32 Pages

Introduction: Materiality as Interpretation in Cranford

Writing a publication history leads one, perforce, into the tangled skein of cultural history, the material objects called editions and adaptations becoming focal points where emergent cultural ideas and tensions find objective and often contradictory expression.1 Novels are written at quite specific historical moments in the culture and in the life of the author, and publishers decide to publish on the basis of their own professional and economic interests; in addition, artists, dramatists (both amateur and professional), producers, and screen-play writers participate in the literal production of a material text (be that text novel, play-script adaptation, or visual) and thereby offer interpretations of the source text in the context of the larger concerns of their culture. Publication history, then, engages both reception history, addressing questions of how readers (variously defined) understood the text, and the development of a critical tradition, addressing questions of the authoritative status of the published critical commentary on the text. But while publication history engages those things, it is also different from them in its focus on how the material object of the book and related objects the book may be said to have inspired (e.g. illustrations, teaching apparatus, and other texts such as play scripts based on the source text) are deployed from a range of ideological perspectives to be put to particular kinds of cultural use.