to Contemporary Libraries
Records from library catalogues point to the strikingly
effective circulation and distribution networks for Romantic-era
fiction, which meant that a work published in London could be available
within a short time to readers in Aberdeen or Belfast. While library
holdings cannot tell us if a given novel was actually borrowed or
read, the records from library catalogues offer important clues
about the general availability and popularity of a work. The importance
of contemporary libraries in providing readers with access to fiction
cannot be underestimated: at a time when the average price for a
new three volume novel could be as much as 31s. 6d. (roughly
equivalent to £88 today), libraries offered the public a chance
to borrow the latest novels (as well as old favourites) at an affordable
The Records in the Contemporary Libraries section
comprise material from the catalogues of two types of libraries:
Circulating and Subscription libraries. Circulating libraries were
privately owned businesses that charged a fee for lending books.
In some cases, circulating libraries were run by a bookseller or
publisher: one example being A. K. Newman’s Minerva library
in London, which was, unsurprisingly, well-stocked with Minerva
press titles. Subscription libraries were essentially owned by subscribers
who acted as library shareholders. Subscription libraries charged
subscribers a small fee, which enabled them to borrow books either
free of charge or at a reduced rate. Subscribers tended to be from
the gentry and professional classes, and were predominantly male.
In all, 24 early-nineteenth-century library catalogues
have been examined, providing what we believe to be a representative
picture of library holdings. Faced with a large number of catalogues
from this period (at a time when most large British towns could
expect to have at least one library), the list of catalogues must
be regarded as necessarily selective. Catalogues have been selected
to provide a representative spread by date, geographical location,
and type and size of library. English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish
libraries are represented here; catalogues are drawn from libraries
in major cities (London, Edinburgh and Dublin), fashionable spa
towns (Bath and Cheltenham), as well as smaller cities and market
towns (Aberdeen, Belfast, Norwich). Some library catalogues are
small and selective, such as that of Jones & Parry in Caernarvon,
Wales; others, such as Barry & Sons in Bristol, appear designed
to satisfy even the most voracious of novel readers. In all, records
are available for 2,092 novels, or more than 92 per cent of the
total number in the database. The most popular works of the time,
such as Maria Edgeworth’s six-volume Tales of Fashionable
Life (1809/12) are listed in all the library catalogues examined.
However, even those titles that have been long-forgotten, such as
the anonymous Constantia de Courcy (1806), were available
to at least some fortunate readers in Britain and Ireland.
The records in Contemporary Libraries show which
libraries held which given titles, based on an analysis of the library
catalogues. Records also provide basic information about how titles
appeared in the catalogues (e.g. whether the author’s name
given, whether the title listed more than once) and if the library
held multiple copies of a novel. Many libraries issued main catalogues,
and then supplemented these over time with addenda. Addenda and
appendices normally have been treated as separate entities from
the main catalogues, as they can be considered freestanding catalogues.
Where a title appears in both a library’s main catalogue and
an addenda, both catalogues are given in the record.
At the end of each record, a summary details the
number of libraries (not catalogues) that held a given novel. It
should be noted that the annual cut-off point for each library used
in calculating the summaries is to some extent a crude instrument,
and in particular that catalogues published early in a calendar
year will necessarily exclude titles published later in the same
year. Furthermore, especially in the case of larger catalogues,
the possibility also remains that a title is listed elsewhere other
than in the main ‘Novels and Romances’ section surveyed,
and so has been overlooked. As a result the number given for the
take-up of individual titles by libraries may in a few instances
slightly underestimate the actual situation.
The following abbreviations are used in this section:
|The author is named in the catalogue entry.
|Denotes where a title is listed twice in the catalogue. This
does not necessarily indicate that two copies of the novel were
held by the library. Where the catalogue specifically states
that multiple copies are held, this is noted in the record.
Listings of (au) [2x] indicates that the author’s name
is given in at least one entry, but not necessarily in both.
|The pseudonym under which a work was published is given in
the catalogue entry. In cases where the author’s name
has been identified, the pseudonym is given (e.g. ps: Bluemantle).
Where the pseudonym is the only name available for the author
of a particular work, only (ps) is given.
|Denotes where there is an uncertainty whether a pseudonym
is being used, or whether a real name.
|The translator of a work is named in the catalogue entry.
Listings of (tr) [2x] indicates that the work appears twice
in the catalogue, and that the translator’s name is given
in at least one entry.
|Title is listed with translator name, but there is uncertainty
about whether the title is an actual translation or an original
|Both author and translator are named in the same entry.
Brackets [ ]:
|Indicate further information provided by the catalogue entry.
In some cases, this indicates where a work has been listed both
under the original title, and under a subtitle or a later edition
or reissue. For example, Mary Charlton’s novel Homicide
(EN2 1805: 19) is listed in the Newman catalogue under both
the original title Homicide, and also under the title
of the 2nd edn, Rosaura di Viralva. Such variants have
been provided as possible indicators of multiple copies in the
library. Significant variations in title or author information
in catalogue entries are also given in square brackets.
© 2004 Project
Director: Professor Peter Garside;
Research Associates: Dr Jacqueline
Belanger, Dr Sharon Ragaz;
Dr Anthony Mandal