Date of this Version
Published in Yearbook of English Studies, 45 (2015), 196–215.
American novelist Catharine Maria Sedgwick had an unusually long career and her books were reprinted in Britain in a variety of circumstances and formats. Both her first novel, A New-England Tale (1822), and her last, Married or Single? (1857), appeared in London editions arranged by her or her American publishers, as did many of her books in between (including travel, children’s and conduct books). However, her works also appeared in unauthorized reprints. Sedgwick thus makes an interesting case study of how law and custom regulated the reprinting of American literary texts in Great Britain after 1820. Focusing on the British reprinting of American literature through Sedgwick’s case reveals changes in practice over several decades and illuminates an understudied phase in British publishing history: the emergence of cheap reprints of American novels in the late 1830s.
Scholars have analyzed how James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving negotiated British publishing and copyright. Both men resided in Britain for extended periods in the 1820s and 1830s, giving them a legal and logistical edge, and built long-term relationships with prominent London publishers (Cooper with Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, and Irving with John Murray). Furthermore, because Cooper turned out novels annually, competing publishers anticipated their appearance.1 In contrast, Sedgwick produced books regularly, but not annually, shifted US and authorized London publishers multiple times and negotiated the British market primarily from across the Atlantic. While Irving and Cooper’s cases, and especially Cooper’s, illuminate Sedgwick’s, her career reveals more typical trade practices.
Sedgwick’s pursuit of British publication of her books required close attention to publishing procedures and the timing of editions. Her negotiations with publishers, sometimes aided by brothers and nephews trained in the law, also shed light on her authorship and approach to the literary marketplace. The modest proceeds from British editions suggest that her desire to become known on the British cultural scene motivated her more than money. In the 1820s, the high-priced authorized editions of Sedgwick’s novels were a novelty for British readers. By the late 1830s, however, the cheap editions of contemporary novels already common in the USA became increasingly common in Britain, and she began to pursue authorized editions in order to fend off unauthorized reprints. She also, however, pursued authorized editions less consistently after 1835, while concurrently British publishers began issuing competing cheap editions of her books, including the novels of the 1820s and 1830s. These cheap reprints both undermined Sedgwick’s control over her works and made her newly visible to a wider class of British readers.