Shopping Beyond the Parenthesis. An Equivalence of Books and Bottled Ketchup


Simon Frost (, born 1962, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern Denmark. He received his PhD from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, in October 2006, with a dissertation entitled ‘Business of a novel: Economics, aesthetics and the case of Middlemarch’. He has published ‘“A Handsome Volume”: Fra litteraturhistorie til den litterære teksts sociologi’ in Passage, vol. 57, 2007, pp. 29–45. Forthcoming titles include ‘The good in a little fiction: Conrad, consumer readers, and commodity culture’ in English in Africa, 2008/9, and ‘Commodity readers: Selling Middlemarch to Danes’ in Litteratur og Verdensmarked: værk, bog og vare [Literature and world markets: work, book and commodity], anthology, vol. 2 in Verdenslitteratur [World Literature] series, Aarhus University Press, 2008/9, a volume which he is also editing. He is convenor and chief organiser of Published Words, Public Pages – SHARP Copenhagen: a Nordic conference of International Book History, 2008 ( He is a member of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP); European Society for Textual Scholarship (ESTS); The Danish Book History Forum and the Gutenberg Parenthesis Research Forum.


Words have been made public in very many ways: spoken as improvisation, recited from memory, written down and published or read aloud to an audience. Those printed have had very many formats: draft, (broad)sheet, part and periodical. Bound single and multiple volumes are merely one option. If a Gutenberg parenthesis is to make sense at all, then it is as a perception, of the bound volume format retaining a certain sanctity – regardless of what the material history of print culture might say. The question would then be, who held this perception and when? Or more precisely, if we assume the perception, under what conditions did alternatives emerge? Of the many contexts in which the hegemony of the bound volume has been debunked,1 commodification is one. This essay2 will examine, therefore, an early example of an industrialised literary Artwork in an emergent commodity culture, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, to see whether there may have been other ways of treating the volume’s otherwise hegemonic unified text; other ways of interpreting, or of readers profiting from, a commodity reading.