College of Liberal Arts

Why are some books collected and others merely read?

Mon, Dec 16, 2019
Austen in Austin section of the Stories to Tell gallery at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Allison Nguyen.
Austen in Austin section of the Stories to Tell gallery at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Allison Nguyen.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, cheap and shoddy reprints of Jane Austen’s novels brought her work to the general public. These inexpensive volumes were sold at Victorian railway stations for one or two shillings and targeted to Britain’s working classes. Few of these hard-lived books survive, yet these versions of Austen’s novels substantially increased her early readership. These books were bought and read widely, but due to their low status and low production values they remain largely uncollected by academic libraries and unremarked by scholars.

In The Lost Books of Jane Austen, I show how the tatty and common Austen volumes produced in heaps by nineteenth-century publishers have disappeared, leaving only the authoritative and elegant editions granted a scholarly seal of approval.

Read more in Ransom Center Magazine

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