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Readers in the margins: Texts, paratexts, and reading audiences in Romantic-era fiction

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Readers in the Margins: Texts, Paratexts, and Reading Audiences in Romantic-era Fiction investigates how the form of the book influenced literary form in the Romantic period—not just how readers read and how publishers marketed, but how pre-existing paratextual norms shaped how writers conceived of and composed their writing. To do so, this project draws on a combination of book history and narratological strategies to explore how the material and historical realities of the Romantic-era book industry shaped fiction during the period. Contextualizing the narrative strategies of authors including Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, and Frances Burney within the early nineteenth-century material culture of the book reveals how Romantic-era cultural conceptions of genre, audience, and gender are encoded in the physical manifestations of their fiction. This argument builds on three critical discourses in the study of the period’s fiction: discussions of eighteenth-century and Romantic-era paratexts and the book as technology, by Janine Barchas, Christina Lupton, Andrew Piper, and Alex Watson; scholarship that engages with the commercialization of print, historical reading practices, and their relationship to the construction of Romantic-era reading audiences in the popular imagination, by Stephen Colclough, Jan Fergus, Michael Gamer, Jon Klancher, and William St. Clair; and studies of the gendering of audiences, genres, and authors, by Adriana Cracuin, Ina Ferris, and Jacqueline Pearson, among others. Bringing together these disparate strands of criticism demonstrates how the paratext is a necessary context for understanding literary innovation in the Romantic period. The first two chapters explore what kinds of explicit and implicit information paratexts conveyed to readers during the Romantic period and what kinds of implications those had for readers who had to navigate an increasingly overwhelming number of books by looking at title page design and Maria Edgeworth’s use of genre, respectively, while the third and fourth chapters take as case studies two authors, Jane Austen and Frances Burney who make use of their readers’ paratextual expectations to experiment with narrative for political ends.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Levy, Michelle
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