Category Archives: Literary Studies

Ashgate and the Modern Language Association, Vancouver edition

Posted by Erika Gaffney, Publishing Manager

MLA stand 2015Representing Ashgate at our first MLA experience in Canada, Lea Durfee and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time!  The location was lovely, and the temperatures much milder than in Vermont, our usual base of operation, that particular week.  The Ashgate book display looked great (see picture) and got, we felt, a good reception from the assembled literary scholars.  We especially enjoyed hearing feedback about our book covers (“they really pop!”).

Medical cultures of the early modern Spanish empireInterest in Ashgate titles was strong across the full spectrum of the list, but particular elements seemed to stand out: for example, the New Hispanisms series, and within that series, the volume Medical Cultures of the Early Modern Spanish Empire.

Also of special note was the first unveiling to an MLA audience of a new book series, Among the Victorians and Modernists, General Editor: Dennis Denisoff.

We look forward to reconvening in Austin, next January, to display the latest offerings from our Literary Studies list, and to discuss new book proposals.

Ann C. Colley on Wild Animal Skins in Victorian Britain


Ann C ColleyPosted by Ann Donahue, Publisher

Ann C. Colley (pictured) talks to Ann Donahue about her new book, Wild Animal Skins in Victorian Britain: Zoos, Collections, Portraits, and Maps

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

I had just finished my Victorians in the Mountains: Sinking the Sublime, which had not only appealed to my love of landscape and admiration for climbers, but had also taken me to libraries and clubs on both sides of the Atlantic. It was when I entered the Wellcome Institute on Euston Road that something clicked. The Institute had launched a special exhibit on “Skin” that I found absolutely fascinating. I recall seeing pieces of tattooed skin taken from sailors in the nineteenth century and wondering about the role of skin and identity. Knowing that the role of skin in human portraiture during the Victorian era has been well rehearsed, I turned my thinking to animal skins and portraiture. Before I knew it, I was launched.

Wild animal skins in Victorian BritainYour book connects to so many areas of current interest in the humanities, including animal studies, museums, collecting, sensory studies, and the history of science. Were you surprised at the multiple directions in which your research led you?

No. Indeed I was drawn to the subject because it would do just that. Cultural studies are appealing because they engage so many intersecting disciplines and take one into unusual archives and libraries not open to the general public. Once I began accumulating materials, I immediately saw that the project would fit into the current interest in animal studies, museum studies, theories of portraiture, British colonialism, collecting, theories of touch and skin, as well as in history of science.

You came upon some fascinating characters in the course of your research, including the Earl of Derby. Can you say a few words about him as a collector and his association with Edward Lear?

For several years I have been buying Lear’s watercolor sketches as well as lithographs of his natural history paintings. Through this interest, of course, I knew that between 1831 and 1837, he was employed by the 12th Earl of Derby and later by the Earl’s son to sketch and paint portraits of the wild animals and exotic birds kept on the estate, which was the site of England’s largest private menagerie. To amass their amazing collection, the 12th and the 13th Earls commissioned collectors and agents from all over the world. The resulting correspondence between the 13th Earl of Derby and these agents makes for incredible reading. Lear was privy to this world and to those who worked for and were related to the Earl of Derby.

I was fascinated to learn that collecting animal skins was not just the prerogative of the privileged classes as I would have thought that collecting these specimens would be extremely costly. How common was this form of collecting among working- and middle-class individuals?

There are several studies of the working class and their interest in science, particularly those that discuss the fact that mill owners and manufacturers often encouraged their employees to learn as much as they could about the sciences so as to create a more knowledgeable workforce. Jane Camerini, John M. MaKenzie, E.P. Thompson, and Katie Whitaker, among others, have all written on the topic. For me, the most convincing and vivid evidence came from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton in which she makes a point of mentioning that the working-class men of Manchester were “warm and devoted followers” of the “more popularly interesting branches of natural history.” They “knew the name and habitat of every plant within a day’s walk from their dwelling.” Her character Job Legh, a self-educated spinner, who has access to the Liverpool docks where sailors would return with exotic specimens, is one of these “warm and devoted followers.”

In some ways, the interest in animal skins strikes me as analogous to the Victorians’ passion for travel writing. What was it about these specimens that was so appealing?

