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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines both the excitement and the anxieties associated with Romantic reading. Thanks to increased literacy, heightened competition in the book trade, and technological advances in printing, eighteenth-century Britain had transformed itself into ‘a nation of readers’, as Samuel Johnson observed in his Lives of the English Poets. This chapter explores what the Romantic nation was reading and how it obtained its books, looking at different forms of libraries and book societies, and at the circulation and the cost of books. It discusses recent critical advances in understanding the complexities of reading practices, and sets these in a wider context of the thematization of reading in the period. The presentation of the Romantic reader is analysed through a range of texts from Lyrical Ballads to the letters of Jane Austen and Charles Lamb. These are placed alongside the testimonies of readers themselves and the traces of reading habits revealed by diaries, reviews, and library records.

Keywords: reading, readers, print culture, subscription library, circulating library, book societies, reviews, reader response

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