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Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England

This pioneering exploration of Georgian men and women's experiences as readers explores their use of commonplace books for recording favourite passages and reflecting upon what they had read, revealing forgotten aspects of their complicated relationship with the printed word. It shows how indebted English readers often remained to techniques for handling, absorbing and thinking about texts that were rooted in classical antiquity, in Renaissance humanism and in a substantially oral culture. It also reveals how a series of related assumptions about the nature and purpose of reading influenced the roles that literature played in English society in the ages of Addison, Johnson and Byron; how the habits and procedures required by commonplacing affected readers' tastes and so helped shape literary fashions; and how the experience of reading and responding to texts increasingly encouraged literate men and women to imagine themselves as members of a polite, responsible and critically aware public.
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Table of Contents

1. The problem with reading: history and theory in the culture of Georgian England; Part I. Origins: 2. 'Many sketches and scraps of sentiments': what is a commonplace book?; 3. A very short history of commonplacing; 4. Commonplacing modernity: enlightenment and the necessity of note-taking; Part II. Form and Matter: 5. 'A sort of register or orderly collection of things: Locke and the organisation of wisdom; 6. The importance of being epigrammatic; 7. Manufacturing an encyclopaedia; Part III. Readers and Reading: 8. Critical autonomy and readership; 9. Dexterity and textuality: the experience of reading; Part IV. Ancient and Modern: 10. Sounding the muses' lyre: rhetoric and neo-classicism; 11. Invention and imitation: practising the art of composition; Part V. Texts and Tastes: 12. Taming the Bard: dramatic readings; 13. Commonplacing and the modern canon; Part VI. Anatomising the Self: 14. The selfish narrator; 15. Self-made news; 16. Reading excursions: on being transported; Envoi: 17. The rise of the novel and the fall of commonplacing: conjoined narratives?; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

David Allan is Reader in History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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