Consider the following excerpt from Jane Austen’s letters to her sister, Cassandra:
I am reading a Society octavo, an “Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire” by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the city. The first soldier I ever sighed for; but he does write with extraordinary force and spirit […] Ladies who read those enormous great stupid thick quarto volumes which one always sees in the breakfast parlour there must be acquainted with everything in the world. I detest a quarto. Capt. Pasley’s book is too good for their society. They will not understand a man who condenses his thoughts into an octavo.
How does Austen experience the form of the books she (and others) read? Is there a moment in Chesnutt’s short story or Price’s article that can help illuminate Austen’s reactions to quartos and octavos, or vice versa?
Lab 7: Deciphering Physical Books
Station 1: Bibliography
Key questions: How can we use physical clues in historical books to uncover the histories of their production? What can we discern about their composition, format, and printing—and what literary-historical conclusions can we draw based on these observations?
Station 2: Editions of Morse’s Geography
Key questions: What happens to “a book” as it proliferates through multiple editions? Can we reconstruct a history of a text in/across culture/s through a set of physical artifacts?
Station 3: A Mystery
Key questions: What the heck are these books anyway? And once you figure that out, what might they tell us about some functions of books in mid-nineteenth and early twentieth-century American society?