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The Subscription Library and the Rise of Popular Fiction

The Circulating LibraryThe Subscription Library and the Rise of Popular Fiction I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library which opens January 14, and my name, or rather yours, is accordingly given. My mother finds the money. May subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so; but it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers. Jane Austen to Cassandra December 18, 1798 In a time before television and recorded music, live entertainment, sewing and reading provided the main occupation for leisurely hours. While a great house or estate like Pemberly might boast a well endowed library most middle class families would have been hard pressed to expand their private collections at a pace well able to keep up with the family’s demands. Books were an expensive luxury in Austen’s day– Sir Walter Scott’s three volume novels were sold at the exorbitant rate of 31s. 6d (or close to £90 in today’s currency). With the growing middle class gaining previously unheard of free time, there was a great demand for new works of entertainment– hence the popularity of the “Novel”, an only recently created genre, with the publication of Robinson Crusoe

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