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A Database of Production and Reception

Project Overview

The database project arises from ten years’ general research into Romantic-era British fiction, which culminated in the publication by OUP of a two-volume bibliography in April 2001, edited by Peter Garside, James Raven and Rainer Schöwerling, and entitled The English Novel, 1770–1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles. The database itself was initially developed in March 1997 by Professor Peter Garside and Dr Anthony Mandal, and concentrated on the 1800–29 period also covered by the second volume of the bibliography.

The initial aim of the project was to create a tool, which complemented but did not duplicate the material provided in The English Novel. The database was designed to allow a broad and sophisticated level of analysis of over 2,260 titles from the period 1800–29. Data were entered into a Microsoft Access database over the course of about three months, and the database was then updated as new bibliographical data became available.

The bibliographical information is divided into various fields, which enable analysis of gender distributions, publisher popularity, authorial status, prices, translations, etc. In addition, a reference number allows the user to return to the full entry as it appears in the printed bibliography.

To ensure that the database and the bibliography remain separate but related research tools, a certain amount of streamlining has taken place. Author information and publisher imprints have been standardised as fully to support continuity in searching. A case-in-point is the Minerva Press, which was ran at various times by William Lane, A. K. Newman, and both. While the bibliography records these developments on a title-by-title basis, to maintain consistency in the database it has been necessary that the publisher details remain constant—after all, irrespective of whether Lane or Newman controlled the firm, it remained the ‘Minerva Press’.

As well as enabling the study of broad statistical data, fuller bibliographical information can also be consulted on a per-record basis. Analysis can therefore take place on two levels: the general (for spans of years, types of fiction, specific authors) and the individual (studies of individual texts, with rich information about the work concerned). Moreover, the database performs a two-fold function: it is both a statistical tool, allowing such analyses of data, and an archival resource, collecting together disparate kinds of information which relate to individual novels.

By mid-1999, the database consisted of 2,256 discrete items which recorded basic bibliographical data for each title. Following the initial award of a modest grant, we were able to develop a pilot scheme in order to explore new areas covering the production and reception of fiction at this time. The pilot consisted of one year’s intensive data-collection, concentrating especially on circulating-library catalogues and reviews, followed by the processing of the material after collection.

In February 2000, Dr Jacqueline Belanger was appointed as a full-time Postdoctoral Research Associate responsible for the gathering of pertinent information from a variety of sources. These would then be added to the records as appropriate, in order to build on our perceptions of the presentation of and reaction to fiction of the early 19th century. Sources marked for examination included the following:

  Entries in circulating-library catalogues
  Subscription lists
  Newspaper announcements and advertisements
  Publishing papers
  Anecdotal information

Over the last two years, we have focused on the acquisition of these contemporary materials which will provide a more comprehensive context for the primary bibliographical data already available. As well as providing supplementary data to the bibliographical record which forms the core of the database, examination of these sources and from other researchers have uncovered additional titles and further information about works listed in The English Novel, all of which is incorporated dynamically into the database.

So far, out of 50 circulating-library catalogues held at the Centre, we have processed entries from libraries in Aberdeen, Bath, Caernarvon, Cheltenham, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Norwich, and Wigan. Further collections are currently underway. In Issue 5 of Cardiff Corvey (December 2000), we made available entries from four circulating libraries from various parts of the British Isles, although work on this field has progressed extensively (for more details about how to access this material, please go to the bottom of this page).

Similarly, reviews, notices, and announcements of fiction are in the process of being collected from over 30 periodicals. We have already acquired complete runs from the Anti-Jacobin Review, La Belle Assemblée, British Critic, British Review, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Christian Observer, Critical Review, Edinburgh Review, Flowers of Literature, Imperial Review, Literary Gazette, Monthly Review, and Quarterly Review. So far, around 3,000 items have been collected, stored, and catalogued for the database project. It is anticipated that within the next months, we shall concentrate on processing this vast store of material electronically, for inclusion within the final database. Issue 7 (December 2001) of Cardiff Corvey has already made publicly available review matter from The Flowers of Literature (for more information, see the bottom of the page). During the summer of 2001, additional help in processing review informations was provided by various members of staff and graduate students working within Cardiff University.

Complementing our collection of the public responses recorded in the reviews, we have also been gathering private reactions in the form of anecdotal information. So far, comments on fiction from around 50 sources have been collected, including responses by Jane Austen, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Susan Ferrier, Anne Lister, Lady Morgan, Walter Scott, and Mary Shelley. In Issue 6 (June 2001), Cardiff Corvey presented comments on 124 titles from many of these commentators (for more information, see below).

Although we have focused principally on circulating libraries, reviews, and anecdotes, headway has also been made in the other areas. We have collected copies of around 60 subscription lists, which we hope to begin preparing for the database. As far as publisher records are concerned, we have processed impression numbers, as well as publication costs and profits, from the Longman Archives (a microfilm copy of which was purchased as part of the pilot). Preliminary examinations of the major London dailies—such as The Morning Chronicle, The Morning Post, and The Star—indicate that newspaper announcements are clearly a fecund source of new information on the dissemination of titles. Issue 8 (June 2002) provided lists of announcements which appeared in the Star for titles published between 1815 and 1824.

In May 2001, a further grant was awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board to extend the database project beyond the pilot scheme, with the aim of mounting the resource on the Internet, in the form of a freely accessible website. Concluding in late 2004, this project will create a full record of contemporary fiction as it was produced, circulated, and received in Britain during the period 1800–29. As a result of the AHRB award, a second full-time post was made available, and in October 2001 Dr Sharon Ragaz joined the project, focusing initially on circulating-library catalogues, newspaper collections, and anecdotal comments.

The present team attached to the project is led by Peter Garside, with the assistance of Professor David Skilton, and consists of Jacqueline Belanger, Anthony Mandal, and Sharon Ragaz.

In addition to the continued collection and processing of the kinds of source materials mentioned above, a pilot version of the database was tested in Autumn 2003 by a panel of assessors, and received a very positive response. This pilot version of the database presently allows for the searching across various categories, such as gender, author, title keywords, publisher, place of publication, and dates. Additionally, the database allows users to browse across three alphabetically arranged indexes: author, title, and publisher. Material from the new stage of the project, in the form of anecdotal records linked to the main records, has also been added to the database. Our next steps will be to mount transcriptions from subscription lists and publishers’ records early in 2004. Invaluable assistance in the development of the online database has been provided by Chris Veness, of Movable Type Ltd. In light of the feedback from our advisory panel, the team is continuing to develop the database in order to combine high-quality material with an easy-to-use interface. We hope to add more sophisted search mechanisms to the online database, which will allow users to query the Notes field for supplementary information and to locate the presence of secondary material immediately.

There are a number of reports and downloadable/printable resources based on work done in the Database project available for visitors. Please click on a link below to open the relevant pages:

  Phase I Report: Information about the first stage (1997–99) of our ongoing database project.
  Phase II Report (Feb–Nov 2000) and Circulating-Library Checklist: Details of progress covering the first six months of the project, as well as a full Checklist of 2,256 titles from four circulating libraries.
  Phase II: Anecdotal Comments: A record of comments from 30 sources, which will form a fraction of the material included in our continuing database project.
  Phase II: The Flowers of Literature: Transcriptions of reviews in The Flowers of Literature (1801–09), of over 140 novels and tales.
  Phase II: Newspaper announcements from the Star, 1815–24: A comprehensive listing of announcements, providing dates, prices, and other key information.

Last modified 6 January, 2004 .
This document is maintained by
Anthony Mandal (Mandal@cf.ac.uk).