Bibliographic Romance: Bibliophilia and the Book-Object

Early nineteenth-century phenomena such as bibliomania and the figure of the "bookman" helped to spark a widespread awareness of books as printed objects and an interest in the physical dimensions of the readerly relationship to them. Taking as her focus the enormous spurt of bibliophilic writing in the early decades, Ferris looks at how its foregrounding of the physicality of books helped to unsettle key categories of identity and knowledge in the period. Resisting ideals of transfer and reproduction, bibliophilic genres produced a strangely affective book-object which posited the singularity of literate beings and inscribed them in particular and contingent histories rather than in the impersonal forces of circulation and system more typically linked to the printing press. The essay makes its argument through a reading on the one hand of the Romantic familiar essay (e.g. William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt) and, on the other, of the career of Thomas Frognall Dibdin, prolific bibliographer and premier bibliomaniac, whose reception underlines the way in which the figure of the "bookman" helped to destabilize the divisions organizing the intellectual field.