Reorienting the narrative of digital media studies to incorporate the medieval, Participatory reading in late-medieval England traces affinities between digital and medieval media to explore how participation defined reading practices and shaped relations between writers and readers in England’s literary culture from the late-fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries. Traditionally, print operates as the comparative touchstone of both medieval and digital media, but Participatory reading argues that the latter share more in common with each other than either does with print. Working on the borders of digital humanities, medieval cultural studies, and the history of the book, Participatory reading draws on well-known and little-studied works ranging from Chaucer to banqueting poems and wall-texts to demonstrate how medieval writers and readers engaged with practices familiar in digital media today, from crowd-sourced editing to nonlinear apprehension to mobility, temporality, and forensic materiality illuminate. Writers turned to these practices in order to both elicit and control readers’ engagement with their works in ways that would benefit the writers’ reputations along with the transmission and interpretation of their texts, while readers pursued their own agendas—which could conflict with or set aside writers’ attempts to frame readers’ work. The interactions that gather around participatory reading practices reflect concerns about authority, literacy, and media formats, before and after the introduction of print. Participatory reading is of interest to students and scholars of medieval literature, book, and reading history, in addition to those interested in the long history of media studies.
Recent scholarship has begun to rehabilitate Minerva Press publications such as Roche's, arguing for a new academic approach that moves beyond traditional denunciations of these fictions as unoriginal and imitative. In her research, Elizabeth A. Neiman traces the manner in which Minerva authors actively responded in their texts to the accusations of derivativeness so often levelled at them by critics and, in so doing, ‘developed their own model of collective authorship’. Only by reading their novels together, Neiman suggests, will we have a full sense of the impact of Minerva Press publications and their engagement with a wide range of contemporary debates.1 Elsewhere, Edward Copeland, Jennie Batchelor, and Cheryl Turner have brought attention to the insights afforded by the careers and works of Minerva authors to questions of female authorship in the Romantic period.2 Meanwhile, illuminating research by Eve Tavor Bannet, Melissa J. Homestead, and Camryn Hansen has illustrated Minerva's transnational presence by way of the circulation of texts, linking the press's provision of a dispersed readership to the cultivation of successful and financially lucrative international careers by particularly savvy authors.3
The evidence of Roche's lasting fame and influence presented in Chapter 4 draws attention to the many overlooked Irish novelists who published with Lane in the Romantic period.4 It also underlines the importance of readers in the determination of literary relevance and impact. As Franco Moretti aptly puts it, ‘Readers, not professors, make canons’. There is ‘[a] space outside the school’, Moretti suggests, ‘where the canon is selected’, and that space is ‘the market’.5 As is clear from the material history of Roche's works, she was a major figure in this canon, exerting a cultural influence hitherto denied to her and, in the process, attesting to the international prominence of Irish gothic fiction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In addition to highlighting the importance of renewed consideration of Minerva Press publications, therefore, Roche's works invite a continuation of the research presented here: an interrogation, in other words, of the critical assumptions shaping our current understanding of both Irish and gothic literary production in this period.
Relevant and timely work by the team behind the Leverhulme-funded Lady's magazine (1770–1818) project has added weight to the appeal for scholarship made here. What Jennie Batchelor calls ‘the Minerva Press fiction of the Romantic periodical marketplace’, the Lady's magazine offered its many readers a wide range of literary and cultural delights each month, including short and serialised fiction, some of it excerpts from gothic romances published by popular presses such as Minerva, and much of it closely resembling them in style and mode.6 Indicatively, as Jenny DiPlacidi documents, there was considerable overlap between the authors publishing gothic tales within the pages of the Lady's magazine and those producing novels with Minerva and other popular publishers.7 One such writer was Miss Kitty or Catherine Cuthbertson, whose novels include Romance of the Pyrenees (1803), Santa Sebastiano (1806), The forest of Montalbano (1810), Adelaide; or, the countercharm (1813), Rosabella; or, a mother's marriage (1817), The hut and the castle (1823), and Ethelbert (1830).8 Like Roche, Cuthbertson was generally viewed as a Radcliffean imitator and, accordingly, has been given short shrift in scholarship of the Romantic period. Yet, also like Roche, Cuthbertson's gothic romances were extremely widely read throughout the nineteenth century, with Cuthbertson remaining a recognisable name long after her death, despite the fact that she published most of her work anonymously.9
