ELH: English Literary History
Ever since circulating libraries first became commercially successful during the second half of the eighteenth century, social and literary critics have analyzed them primarily as institutions for distributing books. The dominant view has been that circulating libraries vulgarized literature, by pandering fiction to women, servants, and other people who had previously been excluded from reading by the high cost of books or by illiteracy. For instance, near the end of The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt argues, as many eighteenth-century critics did, that during the last quarter of the eighteenth century "the pressures toward literary degradation which were exerted by the booksellers and circulating library operators in their efforts to meet the reading public's uncritical demand for easy vicarious indulgence in sentiment and romance" caused "a purely quantitative assertion of dominance" by female authors and readers, and by the Gothic romance genre.
Original Publication Citation
Jacobs, E. (1995). Anonymous signatures, circulating libraries, conventionality, and the production of Gothic romances. ELH: English Literary History, 62(3), 603-629. doi: 10.1353/elh.1995.0027
Jacobs, Edward, "Anonymous Signatures, Circulating Libraries, Conventionality, and the Production of Gothic Romances" (1995). English Faculty Publications. 28.