Remaking English Literature is a study of literary mediation. It focuses on a single, specific group of texts, and on the professional editors who shaped their contents and prepared them for consumption. All of these editors lived during fluid, uncertain, and experimental periods in their fields, when the values and practices that ordered the terrain were not well-defined. One was a stationer in England in the late sixteenth century, when the print marketplace was still coming into being. Others are scholarly editors working in the present day, when the late age of print is giving way to the digital age. The study argues that during each of these periods, material and structural changes to the culture of letters-stimulated, at least in part, by shifts in the media landscape-changed the rules of genre and aesthetic value in ways so significant that the game of literature itself had to be defined anew. The rise of a market for books in print, which both encouraged and benefited from the spread of popular literacy, set texts designed for intimate manuscript circles before a new public. The rules of what counted as literary texts at all under this new dispensation were still being formed, as were the terms of the appeal that literature had to make to potential readers.
In the early 21st century, the spread of digital culture is again reconfiguring the makeup of the reading public, shaping readers as “prosumers” who at once consume and manipulate content. Just as importantly, hyper-mediation and media convergence are forcing critics to confront an “unbinding of the book” that began in practice decades before the Internet age.