By Franz J. Potter. Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797-1830 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2021. 240 pages) ISBN: 978-1-78683-670-0.
Franz J. Potter’s Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797-1830 offers a much-needed, and much-desired, examination of late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century chapbooks. Focusing on the origins of these publications, Potter explores their gothic predecessors, the rise into popular marketing, booksellers and publishers involved in their success, and the eventual decline into children’s periodicals and books after the 1820s. Broken into six chapters, exclusive of the introduction, this expository text offers an in-depth investigative journey of the birth, life, and death of the infamous chapbook.
The first chapter, ‘Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers,’ focuses primarily on the overview of the chapbook publications. Potter uses this section to explore their roots in the “popular magazines of the late eighteenth century” (p.12). As one of the most important chapters of this monograph, it provides a detailed exposition of these neglected texts, their gothic roots, and creates a solid foundation for the next several chapters. In this section, Potter provides his readers with the necessary information about chapbooks, such as the fundamentals of the texts, their appearance, and the differentiation between the terminology (bluebooks, shilling shockers, and chapbooks) applied to these pamphlets. Utilizing the strategies of statistical bar and scatter charts, intertwined with marketing data, this section applies sales data of publications with a visual element to support Potter’s examination of the popularity of the gothic pamphlet. With the incorporation of this chapter, Potter ensures that this monograph not only appeals to experts of gothic chapbooks, but targets novices interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature.
Chapter two, ‘The Rise of the Gothic Chapbook: Simon Fisher, Thomas Hurst and The Monk, 1797-1801,’ expands upon the previous chapter and offers insight about the creation of this new form of literature. In this section, Potter identifies Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) as a foundational source responsible for influencing the emergence of gothic pamphlets. As a novel that has been repeatedly plagiarized, The Monk, and its allegedly immoral content, birthed numerous abridgments resulting in the eventual production of gothic chapbooks. While Potter utilizes this chapter to discuss their complex origin embedded in accusations of copyright infringement, he also establishes the significant individuals, such as Simon Fisher, Thomas Hurst, and John Lee, who were responsible for financially backing and publishing this “street literature” (p.32). This chapter, with its emphasis on the questionable birth and subsequent meteoric rise of chapbooks, serves as a valuable segue into the marketing, promotion, and publications of these once popular pieces of literature.
The next chapters, three through five, deviate from the gothic characteristics and make-up of these publications and, instead, focus on the publishers, booksellers, and marketing of the chapbooks. The first of these chapters, ‘The Art of Marketing: Ann Lemoine and John Roe,’ explores the role of Lemoine as a “female publisher in a male-dominated industry,’ while also examining her collaborations with Roe, and her impact on the gothic nature of the chapbooks (p.5). Chapter four, ‘The Golden Age of the Shilling Shocker: Thomas Tegg and the Chapbook Magazine,’ continues the examination of marketing and highlights Tegg’s influence on the gothic pamphlet. Similar to the previous chapter Potter delves into the publisher’s legacy that associates Tegg with the promotion and exploitation of these “short tales of terror” (p.87). In ‘The Profiteers: Isaac Crookenden and Sarah Wilkinson,” Potter shifts focus from the promoters and producers of chapbooks to two prolific writers of the short pamphlets. While he acknowledges the abundance of authors for these publications (many anonymous), Potter calls attention to Crookenden and Wilkinson in this chapter. The purpose for this focus is two-fold: both authors ignore anonymity and claim authorship of the traditional disreputable texts and also the “sheer number” of pamphlets that they produced (p.88). Although similar to previous chapters, this penultimate section examines publishers but also integrates the relationships with the authors and their promotions of gothic pamphlets.
Acting as a mirror for chapter two, the final chapter, ‘The Decline of the Gothic Pamphlet,’ discusses the eventual dissolution of chapbooks. Finishing the historical journey of the gothic pamphlets, Potter expands his exploration by integrating the diminishing market from the 1810s to the 1820s. Offering an intricate examination of the popular publishers, William Hodgeson & Co., John Arliss, and Dean and Munday, this section discusses the shift of the literary marketplace from gothic pamphlets to “cheap fiction and serialization,” influenced by the increase of working-class literacy (p.135). Potter concludes his monograph by addressing the eventual disappearance of gothic chapbooks, and the resulting emergence of children’s periodical and toy books. Expertly constructing a Freytag’s Pyramid of literary history, Potter creates an intriguing and informative exposition of the life and death of these once-significant texts, resolving in a truly efficacious conclusion.
In conclusion, Potter’s monograph provides an essential, and detailed, investigation of a publication that has either been “historically overlooked” or “marginalised” (p.2). Seamlessly infusing the history of the gothic with an exploration of authors, publishing houses, and booksellers, Potter offers an elaborate chronicle about these slowly diminishing texts. This comprehensive investigation concludes with a substantial appendix that consists of four hundred gothic pamphlet titles; an added touch that perfectly ends such a well-informed exposition. Potter’s Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers, 1797-1830 will be a valuable source of information to beginner and experienced academics and scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as those focused solely on gothic studies.
Review by Nicole C. Dittmer