Pet Book Report #3: The Book Business

As I mentioned in a previous post, the three versions of More Hints on Etiquette held at Harvard’s Houghton library all include paratextual advertisements, which give prominence to illustrations featured in other books. In each, there are two major sets of ads: one set is centered around an illustrator, highlighting both single-author works by charicaturist George Cruikshank and other books that include his illustrations; the other revolves around the publishing house’s recent productions, peddling other “Beautifully Illustrated” works “just published” by Charles Tilt on Fleet Street.

I turn my attention to these ads not only because they draw attention to images integral to the reading of the etiquette manual parody and its encompassing genre, but also because they as ephemera (according to Martin Andrew’s definition) may themselves shape “the act of reading” (434). In his chapter in A Companion to the History of the Book, Andrews provides the case for incorporating emphemera, including advertisements, in our studies of books’ production, distribution, and readership. The readership that Andrews conjures here is not a contemporary one: for him, ephemera might “throw a very particular light on history, offering not only facutal detail but also an atmospheric and evocative direct link with the past” (434). In other words, a focus on paratexts would root analysis in the historical moment of a text’s production and contemporary reception more than other types of material reading might alone. It is my hope that this sort of analysis might complement my reading of the book’s images, which is conducted largely from what I can glean as a reader in my own historical moment.

In two of the book’s three versions, the main part is bookended by ads: the ads for Cruikshank’s works come before the manual’s content, while the Charles Tilt ads come after. In the version rebound in morocco, however, both sets of ads are appended at the rear. I don’t mean to attempt to make something of the the movement of those advertisements to the back in the rebound edition–indeed, individuals’ motivations for their choices in rebinding for their personal collections may be too varied to recuperate from a single re-binding. I will instead focus on how the advertisements’ now-absence from the front calls attention to the function that they might have served in the book’s original production.

The position of these documents with respect to the text shapes their “know-show function,” in Lisa Gitelman’s words, that the documents provide the text and its readership. Gitelman reminds us that “documents are importantly situated; they are tied to specific settings,” which I am expanding to include their material contexts as well as the settings in which those documents were comoposed and read (4). If a document’s “know-show function is context-dependent in space and time[,]” then the ads’ positioning is integral to what More Hints on Etiquette might “teach or show us” about the genre it parodies (Gitelman 1).

The ads which come before the manual’s text, that incorporate Cruikshank’s illustrations, are all qualified by the level of “humour” they offer the reader: for example, THE COMIC ALMANACK that is “ILLUSTRATED WITH / TWELVE HUMOUROUS PLATES,” Cruikshank’s Sketch Book, which contains “more than Two Hundred laughable Groups and Sketches, illustrative of LIfe, Fashion, and Manners.” In a similar way to present-day “related content” ads, these ads situate the book not only, as its title does, within a network of etiquette manuals, but also within a network of books marked as satirical.

And satires themselves are documents that are written to persuade. “Persuasion,” Gitelman quotes John Guillory, “is implicit in docer,” the Latin root of the word “document.” Ads obviously attempt to persuade: they present what they reference in the hope of making a sale. But the goals of the ads in this parody, given their context transcend the persuasive work common to advertisement. They encourage an implied readership to engage with the manual as a parody; further, and more importantly–since this governs the parody’s success as satire–they work to persuade that readership that the rest of its genre should be engaged with the same humorous slant. What they “sell,” in a sense, is an interpretive framework for the etiquette manual.

WORKS CITED

Andrews, Martin. “The Importance of Ephemera.” In A Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, 434–50. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007.

Gitelman, Lisa. Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Sign, Storage, Transmission. Durham ; London: Duke University Press, 2014.

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