I, myself, travel to exotic places and write accounts of my sometimes disastrous adventures and have found that the wild life of a place is what defines the experience for me. When I was working on Wild Animal Skins, I discovered a similar impulse was at work among the Victorian public, who were fascinated by exotic birds and animals in faraway lands and would go to great lengths to see exhibits of these, to collect them (though I hasten to add I do not own any taxidermy specimens!), and to learn as much as it could about them. As I say in the introduction to my book “skin was not only a basic ingredient of portraiture but also the site of encounter with the exotic world.”

Many people would find a home adorned with animal skins from so-called exotic locales shocking and collecting such specimens is often illegal. Was the collecting of wild animal skins controversial during the Victorian era?

No. Unlike many, perhaps most, people today, the Victorians experienced little sense of guilt in looking at, owning, arranging, and admiring stuffed birds and animals. They rarely, if at all, thought about extinction. Even Darwin shot the last fox on the Galapagos Island. For them the distant world was full of plenty. That is not to say the Victorians were insensitive to the pain inflicted on animals. One has to remember that it is in the Victorian period that the antivivisectionists were active. I am not sure why, but taxidermy is coming back in style. One can go to a booth at a market in London to learn how to remove the skin of a bird or a mouse and stuff it. At a wedding recently I met a person from Brooklyn who practices taxidermy in her apartment. Skin will always elicit pleasure, disgust, and curiosity.

About the Author: Ann C. Colley is a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University College of New York at Buffalo. She has published numerous articles and books, including Victorians in the Mountains, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Colonial Imagination, Nostalgia and Recollection in Victorian Culture, The Search for Synthesis in Literature and Art: The Paradox of Space, Edward Lear and the Critics, and Tennyson and Madness.

Claire Tomalin on Beryl Gray: ‘Dickensians will love her book’ (The Guardian, 2014)

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

‘[Beryl] Gray is an intelligent and sensitive reader of Dickens’s work and her arguments are worth following. Dickensians will love her book’, writes award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin, whose book The Invisible Woman (1990) was recently adapted into a biographical drama directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes.

The dog in the Dickensian imaginationTomalin’s review of Gray’s The Dog in the Dickensian Imagination, which appeared in the Guardian in December, is testament to Dickens’ enduring popularity, as well as to the growing fascination with animals and their representation in fiction and art. Gray’s book shows how Dickens’ works frequently engaged with dogs, both real and imagined, during an era where canine company was a common characteristic of urban and domestic life. The dogs that Dickens kept and encountered became intrinsic to the author’s literary vision and to his representations of nineteenth-century London.

Beryl Gray’s book is the latest to be published in The Nineteenth Century Series, edited by Joanne Shattock and Vincent Newey. It was launched on the 20th November at a private function in Lumen United Reform Church, a hop, skip and a jump away from Tavistock Square, which served as Dickens’ residence for several years. Shattock, who spoke at the launch, declared herself ‘delighted to see the book in print – with its arresting dust jacket and its sumptuous illustrations.’ She added, ‘we are very pleased to have this book in the Nineteenth Century series, where, unsurprisingly Dickens has featured prominently. Quoting Claire Tomalin’s point that Dickens saw the world more vividly than other people, Beryl Gray suggests he saw dogs more vividly than other people … Gray offers insightful readings of familiar texts, and many astute readings of the illustrations, showing the way novelist and illustrator worked together, and instances of where they did not.’

J. A. Szirmai

The staff at Ashgate who worked with J. A. Szirmai, author of The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (1999), were sad to hear that he died on the 2nd December 2014 at the age of 89.

Professor Szirmai spent twenty years in medical research and became a Professor of Medicine before making a name for himself as a professional bookbinder (some of his work can be seen here) and eventually turning to scholarship in the history of binding techniques.

His name has become virtually synonymous with his great reference work The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, which covers the evolution of binding from the introduction of the codex two thousand years ago to the close of the Middle Ages. The many kind words from reviewers across the globe – a small selection of which can be read below – are testament to Szirmai’s great and lasting impact on the scholarly world.

‘All book historians owe Dr Szirmai an enormous debt of gratitude for having written it.’    The Library

‘A book literally without peer’    Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America

‘Szirmai deserves our indebtedness for a magisterial work which constitutes a milestone in the field of the archaeology of the book, qualifying the author as the first true archaeologist of the binding structure.’    CAB Newsletter

‘Reading it, and then trying to describe it to another person is like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who has never seen it: in the end, you can only say, “You had to be there to understand.”’    Abbey Newsletter

‘The most important single contribution to the history of bookbinding to appear for many decades’    Guild of Booksellers Newsletter

Our sincere condolences to his wife, Mia, and to his family, friends, and those that have been influenced by his extraordinary scholarship.

