Document Type

Book Review

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But novels ARE books, you might be thinking. Jordan Stein points out that this is true, but not in the way that many of us have thought to be the case. Twentieth- and twenty-first century literary history, Stein argues, has too often failed to deliver a programmatic discussion of the media history of genre. Attention to changes and continuities in the early Anglophone novel’s artifactual status within an evolving, transatlantic media ecology, supplements, and in some cases rethinks, critical understandings of the development of novelistic form. Stein’s method is axiomatic for those working at the intersection of form and format: texts are comprised of what Jerome McGann describes in The Textual Condition (1991) as linguistic and bibliographic perceptual codes. Stein’s story is one of how writers, readers, editors, printers, publishers, and others navigated and contributed to the ongoing reciprocities among these codes. Such material specificity, “ironically,” to quote Stein’s oft-used diction, is vital to uncovering a story not of progressive, causal relation between form and format but rather a story of association and mutation. In this respect, Stein is indebted to the theoretical work of Deleuze and Guttari.


This article was originally published in The New England Quarterly, volume XCIII, issue 3 in September 2020.

Original Publication Information

Mattes, Mark. "Review of 'When Novels Were Books.' By Jordan Alexander Stein." 2020. The New England Quarterly, 93(3): 510-512.