly, Russell and Tuite emphasize that an engagement with the period’s conceptions of interper­ sonal exchange reveals sociability as a “kind of text in its own right,” one that was not solely restricted to real life exchanges (dinner parties, debating clubs, salons), but that came to be reiterated in particular text-types of the period such as diaries, letters, and, above all, periodical publications.4 Such observations not only generate additional knowledge about the period, they also carry considerable revisionist traction. Romantic sociability, these views suggest, has too long been overshadowed by an overt emphasis on textuality and its function as a substitutional medium. It is commonly acknowledged that the Enlightenment conceived of writing as an effective aid to sociability since it enabled conversation across geographical or national-political boundaries.5 Such perceptions no longer subordinated the written to the spoken word, but merged them into a pro­ ductive symbiosis, thereby reworking such classic conceptualizations as Plato’s in Phaedrus where texts are figured as particularly incompetent social beings.6 As critics ofthe early Romantic period have emphasized, however, this more or less equated relationship between the written and the sociable was undergoing a broad shift in cultural response by the turn of the cen­ tury.7 In 1790s Britain, the production and dissemination of textuality was steadily rising, aided by increased literacy rates and new publishing technol­ ogies, while the traditional eighteenth-century values ofsociability seemed, by contrast, to lose their footing. Haunted by governmental repression of free speech and radical thinking, and in many ways sublimated by the pos­ sibilities of (anonymous) textual production, the famous model of coffee­ house sociability, so vital to the project ofthe eighteenth-century Republic ofLetters, moved more and more into the cultural margin.8 In 1790, for in­ stance, the Edinburgh journal The Bee suggested to its readers that the tex3 . Russell and Tuite, “Introducing Romantic Sociability,” in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 393-415
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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