Claudia Johnson

  • The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot by Leah Price
    Cambridge, 224 pp, £35.00, September 2000, ISBN 0 521 78208 2

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 Price looks at novels in relation to the history of the book, and to the proliferation of anthologies in particular. It is a refreshing change: most histories and theories of ‘the’ novel have not been very curious about what and how distinct audiences read. Price rectifies this inattention by reminding us that novels (or versions of them) were often anthologised. Most modern readers will never have heard of Beauties of Sterne, the Wit and Wisdom of Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot’s Sayings, or the Thomas Hardy Calendar, and the few who have actually looked inside such volumes will have done so only because the ‘real’ copy of the novel they were seeking had already been taken out of the library. Trained in a system which encourages the dutiful reading of complete novels, academically inclined readers consider these anthologies as quaint at best and, at worst, vulgar, even heretical. Price traces the origins of such attitudes, and shows how the rise of the novel has to do not with denunciations of class privilege, as is often claimed, but rather with assertions of privilege on the part of different sections of the novel-reading public. But she also examines the concurrent and interpenetrating careers of anthologies and novels to show not only how the former absorbed and transformed the latter, but also, and more strikingly, how the latter have uneasily contended with the former.

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