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British Fiction, 1800–1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception

Guide to Anecdotal Records

The material included in Anecdotal Records documents the vibrant fiction-reading culture of the early nineteenth-century. It shows not only the degree to which reading novels featured as an important part of the lives of many educated individuals but also the extent of everyday debate about the merits of different writers and their works—debate that was carried on independently of or as an adjunct to the published reviews dominating the literary culture of the day.

The Records comprise material extracted from sources such as diaries, correspondence, and marginalia. This material records either an individual’s reading of novels or critical comments on novels. The sources are all available in print with the single exception of Mary Russell Mitford’s diary which is an unpublished MS at the British Library, included because of its intrinsic interest and because it usefully ties in with comments from Mitford’s published correspondence. The guiding intention in collecting the material has been to document reading experiences and responses that are contemporary with the publication of the novels; therefore, although we have included material giving a retrospective account of a contemporary reader’s experience, we have excluded sources documenting readers’ responses from later periods. While it includes over 90 different works, the source list must be regarded as necessarily selective. Faced with the vast number of available nineteenth-century memoirs and collections of correspondence, we have chosen those which seemed of particular interest—either because of the individual making the comments or because of the nature of the comments and records themselves. In addition, we have included responses from both men and women across a geographic range, including English, Irish, Scottish, and American sources. The resulting extracts vary from the briefest diary entries recording that a novel was read, to lengthy plot summaries and critical assessments. In all, Anecdotal Records are included here for 275 novels, or more than 10% of the total number in the database. In some instances, a given novel is provided with only one record; in others—most notably with popular authors such as Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth, or with controversial ones like Madame de Staël—the range and number of records are substantial and accurately reflect the degree of contemporary attention and interest that works by these writers received.

Within the range of works selected for inclusion in the Anecdotal Records, every attempt has been made to be exhaustive. That is, we have tried to locate and include all comments on reading novels from each source. However, we have also necessarily kept the extracts brief, and they are intended to be used only as a guide to the material. In all cases we refer users back to the printed sources in order to establish, for example, the context in which a comment was made, or for information which, in the printed source, is supplied by the editor(s) of the material. Our own notes, appended to the extracts where required, are used mainly to identify references made to other works or to direct users to information given in the printed source.

 © 2004 Project Director: Professor Peter Garside;
 Research Associates: Dr Jacqueline Belanger, Dr Sharon Ragaz;
 Database/Website Developer: Dr Anthony Mandal
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