School of English
Supervisor: Dr Jarlath Killeen
Print Culture in Victorian Times
It’s no secret that the publishing industry has suffered in recent years. Changes in technology and lifestyle have hurt book sales and publishers have struggled to adjust. Continuing changes in how we read will inevitably affect what we read.
But, as print historians know, publishing has undergone massive change before. My research focuses on Victorian publishing, when commerce and industry began to play a significant role in literary output. The nineteenth century saw major developments in papermaking and print technology, as well as more effective distribution methods and new reading markets. The increased availability of single-volume, cheap editions of novels, as well as the publication of periodicals turned many borrowers of texts into purchasers. These new, targeted audiences led to the expansion of the definition of literature.
Within Victorian publishing, I’m looking specifically at the simultaneous development of adolescence as a social and literary concept in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The liminal space between childhood and adulthood was becoming recognised in changes to age of consent legislation and developmental psychology. Simultaneously, commercial publishers were beginning to target adolescent audiences with penny-issue fiction and market-dedicated periodicals. My work enables an understanding of how the literary and social interacted in the birth of the adolescent reader. This historical examination of the influence of formal and social factors on literary content can inform contemporary publishers as they explore the emerging technologies and distribution methods that are currently changing the way people read.
As an English scholar and editorial consultant, I move between research and practice. Studying the interplay of reader, format and content enables me to better edit manuscripts and work with authors and publishers to develop narratives that use market knowledge of their intended readers and exploit changing reading practices to create stories organically suited to their audiences. Scholars’ engagement with the ideation and creation process can directly affect the fiction that makes it to the shelves and, ultimately, in front of readers’ eyes.
As Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” From oral tradition, to the development of written language, through the growth of print culture, storytelling has functioned as cultural communication that transcends time and geography. Narratives allow us to explore alternate worldviews and expand upon our lived experiences. The continued vitality of our storytelling tradition lies with the scholars and producers of fiction in all its various forms. With my work, connecting the concerns of publishers and the experience of readers with the content that gets published, I aim to influence both the understanding of fiction and contribute to its future development.