AMIDST THE OTHER religious, political, and technological changes in seventeenth-century England, the ready availability of printed books was the most significant sign of the disappearance of old ways of thinking. The ability to read granted new independence as the interactions between reader, text, and author moved from the public forums of church and court to the privacy and solitude of the home.
Privacy and Print proposes that the emergence of the concept of privacy as a personal right, as the very core of individuality, is connected in a complex fashion with the history of reading. Cecile M. Jagodzinski attempts to recover the experience of readers past by examining representations of reading and readers (especially women) in five genres of seventeenth-century literature: devotional books, conversion narratives, personal letters, drama, and the novel. The discussion ranges from the published letters of Charles I and John Donne to Aphra Behn's Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister and Margaret Cavendish's literary activities. The author examines how the resulting shifts in religious and literary practices due to the printed book influenced the development of the literary canon. She also addresses women's ambiguous roles in print culture, trying to pinpoint how privacy became gendered in the early modern period.
Debates about privacy and individualism still rage in today's computerized society. Jagodzinski's important and well-written book speaks to these present-day concerns and offers a historical example of the effect of new technologies on popular culture.