100th volume published in the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Marketing Executive

Autobiographical writing by early modern hispanic womenAshgate will publish the one hundredth title in the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series in January 2015. The series editors, Allyson Poska and Abby Zanger produced their first volume in 2000 (Maternal Measures, Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh). Fifteen years later, we can announce the one hundredth title is Autobiographical Writing by Early Modern Hispanic Women by Elizabeth Teresa Howe. The work focuses on the contributions of women writers to the study of life writing, and offers a symmetrical theme to the initial volume in the series.

We would like to offer our sincere congratulations to Allyson Poska and Abby Zanger, as well as thanking them for their dedication to their role. To view the Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series in its entirety, and to read an interview with the series editors, please click here.

Forthcoming titles in the series:


Between apes and angels, animals and Ashgate: authors to attend animal studies conference at University of Edinburgh

Posted by Ally Berthiaume, Editorial Assistant

Animal Studies is a trending topic in academe with an increased production of literature across the disciplines. Ashgate is positioned within this rising canon, having contributed at least twenty titles to this growing body of animal-studies scholarship. Among these is Ashgate’s newly published collection, Animals and Early Modern Identity, edited by Pia F. Cuneo.Animals and early modern identity

Animals and Early Modern Identity spans the globe, including works from scholars in the United States, Europe and Africa. Apart from the range of the contributors’ geographical locations, there is also great diversity among the animal species appearing within these essays – from horses, dogs, and pigs to rhinoceroses, sea monsters, and other creatures. As Cuneo succinctly puts it in her introduction:

The wide array of disciplines, geographies, and species represented in the volume speaks to the vigor of intellectual inquiry into the subject of animal and nonhuman animal interaction in the early modern period (1400–1700).

Holding it all together, she asserts, is the issue of identity. This collection investigates what kinds of identities were developed by the interaction between human and animal; how these were expressed, for what reason, and with who were they shared. Each essay centers on the ways in which humans use animals to say something about themselves.

The expansion of ‘animal studies’ as a field, and the extent of the range of inquiry contained within it, is evidenced not only by the number and variety of academic publications, but also by a proliferation of conference panels – and sometimes whole conferences –  dedicated to the theme.  The past year or so has seen a number of these, crossing multiple disciplines and time periods, culminating this week with:  Animals and Critical Heritage and Between Apes & Angels: Human and Animal in the Early Modern World.

The latter conference features several contributing authors to Animals and Early Modern Identity as speakers, thus underlining the timeliness and significance of the volume.

Pia F. Cuneo is Professor of Art History at the University of Arizona, USA.  Her current work focuses on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century hippology, and she competes locally in dressage.

To see other Animal Studies titles click here.

The Elizabethan Top Ten – a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era

‘The Elizabethan Top Ten is a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era. Given the number of avenues it opens up, and the new lights it throws upon an apparently familiar scene, Smith and Kesson’s wish that it will prompt more debate seems certain to be amply fulfilled.’    Quite Irregular Blog

‘… The Elizabethan Top Ten offers more than ten compelling reasons for deserving popularity among humanities scholars and students.’   Journal of British Studies

The Elizabethan Top TenEngaging with histories of the book and of reading, as well as with studies of material culture, The Elizabethan Top Ten explores ‘popularity’ in early modern English writings.

Is ‘popular’ best described as a theoretical or an empirical category in this period?

How can we account for the gap between modern canonicity and early modern print popularity?

How might we weight the evidence of popularity from citations, serial editions, print runs, reworkings, or extant copies?

Is something that sells a lot always popular, even where the readership for print is only a small proportion of the population, or does popular need to carry something of its etymological sense of the public, the people?

Four initial chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues, while the second part of the book consists of ten short chapters-a ‘hit parade’- in which eminent scholars take a genre or a single exemplar – play, romance, sermon, or almanac, among other categories-as a means to articulate more general issues. Throughout, the aim is to unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, and to decentre canonical narratives about, for example, the sermons of Donne or Andrewes over Smith, or the plays of Shakespeare over Mucedorus.

Revisiting Elizabethan literary culture through the lenses of popularity, this collection allows us to view the subject from an unfamiliar angle-in which almanacs are more popular than sonnets and proclamations more numerous than plays, and in which authors familiar to us are displaced by names now often forgotten.

Below is an edited extract from Andy Kesson and Emma Smith’s introduction to the The Elizabethan Top Ten. You can read the full introduction on the Ashgate website.


