Cover: When Novels Were Books, from Harvard University PressCover: When Novels Were Books in HARDCOVER

When Novels Were Books

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Product Details


$39.95 • £31.95 • €36.00

ISBN 9780674987043

Publication Date: 01/07/2020


256 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

15 photos


Jordan Alexander Stein has recovered a print world in which secular and religious texts were bought, sold, and read interchangeably with one another on both sides of the Atlantic, and the novel’s formal features developed in tandem with the material affordances of the book. The result is an entirely new account of the novel: no longer the harbinger of secular modernity, the novel is, Stein shows us, the residue of what religious writings left behind.—Amanda Claybaugh, author of The Novel of Purpose

In this original and erudite study, Jordan Alexander Stein brings fresh insight to an enduring subject in literary studies—the rise of the novel. Redirecting our attention from old modes of genre history to new modes of media history, he argues that eighteenth-century Anglo-Americans learned to read novelistically—and to read for character—within a distinct media ecology. Stein’s reconstruction of that learning process will transform how we assess the relations among fiction, print culture, and practices of reading.—Deidre Lynch, author of The Economy of Character

By revealing how a modern genre emerged from changes in format, not just form, Jordan Alexander Stein restores early novels like Robinson Crusoe and Pamela to a common shelf alongside other books—conversion narratives, spiritual biographies, and the confessions of penitent sinners—that shared the same material dimensions. What mattered most about early English novels, Stein shows us, was not that they were secular or fictional; it was that they were books telling stories about someone’s vulnerability. The crucial figure in the rise of the novel—the imagined person who came to be known as a ‘character’—was no rational, self-possessing hero but a divided, broken self, in danger and beset by doubt. When Novels Were Books is a major contribution to book history and, even better, a gift to our thinking about what books mean and why we care about them.—Caleb Smith, author of The Oracle and the Curse

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