In anticipation of our forthcoming special issue on ‘The Minerva Press and the Literary Marketplace’, this post is the first in a series by Colette Davies reflecting on the role played by the firm during the Romantic era and its somewhat tarnished reputation in the following centuries—a challenge that the essays in our new issue seek to address. Continue reading →
This essay uses Isabella Kelly (c. 1759–1857) to demonstrate the critical and historical value of Minerva novelists for gothic scholarship. Minerva’s fictions have traditionally been dismissed by gothic critics as uninteresting ‘imitations’ of Radcliffe and Lewis. I propose that we need to question this too-simple label: rather than disqualifying them from serious study, Minerva novels’ formulaic gothic elements are an entry point for fertile analysis, exposing a lively dialogue between many novels that is itself an under-examined part of the gothic’s history. I also address the dilemma of scope: should gothic scholars read Minerva novels individually and closely, or as a large mass viewed from afar? Drawing on the insights of recent scholarship, I propose that there are unique benefits to a combined perspective, which recognises the potential richness of individual Minerva gothics while noting the distinctive features that arise from their publication as part of a larger mass. Isabella Kelly’s seven Minerva novels allow me to test both of these methodological assertions. A ‘semi-distant’ overview of Kelly’s career reveals her rapidly changing, diverse and creative use of gothic materials over time, exposing an aspect of gothic authorship not visible in traditional accounts. I then zoom in on a single Kelly novel, The Ruins of Avondale Priory (1796), to show the surprisingly complex, idiosyncratic uses to which she puts familiar tropes. Examined closely, Kelly’s novel proves less an ‘imitation’of canonical gothics than one in a chain of adaptations to which those more famous works also belong. Kelly’s case also shows how Minerva novels challenge critical categories formed on the basis of the canon alone, such as the supposed division of gothic fiction into distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ strands. Continue reading →
Jane Austen’s famous reference to Ann Radcliffe and ‘all her imitators’ in Northanger Abbey can be understood both as a satirical characterisation of popular gothic novels and as a record of a historical mode of describing those same texts. This article provides a new reading of fictional ‘imitation’ in the Romantic period arguing that, as it was practised by Minerva Press novelists, it became a crucial fulcrum in the ongoing Romantic debate over the literary status of the novel. While charges of ‘imitation’ are often understood as derogatory, and were frequently deployed against the Minerva Press’s fiction by critics, looking closely at the novels in question suggests that many novelists used imitation quite deliberately as a literary strategy. This essay suggests that the fiction produced by Minerva’s novelists is deeply entwined with the press’s status as England’s highest-producing novel publisher, in that the form and function of Minerva novels stems from their collective identity: each novel is produced and consumed specifically as one of many—one of many narratives, but also one of many physical, circulating objects, lent, sold and exchanged between readers. Using allusions, parodic inversions, self-referential prefaces and a multitude of other narrative strategies, the novelists exploit the creative potential of their imitative parameters. Continue reading →
As the most infamous novel publisher of the Romantic period, William Lane’s Minerva Press garnered significant attention in the book review periodicals of the day. This article uses the Novels Reviewed Database, 1790–1820 and quantitative methodologies to track the ways that Lane, his press and the novels it published, were presented to England’s reading public while the press flourished. The Reviews critique the novels’ subject matter, originality, the material makeup of the printed books and gendered authorship. Taking up that data, this article provides a qualitative analysis of the long reaching implications of the rhetoric deployed by the Reviews in their scathing criticisms, and traces how it continues to pervade modern scholarship on the press today. Continue reading →
This essay examines the cataloguing practices of James Hammond, the proprietor of a large nineteenth-century New England circulating library, and the marginalia in his collection of sixty-five Minerva Press gothic novels, which were later acquired by the New York Society Library in New York City. Hammond’s catalogues, four of which are examined here, arranged and altered Minerva titles and authors and appended reviews. These promotional strategies foregrounded the gothic content of these novels and attested to their quality. In so doing, the catalogues assisted subscribers in selecting books and prepared them for reading those selections. If Hammond’s catalogs prepared patrons for quality gothic reading experiences, the novels’ marginalia reshaped patrons’ expectations and influenced their engagement with the novels. Written by other subscribers or earlier readers, these marginalia evaluated the novels and commented on their gothic and non-gothic elements. In the process, the marginalia sometimes supported, and at other times conflicted with, Hammond’s promotional strategies. For Hammond’s patrons, the catalogues and the marginalia constituted two points of entry into the Minerva gothic novel. Only by examining both the catalogues and the marginalia can scholars assess the degree to which Minerva’s gothic novels terrified and delighted New England readers decades after the press’s London heyday. Continue reading →