After some months dominated by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The New York Times Book Review announced a change in policy for its famous book bestseller listings. Their new list of ‘trade paperback fiction … gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story collections reviewed so often in our pages’. The aim is clear: to exclude some – in fact, the very top – bestsellers from the bestseller list in order to make space for books whose value was signalled more by their presence in the paper’s review pages than by their sales figures alone. Six months later the paper attempted again to explain the rationale for its decision, but served to further confuse the distinction between ‘trade’ and its tautological formula of ‘mass-market’ bestsellers. In March 2008 Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement was in both charts, ranked 8th and 17th, respectively. ‘You may still wonder’, the paper wrote, ‘why we decided to separate the mass-market and trade best-seller lists. The reason is that mass-market books – no surprise – tend to sell in larger numbers than trade. A list based on the number of copies a paperback sells will usually be dominated by mass-market’.

One might expect that a list headed ‘bestsellers’ would indeed register those books that sold the highest number of copies, but here this is in conflict with a different measurement of value: trade books ‘are the novels that reading groups choose and college professors teach’. ‘Best-selling’ is here in an uneasy relationship with other, less quantifiable indices of value, or, to put it another way, the hyphenated term ‘best-selling’ is under some strain, as ‘best’ starts to serve less as an adjectival modifier to ‘selling’ and more its ideological opposite. Oscar Wilde’s aperçu in his ‘Lecture to Art Students’ seems relevant here: ‘popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong’.

This uncomfortable compromise between quantitative and qualitative indicators of value is not confined to newspaper bestsellers. Annual lists revealing which authors are most borrowed from UK public libraries, or the metrics by which Top Ten music charts are calculated have been subject to similar caveats and recalibrations, and indeed the BBC felt itself forced to censor its weekly chart show in the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in 2013. For various reasons, it seems that we want to elide quantitative and qualitative measures. True ‘bestsellers’ are just slightly regrettable, an attitude perhaps still bearing the residual anxiety of what J.W. Saunders influentially dubbed ‘the stigma of print’. Popularity is itself suspect. We want the best-seller list to be the same as that list authorized by reading groups and college professors, and when it isn’t, we tweak the arrangement to get a more satisfactory result. Saunders identified the stigma of print as a specifically Tudor problem. If methodological and ideological questions dog contemporary best-seller lists, where publication and sales data are relatively robust, they are multiplied when turning to the question of print popularity in the Elizabethan period.

This book attempts to raise, rather than elide, the practical and methodological challenges of defining print popularity, and, in particular, the interpretative difficulties for literary critics and cultural historians when our sense of what ought to have been a bestseller – because it is what college professors now teach – turns out not to have been. Our title, ‘The Elizabethan Top Ten’, is self-consciously anachronistic. We have not, for reasons discussed below, tried to tabulate a ‘Top Ten’ on print editions alone (although if we had, the Book of Common Prayer, discussed in Brian Cummings’s chapter, and Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalm translations, discussed in Beth Quitslund’s, would have been there). Rather, we have invited contributors to our Top Ten to either propose a particular popularity case study within a genre – sermons or plays, for instance – or survey a particular aspect of the print market, with an eye to how their focus might form a local contribution to broader issues about writing, publishing and consuming print in the early modern period.

We actively encourage disagreements about what has been left out. We’d be delighted, for instance, if someone angrily proposed another sermon in place of The Trumpet of the Soule: for all the recent revival in sermon studies in the past decade, no sustained ‘top ten’–type argument has broken out. We haven’t got a section on ballads, for instance, despite Adam Fox’s startling estimate that ‘three or four million broadside ballads were printed in the second half of the sixteenth century alone’.

We might have included something else on the range of ephemeral literature, including chapbooks, playbills and forms: Juliet Fleming uncovers early wallpaper as an unexpected representative of this wide and diverse category. We chose to take Shakespeare as our example of literary canonization because the stakes are so high for our own contemporary disciplinary practice: the case of John Lyly, whose 11 print works went through at least 46 editions in 60 years, might have given a different shape to the story.

Above all, our aim has been to stimulate debate, including disagreement. Our contributors seek to further a dialogue about notions of popularity and about the relative roles of quantitative and qualitative methodologies for judging and interrogating popularity in the past. This volume brings together book history and literary criticism not merely to nominate or enumerate bestsellers, nor even to problematize them, but rather to try to understand their hold on the market, and with that, the gap between our own literary assessments and those of the past we seek to understand.

