The Reprinting of English Novels in America between 1750-1850

English literature has always been my favorite type of literature, and American history has always been my favorite type of history. These interests led me to my research topic, which aims to explore the intersection of English literature and American history.

Many English novels published between 1750-1850 were reprinted in America. In my research, I am focusing on novels that were published in London, the location where most English novels were first published and the Western hub for print culture, and Philadelphia, one of the most prolific printing locations in America beginning in the late 18th century. These locations were also chosen because they have the greatest number of novels available through the University of Pennsylvania’s library catalog, Franklin. London and Philadelphia editions of the same novel could differ both visually and textually. These differences could include but are not limited to the removal, addition, or modification of paratext, as well as the consolidation of volumes in the American edition.

My initial questions going into my END project were what gets changed in Philadelphia editions of English novels originally published in London? Why were these changes made, and what stake did the publishers, authors, or laborers have in making these changes? And what role can the digital play in this project?

Research on the process and implications of Trans-Atlantic print culture has exploded in the last few decades. Yet, the history of textual variance has been chronicled mainly through an economic lens or through an America to England lens. I want to challenge this economic reading, as well as approach Trans-Atlantic print culture from an England to America perspective. The act of reprinting cannot be done without modification of the original text. Changes that are intentional suggest that the English novel in its London format needs to be altered in order to accommodate its new, American readership. I am interested in the agency and motivations of those reprinting these novels, because whether the differences are intentional or not, they are present, and make the reprint distinctive from the original edition.

I started this project by going through the END corpus, which comprises of a list of nearly two thousand titles. I chose novels that were written by English authors (to avoid novels written by Scottish and Irish authors that had been altered when they were published in London), originally published in London and subsequently published in Philadelphia between 1750 and 1850, and had digital copies available through Franklin. This last requirement was part of my interest in determining how much data can I gather about these novels without sitting down and reading them. My final list consisted of thirty-six titles.

I then began to catalog each edition of each novel, using a modified END cataloging guide. These cataloging guides are used to document important and unique details about novels within END’s collection of novels. The fields that I found of most interest were 246 (title page information and running title information), 250 (edition statement), 260 (publication and distribution), 300 (physical information including the number of volumes and illustrations), 520 (paratextual information), 591 (epigraph information), and 656 (publisher’s advertisements). I was interested in any part of the novel, excluding the main text, that could show differentiation between editions. After cataloging the novels, I made note of the differences between editions, and began to visually represent these differences through comparison, as well as theorize about why these differences may have occurred.

The Pupil of Pleasure is one of the novels in my dataset. The 1776 London edition has a different title: “The Pupil of Pleasure: Or, The New System Illustrated. Inscribed to Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, Editor of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters. By Courtney Melmoth.” than the Philadelphia edition: “The Pupil of Pleasure; Exhibiting The Adventures of a Man of Birth, Rank, Figure, Fortune and Character, ardent in the Pursuit of Pleasure, much delighted with, attracted by and formed upon the Chesterfieldean System. Two Volumes Complete in One. By Courtney Melmoth.” The London edition has two volumes whereas the Philadelphia edition has been condensed to one volume.

The Death of Cain is another novel in my dataset. The 1789 London edition has more pages than the Philadelphia edition, as can be observed by the London edition ending on page 147 and the Philadelphia edition ending on page 103. The London edition also has an advertisement for novels following the end of the main text, whereas the last page of the main text is the last page of the Philadelphia edition.

The changes I have observed align with the changes I expected to see. As shown with both The Pupil of Pleasure and The Death of Cain, the American editions were condensed, likely to produce a cheaper copy, as well as to get the novel out on the market as soon as possible to avoid competition with other American publishing houses. The Death of Cain is likely missing the book advertisements because American readers would have been unable to purchase the advertised books from the London publisher. There is a range of differences in the editions I have cataloged, from the use of a colon following the words The Pupil of Pleasure in the title of the London edition versus the use of a semi-colon in its Philadelphia counterpart, to the modification of paratext in The Death of Cain, and depending on the difference, the reasoning could vary between time constraints, economics, or intentionality to better suit an American audience.

I plan on incorporating this project into my English honors thesis. Through my experience with END, I have learned that it is necessary to have a visual representation of the differences I am observing in order to truly understand their significance. I have also learned that it is necessary to have a comprehensive method of data collection when taking on a project of this scope. Last year, when I began my research, I sat down with each pair of editions, and typed up the differences. I had no form of organization, and was not looking for anything in particular. The END cataloging method has allowed me to see the possibilities of interpretation when utilizing regulated fields to input data in an organized, viewable, and usable way. When I first began cataloging the novels from the 1790s that we’ve been going through I was dubious about the significance of the information we were collecting without reading the novels. Yet, by using END’s methodology for my own research I was able to draw substantial conclusions through the procedure of distant reading, and in the process challenge the way I understand interacting with a text.

Although I was able to prove to myself that I could make valuable observations without actually reading these novels, I think my project would not be complete if I did not note all of the differences between the editions, including their actual texts. I began this type of research last year, and found that the first sentence of the 1839 London edition of Oliver Twist differed from that off the 1842 Philadelphia edition, but now I have a better framework to approach this more comprehensive part of my research. I would also like to see them in person, to account for the limitations of digital editions, such as not being able to compare the size of the volumes or not being able to determine what a word or number is because it is too smudged. I want to put my data into Google Fusion Tables to compare the differences in a way that removes them from the context of the page they are on. Lastly, I would like to learn more about eighteenth and nineteenth century readers, authors, and publishers in order to better understand the motivations for altering English texts when they entered an American context.

To view the visual results of my research, which will continue to be updated, please visit this website:

Works Consulted:

Kaser, David. Messrs. Carey and Lea of Philadelphia: a study in the history of the booktrade. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1957. Print.

McGill, Meredith L. American literature and the culture of reprinting: 1834-1853. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Print.

Rezek, Joseph. London and the making of provincial literature: aesthetics and the transatlantic book trade, 1800-1850. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Print.

About the Author

Emma Hetrick

Student Researcher

Emma Hetrick
Emma Hetrick is a senior English and History double major at the University of Pennsylvania. She used her END project, which focused on analyzing differences between London and Philadelphia editions of 18th and 19th century English novels that could be determined without reading the actual text, as a kick-start to her honors thesis, which will examine the implications and process of the reprinting of British literature in America. When not cataloging this summer you could find her discussing the latest Game of Thrones episode or reminiscing about the most recent musical she had seen.