Dublin Printing: The Rise of the Provincial Novel, and What That Meant for the Rise of the Novel Itself
“The making of provincial literature is best understood through attending the production of books and the circulation of material texts between London and the provincial literary centres of Dublin, Edinburgh, and Philadelphia… they formed the condition of possibility for provincial literature to emerge.”– Joseph Rezeck, London and the Making of Provincial Literature
Literature in the 18th century was a means of spreading a culture amongst its consumers. More than anything, the rise of the novel gave birth to a new sect: “provincial literature” that aimed to spread the metropolitan lifestyle of the urban areas to readers who could not afford to live in the city. Life in London was being qualified, commodified, and sold in the form of the novel in three volumes.
The print industry in Ireland fits into this in several ways. As I found out in my research last summer, the print industry in Ireland was going through a particularly interesting period, where the copyright of books printed in London did not prevent the reprinting of London novels in Dublin, meaning that books could essentially pirated in Dublin for a much lower selling cost, albeit being of a lower quality. Last summer, I started “The Dublin Print Project”, a personal DH project where I compared and contrasted the qualities of books published in London and their Dublin counterparts. Ultimately, the differences I began to notice between the Dublin books and the London books were mostly physical. However, although the novels were the same, the London books and the Dublin books would occasionally differ in the errata corrections, changing the text between the two publishings contextually.
This brings about the question– we know what the relationship between the book and the Dublin print industry is. But what is the novel, and in what ways have the emergence of Dublin publishing affected the novel? In the research that I have done, I have discovered that the boom of the print industry in Ireland, and the transition of the novel as a metropolitan commodity actually go hand-in-hand. The popularity of spreading London books as a means of creating a “provincial literature” market, in turn, has promoted the publishing of novels in London that depict a metropolitan life.
The challenge of this project, however, was how to quantify my findings, to digitally represent the impact of Dublin novels on the print industry in the 18th century. In this, I found it very difficult to do this, as not all the novels I had access to had discernable contextual differences, at least from the ones I could find at Penn. Moving forward, I think “The Dublin Print Project” should focus less on comparing London and Dublin prints of books, but look into quantifying exactly what kind of book is reprinted in Dublin, and, through that, qualify what defines a popular eighteenth century novel.