For some critics, statistics suggest that in the Elizabethan period the vast majority of the people were illiterate, and popularity and print are therefore mutually exclusive. Tessa Watt sensibly suggests that ‘in a partially literate society, the most influential media were those which combined print with non-literate forms’, such as musical ballads, illustrated books and books for devotion. But we should still ask whether, in an era before mass literacy, any printed text could truly be described as ‘popular’. Joad Raymond’s intervention is helpful: ‘print culture can be described as “popular” not because it is the voice of the people, nor necessarily because it was widely read among the people or reflected their views, but because the people were understood to be involved in the publicity dynamic, the dynamic by which print came to play a part in public life and the political process’.

This book explores the ways print, in its content, appearance or placement, addresses itself to and is constructed by this sense of the public. Like the contributors to Raymond’s recent Oxford History of Popular Print Culture (2011), the writers in The Elizabethan Top Ten contribute to a reassessment of the role of print in studies of the popular.

Most classic accounts of popular culture disregard print, following Peter Burke’s monumental Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, first published in 1978, and prefer the reconstruction of the non-commercial practices of a communal, oral folk culture over the commodified entertainment of a learned elite.

But the public for print needs to be seen as extending beyond those who actually bought it and into a more heterogeneous, increasingly print-aware culture. Estimates of the number of print ballads in circulation in the Elizabethan period reach into the millions; religious texts like the ABC and Catechism went into scores, perhaps hundreds of editions; almanacs were printed in the hundreds of thousands.

And although press run for particular print artefacts is not the only indicator of ‘popularity’, it does suggest which works were already, or anticipated to be, commercially successful and which had relatively widespread penetration. We can see that numbers here vary widely, but even at the upper end of the range they remain small, particularly when set against, for example, the capacities of the theatres or the expected crowd at a sermon; on the other hand, we do not know how many people might encounter any one copy of a book. In their contributions to the current volume, Helen Smith cites Gabriel Harvey’s habit of signing his books ‘et amicorum’ and Abigail Shinn discusses Harvey swapping books with Spenser. The study of popularity needs to incorporate a study of human networks and the reception and ongoing use of books, as well as their publication and distribution.

The current book engages with these issues in two sections, one on methodology and the other the Top Ten itself. The first four chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues associated with popularity. Thus Alan Farmer and Zachary Lesser open our discussion by investigating and interrogating how the English Short Title Catalogue represents popularity within the early modern book trade. They provide new categories for a large-scale analysis of the print market, drawing together theoretical, evidentiary and bibliographic themes. Lucy Munro demonstrates how Elizabethan popularity was driven by books first printed before Elizabeth’s reign, so that age, paradoxically, offered new possibilities to a print market often criticized for its fixation on newness and novelty. Helen Smith abandons financial concerns entirely, advocating the early modern book as an object of friendship, conviviality and advice. In the final methodological essay, Neil Rhodes revisits Shakespeare’s writing career to show how ‘the best-selling English author of all time’ negotiated ambitions for exclusivity whilst responding to unanticipated levels of popularity amongst his readers. These four chapters offer sustained, different perspectives from which to rethink approaches to popularity.

The second section of the book is the Top Ten: ten short chapters presenting for the case of a particular genre as popular. Our contributors unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, decentre narratives about the canon and rediscover an early modern world which looks both oblique and new. We move from self-writing in almanacs to censored script behind wallpaper, international news to Spenser poems, domestic books to public sermons, psalm books to Munday’s serialized stories and from The Book of Common Prayer to polar bears at the Stuart court.

This Top Ten is not intended to be the final word on the most popular kinds of books available to early modern readers. Rather, we offer here a range of current thinking about early modern popularity, bringing together material textual criticism, the history of the book, conceptual frameworks, empirical data and evidence of reading practices, combining book history and literary studies in order to begin a new conversation about the nature of popularity. This is, above all, a book about people – people who produce, consume and love books and the content of books – and seeks to restore a sense of the vitality and radical implications of the Elizabethan ‘Pop-holy’ generation.


More information about The Elizabethan Top Ten

List of contributors to the book:

Andy Kesson; Emma Smith; Alan B. Farmer; Zachary Lesser; Lucy Munro; Helen Smith; Neil Rhodes; Adam Smyth; Brian Cummings; S.K. Barker; Abigail Shinn; Catherine Richardson; Juliet Fleming; Lori Anne Ferrell; Beth Quitslund; Louise Wilson; Peter Kirwan.