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The eighteenth century British book trade marks the beginning of the literary marketplace as we know it. The lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695 brought an end to pre-publication censorship of printed texts and restrictions on the number of printers and presses in Britain. Resisting the standard ""rise of the novel"" paradigm, Novel Ventures incorporates new research about the fiction marketplace to illuminate early fiction as an eighteenth-century reader or writer might have seen it. Through a consideration of all 475 works of fiction printed over the four decades from 1690 to 1730, including new texts, translations of foreign works, and reprints of older fiction, Leah Orr shows that the genre was much more diverse and innovative in this period than is usually thought.
Contextual chapters examine topics such as the portrayal of early fiction in literary history, the canonization of fiction, concepts of fiction genres, printers and booksellers, the prices and physical manufacture of books, and advertising strategies to give a more complex picture of the genre in the print culture world of the early eighteenth century. Ultimately, Novel Ventures concludes that publishers had far more influence over what was written, printed, and read than authors did, and that they shaped the development of English fiction at a crucial moment in its literary history.
Leah Orr is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.