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Novel Ventures

Fiction and Print Culture in England, 1690-1730
Leah Orr

BUY Cloth · 344 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813940137 · $45.00 · Oct 2017
BUY Ebook · 344 pp. · ISBN 9780813940144 · $45.00 · Oct 2017

The eighteenth century British book trade marks the beginning of the literary marketplace as we know it. The lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695 brought an end to pre-publication censorship of printed texts and restrictions on the number of printers and presses in Britain. Resisting the standard "rise of the novel" paradigm, Novel Ventures incorporates new research about the fiction marketplace to illuminate early fiction as an eighteenth-century reader or writer might have seen it. Through a consideration of all 475 works of fiction printed over the four decades from 1690 to 1730, including new texts, translations of foreign works, and reprints of older fiction, Leah Orr shows that the genre was much more diverse and innovative in this period than is usually thought.

Contextual chapters examine topics such as the portrayal of early fiction in literary history, the canonization of fiction, concepts of fiction genres, printers and booksellers, the prices and physical manufacture of books, and advertising strategies to give a more complex picture of the genre in the print culture world of the early eighteenth century. Ultimately, Novel Ventures concludes that publishers had far more influence over what was written, printed, and read than authors did, and that they shaped the development of English fiction at a crucial moment in its literary history.


An important and trail breaking study, devoted to matters such as the shape and methods of the publishing industry; anonymous authorship; reprinted fiction; foreign fiction in translation; work ‘with a purpose,’ including religious and allegorical works; and stories for entertainment, including criminal and amorous fiction. Here Orr offers a sustained argument that challenges orthodoxy at almost every turn, taking on the most influential accounts of fiction in the period. The scholarship is well nigh impeccable.

Pat Rogers, University of South Florida

Orr is the first scholar to take full advantage of new databases such as ECCO to read and reassess all extant fiction in English between 1690 and 1730. This trailblazing study of the relationship between the early novel and the publishing industry will help shape the contours of eighteenth-century fiction studies for decades to come.

Paula McDowell, New York University, is the author of The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain

One of the most obvious strengths of Novel Ventures is its short, taxonomically organized accounts of scores of now-obscure works, many of which were enduringly popular.... Another great strength of Orr's book is the insights she is able to offer into broad trends within the fiction market, based on her analysis of empirical evidence taken from the works under examination, as well as the English Short Title Catalogue and other standard bibliographies of fiction from the wider period.

Modern Philology

This intelligent study brings new force to the ongoing story of the unweaving of the rise of the novel, and much more. The field of early fiction emerges repatterned, with unexpected features and new contours woven into visibility, and is shown to include translations and reprintings; anonymous works; chapbooks, jest books, and fables; collected works and anthologies; and the more familiar works of courtship and romance, religion and adventure, scandal and politics.

The Review of English Studies

Leah Orr offers a meticulously researched and often scintillating account of the reception and publication of early eighteenth-century fiction.... Diverging from existing developmental studies of the English novel, Novel Ventures productively broadens the canvas of early eighteenth-century literature to argue that "fiction was determined by the economic realities of publishing and by what booksellers thought would sell.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Novel Ventures stands as a valuable resource for statistical information on pub- lication titles and for introductory textual analyses of literature that has yet to receive scholarly attention. As such, it importantly broadens and deepens our sense of the literary field in England between 1690 and 1730.

Journal of British Studies

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