Very few copies of Maria Polack’s Fiction Without Romance (1830) have survived, making this novel almost impossible to read or study. The Polack archive includes a digital replica of the original novel along with photographs of the unique paratexts preserved in the British Library’s copy of the novel.
My interest in Polack’s novel led me to questions about cultural activities in the region of London where Polack lived–Whitechapel in the East End–and the rise of Anglo-Jewish secular culture. I’ve spent many years tracking down details of Polack’s life and the contexts of her novel to understand the debates embedded in the novel’s plot and cultural affiliations suggested by the paratexts. This work led me to consider the role of the subscription list in a single copy of the novel.
Subscription was a form of marketing used by those who wanted to find readers and outlets for their literary work. A single copy of Fiction Without Romance contains a subscription list. When I first encountered this rare document I was unsure of how to read it or why it mattered. In time I began to see its power and significance. My first step was to parse the information on the list into a spreadsheet. I designated addresses, parts of London or countries, the gender of subscribers, and titles. From there I added the same information of other subscriptions lists from East End publications. My data set grew to over two thousand entries containing 10 columns of data. In this format, I could analyze patterns in the data or visualize the breakdown of readers and locations in East End literary culture. A discussion of this process and my findings appears in chapter 2 of Strangers in the Archive (Kaufman 2022).
The British Library digitized the original subscription lists and granted me permission to display them on this site. I’ve also included my East End subscription data. Finally, I’ve included data visualizations created using Gephi (a data visualization tool) which helped me identify striking and subtle patterns in East End literary culture.
Heidi Kaufman is Professor of English at the University of Oregon. She specializes in nineteenth-century literary culture, archives, and Digital Humanities. Please email questions about this project to firstname.lastname@example.org