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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Literature and the Book Trade

1st May 2013, 17:30 to 19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Professor David Duff (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.

Contact inventionsofthetext@gmail.com for more information about this event.

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