Beginning in the 18th century and continuing throughout the 19th century, circulating libraries became an integral part of the literary marketplace as the chief means of distributing books. Subscribers paid an annual or per-book fee to rent volumes: during the Victorian period, the typical subscription rate was one guinea (21s) per year to borrow one volume at a time. The relatively high price of books made circulating libraries an economical means for many middle-class families to access books: for less than the price of one three-volume novel (one-and-a-half guineas, or 31s 6d), a subscriber could borrow dozens if not more volumes. Hundreds of circulating libraries existed during the Victorian period, but the two largest were Mudie’s Select Library (1842–1937) and W. H. Smith and Son’s Subscription Library (1860–1961). Mudie’s, headquartered in London, had upwards of 50,000 subscribers, established branches in other major cities, and shipped books around the world. W. H. Smith added a library department to its pre-existing network of railway bookstalls with larger branches in major cities. Between them, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith became the largest purchasers of books and thereby had a direct and indirect effect on Victorian literature. In particular, the three-volume novel system—whereby the high price limited sales to the libraries who then had a monopoly on new fiction—encouraged British readers to become book borrowers instead of book buyers. The format of the three-volume novel led to certain generic conventions influencing areas such as characterization, plot, and style, which remained until the format was abolished in 1894. Since the libraries, especially Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, largely controlled the distribution of literature, they often exerted an informal censorship on literature which some authors, such as George Moore, advocated against.
Circulating Libraries in the Victorian Era
Troy J. Bassett
Early Modern Regional Drama
Early modern regional drama produced in England between the Reformation and the closure of the public theaters in 1642 can be divided into three categories: provincial performances by touring playing companies; entertainments and masques staged by civic, ecclesiastical, and aristocratic hosts during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses; and drama produced by towns, cities, and communities themselves. There are also many instances of performances where these three categories overlap or interact. Touring companies under royal or noble patrons performed in a variety of locations upon visiting settlements in the provinces: in guildhalls, inn, churches and churchyards, open spaces, noble or gentry households, or, on a few occasions, purpose-built regional playhouses. There is extensive evidence of touring companies playing in the provinces across England and Wales until the 1620s, although there were fewer opportunities for patronized touring companies under the Stuarts and greater incentives and rewards for performing in London and (from 1608) in the new indoor theaters. Drama also came to the provinces during Tudor and Stuart royal progresses in the form of shows and masques staged in urban communities, elite domestic houses, and at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The heyday of such entertainments was during Elizabeth I’s reign; between 1559 and 1602 the queen visited over 400 individual and civic hosts. The reigns of James I and Charles I saw far fewer progresses into the provinces and the principal focus of Stuart royal spectacle was court masque and London’s Lord Mayor’s shows. Nevertheless, the monarch and royal family were entertained around the country from the 1620s until the 1630s, and Ben Jonson played a key role in scripting some of the provincial masques staged. Early modern regional drama also took the form of civic- and parish-based biblical plays and pageants that continued medieval guild-based performance traditions. Drama was also performed in provincial schools and in the universities, as well as in private households, throughout the period. Examining early modern drama from a regional perspective, and identifying how, where, and why drama was performed across the country, enables the construction of a broader and more complex understanding of theater and performance as a whole in the 16th and 17th centuries. When it comes to reflecting the wider social, geographical, and gender demographics of early modern England, regional drama is shown to offer a more truly representative, inclusive conception of national drama in this period than that which is predicated on London-based material alone.
Fashion and Fiction in the 19th Century
In the new middle-class world of 19th-century Europe and America, whose development parallels that of the realist novel, dress was a clear sign of order and hierarchy—key subjects of the genre’s concerns. In the shift from a traditional aristocratic order to that of the bourgeoisie, dress was of anxious concern to those who lived through this change. It was a minefield, and failure to navigate its codes courted disaster: Dress could conceal and flatter, but also betray, deceive, and seduce—all of which provided the novelist with powerful material. The quest for social and economic success was central to the novelistic plot, though this took one trajectory for men and another for women—whose goal was matrimony. The French Revolution, Honoré de Balzac explained, banished hierarchies, and in dress left only nuances, which became increasingly important to the novel: details were foregrounded, while outfits as a whole were understood. In mid-19th century England, Charles Dickens, considered the quintessential realist, in fact used dress sporadically for comic effect or quirks to identify a character; the role of dress in William Thackeray’s novels, on the other hand, were more structured, often symbolic. By late in the century, men were less interesting in dark suits. As women were now more visible in work and in public spaces, their clothes became of concern to the novelist. Male dress was about hierarchy and status, female dress about cost, taste, and, above all, morality. Husband–hunting heroines advisedly wore white, but novelists grew less judgmental of the pleasures of dress. In allegedly classless America, women enjoyed greater social freedoms than in Europe, producing more nuanced approaches to fictional dress. For Henry James, dress was a “brick” in his House of Fiction; sparingly deployed but crucial. Stereotypes were questioned, as was “proper” dress. Throughout the 19th-century novel, clothes and money interacted in relation to family and inheritance. Fin de siècle America was both immensely wealthy and class-conscious, and Edith Wharton, though a member of New York’s elite, confronted her consumerist society with what its frivolity could destroy.
Literature, the Book, and the Bible in the Renaissance
In response to the politics of the Reformation, the 16th and 17th centuries witnessed a proliferation of bibles translated into vernacular languages. Owing to a ban on translating bibles in England without express permission, English Bible translation was especially connected to Protestantism. English bibles were influenced by Protestant bibles printed in continental Europe, were legitimized through Welsh translation, and went on to inform translation in Ireland and New England. Bible translation was a transnational and transhistorical endeavor that influenced literature and everyday life.
Nationalism and Globalization in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction
Since the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the nation-state has risen to be the dominant form of political organization in the world through its embodiment of the principle of nationalism—that nations should be sovereign unto themselves. The post-1945 era, however, has seen an intensification in the processes of globalization, characterized by the rise of international telecommunications networks; the increasing and accelerated movement of finance capital, labor, and cultural commodities; and the consolidation of supranational and transnational organizations that operate beyond national borders. Although it is commonplace to see the era of globalization inaugurating the decline, if not altogether the obsolescence, of the nation-state, it is more accurate and useful to analyze the particular ways in which globalization has transformed the nature and functions of the nation-state, especially its cultural identities, its existence as a unified economic unit, and the scope of its political sovereignty. Indeed, reading different developments in the cultural, economic, and political realms suggests that the impact of globalization on the nation-state is uneven and partial, rather than teleological in its advancement. Contemporary anglophone fiction has turned to addressing the complex entanglements between the nation and globalization in multiple and heterogeneous ways. Some fiction melancholically looks back to the political legacies of Third World nationalisms that promised universal emancipation to their citizens, only to chart their subsequent disappointments as the ruling elite of postcolonial nation-states continued to perpetuate legacies of imperialism. Other novels celebrate the syncretic and diasporic transnational identities—and the hybridization of national identities—that emerge through sustained contact with other cultural milieus via the processes of globalization. Still others depict the depredations that economic globalization visits on developed and developing nations alike, albeit in different ways and in different degrees. And many contemporary novels engage with the continuing political sovereignty of the nation-state in the face of human rights violations and planetary catastrophes, reflecting on the role of literature in circumventing the authority of the state and bringing distant suffering to a global audience.