“… these foolish, yet dangerous Books”: Fashionable Sociability and the Circulating Library in Classic Modernity Cover Image
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“… these foolish, yet dangerous Books”: Fashionable Sociability and the Circulating Library in Classic Modernity
“… these foolish, yet dangerous Books”: Fashionable Sociability and the Circulating Library in Classic Modernity

Author(s): Mihaela Irimia
Subject(s): Library operations and management, Novel, History of Education, 18th Century
Published by: Editura Universitatii LUCIAN BLAGA din Sibiu
Keywords: the Enlightenment; circulating libraries; the novel; reading; the materiality of the book; the public and the private spheres;

Summary/Abstract: In or about the 1770s human individuality changed. This handy paraphrase of Virginia Woolf’s formulation could serve as an introduction to the revolution brought about by the established circulating library in Classic Modernity, aka the Enlightenment. With the novel settled in as commonplace, a growingly variegated and relaxed reading public enjoying extensive reading and delighting in what up until recently had been called dubious printed matter, the circulating library gradually won the battle for useful and amusing matters. Where it had been deemed “an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge” (Sheridan The Rivals I. 2) comparable to brothels and gin shops, this modern type of library fitting the public sphere like a glove was snowballing into a sociable space where the great and the good were now impressive numbers of chic ladies advertising their knowledge as emotional and sartorial extravagance. Novels inundated the public and private spaces of the day: they were everywhere in salons, coffee houses, on shop and bank counters, on fashionable toilette or tea tables and kitchen ranges, in carriages and on board ships voyaging into, across and out of Britain, in English, French or Italian, devoured by aristocratic ladies and domestic maids and very often read in the midst of something else. Fiction and the circulating library revolutionized the book trade, the book and trade in 1700s’ Britain, as they saw a sea change in the attitude towards reading that had not been witnessed after the trail-blazing invention of print in the 15th century. As the royalty, the aristocracy and the higher ranks of the clergy were erecting huge libraries recalling ancient mausoleums, these new reading centres paved the way to modern individual freedom and were instrumental in expanding the reading classes across the country, between the sexes and down the social ladder.

  • Issue Year: 2016
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 9-35
  • Page Count: 27
  • Language: English