The same might be said of a considerable number of gothic fiction writers in this period. What makes Cuthbertson a particularly interesting figure in the context of this study is Batchelor's recent discovery of her Irish birth, a finding that brings Roche and Cuthbertson even closer together. Born in Dublin in or around 1775, Cuthbertson relocated to London some time before 1803, specifically for professional reasons: to ‘wr[i]te romances’.10 Over the next three decades or so, Cuthbertson would produce seven novels, many of which remained familiar to readers at least until the early twentieth century but which have been largely ignored by literary criticism. Like Roche, then, Cuthbertson represents the migration of Irish literary production at the start of the nineteenth century and is indicative of the systematic erasure of so much popular fiction from the annals of (Irish) Romantic literature. The relegation of gothic romance writers such as Roche, Cuthbertson, and many of the other authors included in this study to the margins of literary history not only denies the significance of their long-lasting, transnational appeal, but it also emphasises the limitations of accepted accounts of ‘canonical’ Romantic-era literature. As Batchelor writes,
Cuthbertson, like so many Lady's Magazine authors, is an important figure in literary history, not just because of what she wrote, how many people fainted in her novels’ pages, or because people like [Thomas Babington] Macaulay read her. She is important because her persistent popularity and claim on readers’ imagination makes clear that so many things we once thought we knew about literary history – about who was read and remembered – don't always chime with reality.11
If Batchelor's exciting discovery of Cuthbertson's birth threatens to plunge us even further into ‘the sublime of literary history’ noted in the Introduction, it also emphatically stresses how incomplete and often misguided our understanding of Irish gothic literary production in this period is. As detailed in the preceding chapters, our assumptions about late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century gothic literature in Britain lead to a deceptively smooth account of what appears to be a largely Anglo-centric phenomenon typified by defined formal, generic, stylistic, and narratological boundaries. Within this scenario, contemporary Irish gothic cultural production is marginalised as delayed and derivative, a secondary development of an English tradition, the norms of which it never successfully replicated thanks to the conditions and consequences of its own cultural specificity.
The texts discussed here – some of which have never before benefited from serious scholarly consideration – demonstrate the inaccuracy of these ideas, illustrating that Irish authors actively produced an adaptable, cross-generic, cross-cultural gothic literature reflective of contemporary understandings of the term gothic, not as the codified formal or generic heading it has become. Exploring historical example, continuity, and change, the authors of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish gothic literature produced a diverse body of fiction that probed questions of modernity, progress, and enlightenment from a variety of different angles. Many of these works adopt the conventions we associate with ‘the Gothic novel’ and ‘Irish Gothic’, e.g., medievalism; Catholic Continental settings; overt supernaturalism. But, as evidenced here, many of them do not, preferring instead contemporary time periods, local geography, and a more generalised recourse to romance. Attention to the apparent deviations and exceptions to the norm highlights the heterogeneous breadth that is eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish gothic literature. As it does so, it re-integrates the gothic into mainstream British and Irish literary history, revealing the striking overlaps between gothic fictions and apparently distinct forms such as the historical novel and the national tale, and positioning the literary gothic not as the disreputable, popular output of hack writers unworthy of cultural memory but as an invaluable body of widely read literature vital to the transnational development of nineteenth-century literature and culture.
The aim of this book has been to outline a new model of gothic literary production reflective of these realities without falling prey either to the trap of unnecessarily limiting definitions or to the appeal of canon-making. Quantitative analysis has been useful in avoiding these pitfalls, clearly enumerating the literary and material facts on which this book's claims are built. The various maps and graphs draw into stark relief the broad, formally and generically porous approach to the literary gothic held by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers. And, if the discussion of these works has necessarily been reliant on a representative selection, these figures sketch out and begin to add contour to a revised and expanded map of Irish gothic fiction that accurately situates it formally, generically, narratologically, ideologically, and geographically within the contexts of Irish, British, and European literary output. Alongside the more traditional qualitative analysis included here, these ‘graphs, maps, and trees’ provide an innovative and transformative account of Irish gothic fiction that not only reframes scholarship of ‘the Gothic novel’ and ‘Irish Gothic’ but also reworks conventional perceptions of the literary gothic's place within and impact upon Romantic-era culture. At the same time, in keeping with Moretti's suggestion that ‘graphs, maps, and trees place the literary field literally in front of our eyes – and show us how little we still know about it’, the statistical illustrations included here gesture towards the rich, Irish gothic terrain yet to be explored.12 Opening up the study of Romantic literary history, this work invites continued interrogation of individual cases such as those with which this conclusion began, as well as more collective bodies of Irish and gothic literary production in order further to develop and refine the literary cartography presented here.