24 April 2013

Literature and the Book Trade

Please join us for the next seminar of Inventions of the Text 2012/13

Literature and the Book TradeProfessor David Duff

Trinity College Dublin


Wednesday 1st May 2013

5:30 – 7:00 pm

Department of English Studies, Hallgarth House Seminar Room


Speaker: Dr. Clemens Ruthner, University of Aberdeen

A significant feature of the Romantic book world is the ‘prospectus’, a type of printed flyer (typically between one and four pages long) used to announce a projected book, series, journal or newspaper. Associated particularly with subscription publishing and with expensive, large-scale ventures such as encyclopaedias and other multi-volume series, the genre acquired new visibility in this period as the publishing industry expanded, periodicals proliferated, and pre-selling techniques became more common. In the revolutionary 1790s, prospectuses took on an increasingly polemical tone, often becoming a form of pamphlet or manifesto, as in Coleridge’s ‘flaming Prospectus’ to The Watchman and the much-cited Prospectus to The Anti-Jacobin, while also heralding an ever-widening range of publications (and lecture series) across literature, science and other fields. At once preview and overview, foretaste and rationale, the prospectus shares with other paratextual devices like the ‘preface’ an anticipatory and explanatory function, but differs in its more speculative emphasis, since the announced work may not (and often did not) appear, its realisation being dependent in part on the response of prospective readers/investors to the announcement itself. The incorporation of the prospectus into the metalanguage and generic repertoire of literary Romanticism, most famously in Wordsworth’s description of a seminal passage from his unfinished philosophical poem The Recluse as ‘a kind of Prospectus of the design and scope of the whole poem’, thus raises a number of interesting questions. On the one hand, it epitomises the provisional, preparatory quality of Romantic writing, interpretable positively in terms of a Schlegelian poetics of the fragment or sketch (and as an especially confident form of theoretical self-reflection), or negatively along the lines of Peacock’s Paper Money Lyrics, which satirise contemporary poetry, with its over-ambition and dismal record of completion, as a series of worthless promissory notes. On the other hand, it offers further evidence of what Andrew Piper calls the Romantic ‘bibliographic imagination’, the saturation of Romantic aesthetic discourse in the language and logic of book-making, notwithstanding writers’ problematic relationship to publishers and deep- seated mistrust of the reading public. My paper will explore these questions, charting the development of the genre and term, and treating a wide range of prospectuses and prospectus-like writings from the period 1770 to 1820.


 David Duff is Professor of English and Research Coordinator for English Literature in the School of Language & Literature. A graduate of the University of York, from where he holds a doctorate, he taught in Poland at the Nicholas Copernicus University of Torun and the University of Gdansk before joining the staff at Aberdeen. He has also been a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, and a guest lecturer at other American and European universities. He is a founding member of the English Department's Centre for the Novel and a contributor to the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. His professional affiliations include membership of the British Association of Romantic Studies, the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, and the European Society for the Study of English. He is Chair of the Council for College and University English and a Fellow of the English Association.

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