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MICHELLE LEVY Do Women Have a Book History? W RITING IN 2012 ABOUT THE EXTENSIVE SCHOLARSHIP STILL NEEDED ON women writers of the Romantic period, Anne Mellor urged that “we need broader studies of women’s participation in the entire range of print culture in the Romantic era.”2 The first half of this essay explores the theoretical and methodological strategies by which we can begin to answer Mellor’s call, by developing a woman’s book history for the Romantic pe­ riod. In doing so, I have been inspired by Mellor’s example of significantly broadening the canon, as she has done throughout her career, in both her critical and editorial work.3 Franco Moretti’s related model of “distant reading” has also guided my approach, particularly his contention that in order to grasp a literary field as a whole, scholars must devise strategies that allow us to zoom out to take in a wider view. The second part ofthis essay offers a specific case study ofwomen’s pub­ lishing history of the period, exploring an unexamined archive of the cor­ respondence of 80 women with four publishing houses. The survey of this collection begins not only to broaden but also to revise our understanding of women’s involvement in literary culture, putting pressure on received understandings of the print marketplace and women’s professionalism within it. I. Building Bridges: Book History and Feminist Literary History Robert Darnton’s 1982 essay “What is the History of Books?” proposed what became a highly influential model for conceptualizing such a history, I. My title echoes Joan Kelly-Gadol’s landmark essay, “Did Women Have a Renais­ sance?” in Becoming Visible: Women in European History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 137—64, and Anne Mellor’s own essay “Were Women Writers ‘Romantics’?” 2. In “Thoughts on Romanticism and Gender,” 346. 3. Mellor’s influential anthology, co-edited with Richard E. Matlak, British Literature 1780—1830, contains author entries for nineteen women and selections from an additional eight, the broadest representation of female authors of any contemporary anthology; like­ wise, her Mothers of the Nation: Women’s Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 covers a very broad range of women writing in a wide variety of genres. SiR, 53 (Fall 2014) 297 298 MICHELLE LEVY The communications circuit Trees Sheep Papyrus Figure i: Robert Darnton, “The Communications Circuit," in “What is the History' of Books?”, 68. that of the “communications circuit” (fig.i), a model depicting a circuit from author to publisher, printer, shipper, bookseller, reader, and back to author, as a means ofdescribing the operation of the book trade in England and France during the print-era.4 One of the most profound contributions of Darnton’s model for literary scholars has been to re-embed authors within the larger fields of activity by which books were made and sold, dis­ tributed and read. As we know, the fantasy of the isolated writer was prop­ agated by several Romantic poets, who figured themselves as did Shelley, as “a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.”5 Book-historical approaches have been instrumental in debunking this mythology of solitary genius, as literary scholars have pro­ ductively used Darnton’s theory to examine the social networks that en­ abled the production and dissemination of printed books. Darnton’s fa­ mous diagram is, however, silent on the question of gender (as it is with respect to other important identity categories, such as class). What happens if we overlay gender onto this diagram? It becomes immediately apparent that whereas men (albeit of different classes) have occupied all positions along the circuit at all times, women have rarely done so. Scholars have be­ gun to bring gender to bear on Darnton’s model, with results that suggest 4. Robert Darnton, “What is the History of Books?”, Daedalus 111, no. 3: Representa­ tions and Realities (Summer, 1982): 65-83. 5. Percy Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry,” Essays: Lettersfrom Abroad, Translations and Erayments , 2 vols., ed. Mary' Shelley (London: Moxon, 1840), 1:14. DO WOMEN HAVE A BOOK HISTORY? 299 the importance of heeding historical and geographical variations. Some early modern feminist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 297-317
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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