Our modern conception of authorship founded on the Romantic ideal of individualism finds purchase and root in the figure of William Wordsworth. Using Wordsworth as a case study, Jacqueline Rhodes draws attention to ‘the critical abnormality’ of Wordsworth’s ‘Preface’ to his two-volume Poems by William Wordsworth (1815). Rhodes explains how ‘the culmination of the century-long development of the radical textual individual: the professional writer’ sees a change in the cultural meaning, and legal definition, of authorship in the eighteenth century, with the move towards author-centric rather than publisher-centric copyright laws. Rhodes demonstrates how authorship and copyright came to be applicable and how ideas of individual creativity, original genius and the solitary author in the context of the European Enlightenment sees plagiarism demonised and individuality valorised. Discussing the emergence of professional writers, and their payment as concurrently respectable, Rhodes charts how authorship is constructed and how the move towards a 42-year copyright period (1842) was based not only on ‘[t]he increased industrialisation of products in the eighteenth century [that] led to an increased commodification of culture, including textual culture’ but the ‘Romantic idea of ‘inspiration’’ which Rhodes argues contributes directly ‘to the idea of textual ownership’ and ‘text-as-capital and author-as-owner’. Continue reading
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