Leah Price

Leah Price teaches English at Harvard. She is the author of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel.

Diary: The Death of Stenography

Leah Price, 4 December 2008

Stenography is dying out; so are stenographers. When I mention that I’m working on the history of shorthand, people tell me that their mother knew shorthand, or their grandmother, or their husband’s first wife. Google ‘stenography’ and you’ll find obituaries from small-town newspapers. Only bloggers now use the word, the new media’s name for what the old...

The ideal reader is all mind. Swept up in a virtual universe, she no longer notices hunger, heat or cold. Real readers are different. They need eyes to see the page and hands to turn it. Some lick their thumbs; others, like Sheridan’s Lady Slattern, ‘cherish their nails for the convenience of making marginal notes’. Some leave distracting, even disgusting residues. Andrew...

The Tangible Page: Books as Things

Leah Price, 31 October 2002

What exactly is book history? Literature students consulting their reference libraries would be hard put to find an answer: ‘history of the book’ appears nowhere in M.H. Abrams’s Glossary of Literary Terms or Margaret Drabble’s Oxford Companion to English Literature, and the names most ubiquitous in The Book History Reader, Roger Chartier and D.F. McKenzie, can be...

‘Très vrai!’

Leah Price, 18 October 2001

The primal scene of Marginalia takes place at a book-signing by the children’s writer Maurice Sendak. Pushed to the front of the queue by his star-struck parents, a boy begs Sendak not to ‘crap up my book’. Jackson’s central question – are marginalia crap? – has no simple answer, for her study uncovers our passionate ambivalence about unauthorised writing....

One Chapter More: Ectoplasm

Leah Price, 6 July 2000

Since Arthur Conan Doyle’s own lifetime, every mystery novelist applying to join the Detection Club in London has been required to forswear ‘Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo and Jiggery-Pokery’ along with ‘Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors and Chinamen’. Conan Doyle himself never did. In 1917, with a lacklustre medical career and three decades of best-selling Sherlock Holmes stories behind him, he announced that he had received messages from the dead. These exchanges continued for the rest of his life – and beyond, if you believe such sources as News from the next world: being on account of the survival of Antonius Stradivarius, Frederick Chopin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brontës, and of many of the author’s relatives and friends. Five days after his death in 1930, a medium enabled him to make a sold-out appearance at the Royal Albert Hall. Years later, his children still chose their cars on the basis of which?-style advice from their dead father (in life, one of the first drivers to be fined for speeding). During World War Two, Vichyite psychics joined forces with a London medium and a Himalayan astral brotherhood to relay messages from Conan Doyle, who reported an afterlife spent attending birthday parties and family reunions.’‘

Elegant Extracts: anthologies

Leah Price, 3 February 2000

Anthologies attract good haters. In the 1790s, the reformer Hannah More blamed their editors for the decay of morals: to let people assume that you had read the entire work from which an anthology piece was excerpted, she warned girls, was no better than lying outright. In the 1840s, less predictably, Engels took time out from The Condition of the Working Class in England to sneer at the anthologies littering the sofa tables of the Manchester bourgeosie. In the 1980s, the American poet David Antin charged that ‘anthologies are to poets as the zoo is to animals.’ More recently, Marjorie Perloff called for undergraduates to swear off Evian, in the hope that tap-water drinkers could afford unabridged books rather than hackneyed fragments.‘

Just after the beginning of the first Gulf War I arrived at Toronto airport to take part in a literary festival. Along with a couple of dozen others (mostly dark-skinned or from Islamic...

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Skipping: The history of the novel

Claudia Johnson, 8 March 2001

Where other studies have examined the history of the novel in relation to romance, to the rise of the middle class or to emergent forms of subjectivity – the discours du jour – Leah...

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