Cheap Print and the People: European Perspectives on Popular Literature
In every country across Europe, at some point or other during the last five hundred years, cheap printed materials were the staple diet of ordinary people, providing a rich array of entertainment, education, and information. They came in various forms, but were usually variations on the theme of single sheets or simple booklets, and they were carried far and wide in pedlars’ packs and sold in the streets, at fairs and markets and wherever crowds gathered, as well as in backstreet shops.
Their content was as broad as can be imagined: news and scandal, crimes and last-dying confessions of murderers, divinations, instructional works, wonder stories, miracles, folktales and legends, love stories, celebrations of national victories and lamentations for the good old days. They were often couched in the form of poetry or song, and included pictures in the form of woodcuts and engravings to add to their appeal.
In every country across Europe, governments and local and religious authorities tried at times to suppress or control these cheap printed materials. Sometimes, too, the authorities would adopt the format of cheap print to spread their own moral and conformist messages. The educated elites almost always treated cheap print with disdain, but the people continued to buy these items in their tens of thousands, and the printers knew exactly what they wanted.
Neglected and reviled for centuries, cheap print shines a light on the culture and lives of ordinary people. This is the first volume to take a pan-European perspective, with each chapter detailing the experience of a particular country or region, offering the reader the opportunity to progress from the particular to a continent-wide overview. This combination of the ubiquity of the materials and overarching themes with the variations wrought by local circumstances can be summed up in the phrase always the same, but everywhere different.
David Atkinson is the author of The English Traditional Ballad, The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts, and The Ballad and its Pasts: Literary Histories and the Play of Memory. He is co-editor of Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation and Ethnic Mobility in Ballads, and (with Steve Roud) Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America and Street Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century.
Steve Roud is the compiler of the Folk Song Index, Broadside Index, and a number of other ongoing online resources. His book publications include Folk Song in England, The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland, The English Year, London Lore, and The Lore of the Playground. He is co-editor of The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and A Dictionary of English Folklore, and (with David Atkinson) Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America and Street Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century.
“This collection of essays, brought together by two well-established scholars of song and popular culture, offers a wide-ranging survey of the diverse and dynamic histories of cheap printed materials across Europe. […] The book is well produced and edited to a high standard. The sharpest interventions are those able to contextualize their work in a wider academic field, but all of these chapters are contributions to a larger, more complex, and developing picture.”
University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth, Folk Music Journal, 2021
Siv Gøril Brandtzæg
Rumen István Csörsz
Astrid Nora Ressem
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