cover image Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia

Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia

H. J. Jackson. Yale University Press, $39 (366pp) ISBN 978-0-300-10785-2

Before there were television and movie screens to talk back to, people vented, pontificated and waxed poetic in the margins of their books, leaving heaps of material for Jackson, an English professor whose Marginalia was a general survey of this practice, to cull and study. She focuses here on the years between 1790-1830, when she says a ""reading boom"" occurred. Her goal, she writes, is to use marginalia to understand the inner workings of the Romantic-era reader. After a lengthy, fascinating introduction to period's ""reading environment"" and the then-nature of the publishing industry, she presents three major spheres of Romantic marginalia: everyday markings by students and businesspeople, annotations for friends and lovers, and inscriptions by collectors and writers. Unfortunately, the majority of her lengthy case studies involve literary figures both major and minor (Samuel Coleridge, John Keats and Horace Walpole figure prominently among them), leaving largely unexamined the ""ordinary"" reader she initially intended to describe. The book is aimed at a narrow audience of bibliophiles and academics, and Jackson's scholarly tone and obscure references make it unlikely to appeal to anyone outside that circle.