This essay examines the false and dubious attributions of select Minerva novels to both Ann Radcliffe and her lesser known contemporary Mary Ann Radcliffe, arguing that the constellations of texts and authors that signified under the Radcliffe aegis point to the existence of a corporate Radcliffe whose influence on Romantic print culture has yet to be fully documented. In sales catalogues and later scholarly studies and encyclopedias, this corporate Radcliffe blended work initially published anonymously by the Minerva Press with the known output of Ann Radcliffe and Mary Ann Radcliffe. These texts include the Minerva novels The Fate of Velina de Guidova (1790), Radzivil, a Romance (1790), Mary Ann Radcliffe’s The Memoirs of Mrs Mary Ann Radcliffe (1810) and The Female Advocate; or an Attempt to Recover the Rights of Women from Male Usurpation (1799), in addition to the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe. A composite created by the print market-place and later scholars’ own compulsion to fix or challenge questionable attributions, this corporate Radcliffe elevates the popular Romantic practices of imitation and translation and provides an alternative to narratives of Romantic authorship that rely on singular genius and originality. Continue reading →
This essay examines the rich and hitherto unexplored rivalries and connections between the Romantic periodical and the Minerva Press through the lens of the hugely popular Lady’s Magazine; or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1700–1832). Close attention to the points of contact outlined in this essay is multiply illuminating, I argue, not least because it forces us to challenge enduring but misleading associations about popular literary forms, professional authorship and women’s writing in the Romantic era. The Lady’s Magazine and the Minerva Press presented aspiring authors with competing, but complementary, mass-media outlets that were eagerly exploited by hundreds of Romantic-era writers, many of whom published energetically with both. These writers’ negotiations of the literary culture of the day—their movements between publishers at key moments in their lives and turn to different modes of publication as and when it suited them—were signs of their precarity, but also of their professionalism and persistence. Uncovering these writers’ stories enables us to uncover alternative, yet ubiquitous, stories of authorship in the Romantic period that merit the telling precisely because they recalibrate our sense of how Romantic authorship was experienced by some of the most popular writers of the era. Continue reading →
Through the exploration of a selection of Minerva titles from across the period of the Press’s dominance (1790–99), focusing on the recurring trope of violence, its varying portrayals by individual authors, and its censure by critics, this essay argues that the Press makes a unique contribution to the Romantic literary marketplace with regard to its output of violent gothic fiction. In particular, it proposes that what some Minerva authors were doing was cleverly combining gothic sensationalism with historical fact, thereby allowing Lane’s press to gain popularity by catering to the fashion for violent gothic novels while simultaneously responding to rhetoric about the corrupting influence of such violence on female readers. In addition to this, at a time when historical writing was not showcasing the horrors of war that women were experiencing, the use of gothic conventions when writing historical conflicts permitted writers to do exactly that—the implication being that Minerva authors’ use of gothic violence was not simply to entertain, but also to portray the horrors of war and its impact on women and the domestic space. Taken together, the use of historical facts alongside gothic tropes in Minerva Press works allows for a confident evaluation of the formation of an historical gothic mode. Continue reading →
In the wake of a personal scandal that Horace Walpole dubbed ‘The Gunninghiad’, Susannah Gunning returned to literary writing after some years’ absence from the scene. The two works she published with William Lane’s Minerva Press in 1792, Anecdotes of the Delborough Family and Virginius and Virginia. A Poem, in Six Parts. From the Roman History, demonstrate both Gunning’s artistic range and Lane’s marketing genius. Together, Gunning and Lane capitalised on the Gunninghiad scandal in an attempt to rehabilitate Gunning’s reputation as a writer and fill the coffers of the press. This article re-examines Gunning’s undervalued literary career to argue that publishing with Lane afforded her opportunities to rewrite the scandal of which she’d been a part, experiment with literary genres she had yet to explore, and profit from what she lived and wrote. Continue reading →
This article concerns the early career of William Lane as a fiction publisher, before his adoption of the Minerva brand in 1792. It reveals that Lane played an active role in promoting Irish-authored fiction to London readers, and contributed to the endurance of a popular yet neglected form of mid-eighteenth-century comic fiction. In the 1780s, Lane published many Irish novelists; also notable among his novels were several ‘ramble novels’, or bluff comedies of masculine travel in the style of Fielding and Smollett. It was only later that his press became known for Gothic and historical fiction and associated with the female reader. The article charts the popularity of ramble fiction in the 1780s and its treatment by reviewers and anthologists. It then closely examines one Irish ramble novel published by Lane in order to demonstrate the significance of the form to the history of Irish fiction and its capacity to accommodate serious political themes. The Minor, or the History of George O’Nial (1786) engages with the campaigns against the Penal Laws, which restricted the freedoms of Catholics and Dissenters. It was written in the midst of the first repeals of certain of these laws, and calls for more far-reaching reforms. Through a narrative centred on Irish characters, the novel advocates for Ireland’s disempowered Catholic inhabitants. Continue reading →
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