In the early nineteenth century, London publishers dominated the transatlantic book trade. No one felt this more keenly than authors from Ireland, Scotland, and the United States who struggled to establish their own national literary traditions while publishing in the English metropolis. Authors such as Maria Edgeworth, Sydney Owenson, Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper devised a range of strategies to transcend the national rivalries of the literary field. By writing prefaces and footnotes addressed to a foreign audience, revising texts specifically for London markets, and celebrating national particularity, provincial authors appealed to English readers with idealistic stories of cross-cultural communion. From within the messy and uneven marketplace for books, Joseph Rezek argues, provincial authors sought to exalt and purify literary exchange. In so doing, they helped shape the Romantic-era belief that literature inhabits an autonomous sphere in society.
"London and the Making of Provincial Literature" tells an ambitious story about the mutual entanglement of the history of books and the history of aesthetics in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Situated between local literary scenes and a distant cultural capital, enterprising provincial authors and publishers worked to maximize success in London and to burnish their reputations and build their industry at home. Examining the production of books and the circulation of material texts between London and the provincial centers of Dublin, Edinburgh, and Philadelphia, Rezek claims that the publishing vortex of London inspired a dynamic array of economic and aesthetic practices that shaped an era in literary history.