Ina Ferris - Introduction | Ina Ferris | H. J. Jackson |
Ferris's introduction outlines the ways in which the essays by Heather Jackson, Deidre Lynch and Ina Ferris focus on the private and personal dimensions of bookishness and library culture in the early Romantic period.
Early nineteenth-century phenomena such as bibliomania and the figure of the "bookman" helped to spark a widespread awareness of books as printed objects and an interest in the physical dimensions of the readerly relationship to them. Taking as her focus the enormous spurt of bibliophilic writing in the early decades, Ferris looks at how its foregrounding of the physicality of books helped to unsettle key categories of identity and knowledge in the period. Resisting ideals of transfer and reproduction, bibliophilic genres produced a strangely affective book-object which posited the singularity of literate beings and inscribed them in particular and contingent histories rather than in the impersonal forces of circulation and system more typically linked to the printing press. The essay makes its argument through a reading on the one hand of the Romantic familiar essay (e.g. William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt) and, on the other, of the career of Thomas Frognall Dibdin, prolific bibliographer and premier bibliomaniac, whose reception underlines the way in which the figure of the "bookman" helped to destabilize the divisions organizing the intellectual field.
In this article, Jackson uses the familiar example of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice to outline some of the practices associated with the establishment and maintenance of a library about 1800. Besides gathering clues from the novel itself and providing information about the resources likely to have been available in or near a market town like Meryton, this essay speculates that Mr. Bennet might have been writing in his books and surveys some of the ways of writing that would have been available to him.
In this paper the "bibliomaniacs"—the blue-blooded, well-heeled book collectors who scandalized and beguiled early nineteenth-century Britain with their acquisitiveness and possessiveness—prove to be key figures for contemporary scholars' histories of the literary canon and of the notion of the literary heritage. The annals of Romantic-period bibliomania can, Lynch proposes, help us understand how those histories might be rewritten, as chapters in the history of intimacy. The bibliomaniac's enthusiasm for rare books and, more generally, for book-objects rather than the texts they housed, assisted importantly in the processes that installed "literature" within the psychic territory of people's intimate lives. To support this proposition, Lynch looks at how the bibliomaniacs' materialistic book-love haunts the pages, as it does the lives, of the Romantic essayists—Leigh Hunt, Thomas De Quincey, and Charles Lamb specifically—who appear in her paper as the first professional "lovers" of literature. In an age when ideas of the literary canon had come to be articulated with new notions of a shared national culture that was every Briton's birthright, the bibliomaniac offered the Romantic essayist lessons in how to reprivatize the stuff of the public domain. Even as the essayists chastise the plutocratic book glutton for the irrefragable materialism that makes him a mere proprietor of books rather than a reader of texts, they deliver their own commentary on canonicity's incarnation and on the possessibility that helps render a canon loveable.