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Authorship in the Long Eighteenth Century

Dustin Griffin

This book deals with changing conditions and conceptions of authorship in the long eighteenth century, a period often said to have witnessed the birth of the modern author. It focuses not on authorial self-presentation or self-revelation but on an author’s interactions with booksellers, collaborators, rivals, correspondents, patrons, and audiences. Challenging older accounts of the development of authorship in the period as well as newer claims about the “public sphere” and the “professional writer,” it engages with recent work on print culture and the history of the book. Methodologically eclectic, it moves from close readings to strategic contextualization.

The book is organized both chronologically and topically. Early chapters deal with writers – notably Milton and Dryden – at the beginning of the long eighteenth century, and later chapters focus more on writers -- among them Johnson, Gray, and Gibbon -- toward its end. Looking beyond the traditional canon, it considers a number of little-known or little-studied writers, including Richard Bentley, Thomas Birch, William Oldys, James Ralph, and Thomas Ruddiman. Some of the essays are organized around a single writer, but most deal with a broad topic – literary collaboration, literary careers, the republic of letters, the alleged rise of the “professional writer,” and the rather different figure of the “author by profession.”
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 218Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-1-61149-470-9 • Hardback • December 2013 • $74.00 • (£49.95)
978-1-61149-612-3 • Paperback • November 2015 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
978-1-61149-471-6 • eBook • December 2013 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
Dustin Griffin is professor of English emeritus at New York University.
1. Introduction: Representing Authorship

2. Milton’s Italian Journey: The Making of a Man of Letters?

3. The Beginnings of Modern Authorship

4. Dryden’s “Oldham” and the Life of Writing

5. Literary Collaboration

6. The Social World of Authorship

7. Literary Careers in the Eighteenth Century

8. The “Republic of Letters” in Eighteenth-century England

9. Authors by Profession

10. Gray’s Audiences

11. The Rise of the Professional Writer?


Griffin challenges the conventional understanding of 'authorship' in the long 18th century, an understanding grounded in the profiles of Milton and Dryden as 'authors.'/ Beginning with chapters that call into question the notion that Milton was 'the last of the old' and Dryden 'the first of the new,' the author demonstrates how both writers were fully engaged with the publishing world of their time. Booksellers, in particular, formed an important part of the two writers' notion of authorship. Both engaged fully in the print culture of their time, and at the same time both theorized the notion of authorship (prophecy for Milton; legacy for Dryden) in ways that affected 18th-century notions of authorship. Griffin builds on his treatment of Milton and Dryden to consider the writing lives of other 18th-century 'authors'–Swift, Pope, Johnson, Gray–reflecting on collaboration, residual patronage, social and political networks, and print culture as influences on the concept of authorship for these canonical writers (and for noncanonical writers of the time, as well). This groundbreaking study, notable for its erudition and thorough understanding of the milieu and the times, should be required reading for all serious scholars of Restoration and 18th-century literature. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.

Griffin efficiently reviews the perspectival differences to be found in New Criticism, structuralism, poststructuralism, New Historicism, book history, Habermas/public sphere, print culture studies, the ‘literary marketplace’, and copyright history. . . .This is an important book. It politely debunks selective and partisan accounts of the tidy 'rise of the professional author' that supposedly occurred after the passage of the 1710 Copyright Act. Professionalization often implied starvation, not glorious independence, and the 1710 Act benefitted publishers more than authors. Griffin has performed a real service in reconstructing eighteenth-century authors’ untidy, often contradictory, and slowly evolving sense of what it meant to be an author.

Dustin Griffin's Authorship in the Long Eighteenth Century tests out, qualifies, and disputes various familiar observations about eighteenth-century authorship-that copyright was invented, that literary patronage declined, that the 'literary marketplace' and 'print culture' rose, that the 'gentleman writer' gained it. He specifically aims to emphasize 'the writing life: a writer's interactions with booksellers, patrons, collaborators, and correspondents, and how and why those interactions change over time'. Griffin, for example, closely examines the idea of the 'republic of letters' in the eighteenth century to track a movement away from 'its connotations of a community of equals, some of whom were princeps and lawgiver but all of whom were citizens and voters'.
American Behavioral Scientist

• Winner, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles (2014)