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The Book as Author Work: 17th Century

As the profession of authorship became more well-established, writing was increasingly viewed as exclusively the work of males. Particularly in England, women were excluded.

Zionkowski (2001) stressed that as authorship moved from being an aristocratic leisure activity to a profitable venture, the professional was seen as bourgeois work for men. Authors began to identify different classes of writing separating the more literary authors from commercial writers.

Aphra Behn

BehnAphra Behn (1640-1689) was one of the first English female authors. During the English Restoration, she represented the type of non-traditional woman who chose to become an author. She may have intentionally covered up details about her early life. In her mid-twenties she married a trader named Hans Behn who died soon after the wedding. It's possible that she even invented the marriage so she could be considered a "respectable widow" (Sutherland, 2012). During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, she was a spy.

Later, Behn worked as a scribe for the King's Company, a theatrical enterprise writing plays and poetry. Her subject matter including themes of sexual desire were considered scandalous. The Rover and Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister were both popular.

After creating many works, Oroonoko was published in 1688. While it lacked the suspense of great works of fiction, it is an excellent example of an early English novel.

The image on the right shows the title page from Oroonoko.

After her death, Behn's Oroonoko was published as a play by Tho. Southerne in 1696. While Behn didn't receive credit on the title page, she was acknowledged by the author in the preface. Southerne (1696), stated that

"I stand engag'd to Mrs. Behn for the Occasion of a most passionate distress in my Last Play; and in a Conscience that I had not made her a sufficient Acknowledgement, I have run further into her Debt for Oroonoko, with a Design to oblige me to he honest; and that every one may find me out for Ingratitude, when I don't say all that's fit for me upon that Subject. She had a great Command for the State." (You can read the entire preface online.)

Before the time of copyright, a publisher was not required to acknowledge the original author. It was clear that he respected her work because she was at least mentioned. However many other publishers reproduced her works without giving credit.

Lose of Control

pinesHenry Neville published the pamphlet The Isle of Pines (1668). This book reflects the loss of control experienced by many authors during this time period. Neville intended the book to satirize the Restoration regime in England and its failed foreign policy. However, the work of fiction immediately took on a life of it's own.

With no international copyright protections in place, printers across Europe translated and reprinted the publication. According to Gaby Mahlberg (2012), much of Neville's original political criticism was "lost in translation". Mahlberg (2012) identified four types of transformation of Neville's work: literal translations, reduction to a news-type story, transformation highlighting moral, religious and political aspects of story, or evolution of the story. Mahlerg (2012, 16) concluded "so Neville's Isle was over time transformed from a politically subversive literary hoax into a good yarn, a (fake) news report or a literary theme liberally employed by journalists and writers of fiction who would never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

The image on the right shows the title page from The Isle Pines.

To learn more about this example, skim Mahlberg, Gaby M. (2012). Authors losing control: the European transformations of Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines (1668). Book History, 15, 1-25. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Reading to Inform Writing

John Milton (1608-1674) was the Puritan author of Paradise Lost. Fulton (2010, 1) notes that many authors including Milton used reading to inform their writing. He states that

"in the past twenty years, research on the history of the book has produced an increasingly detailed sense of how the technologies of reading - such as notebooks, libraries, and practices of annotation - shaped the ways readers confronted texts, collected information from them, and recirculated this information in their own writing."

Milton's Commonplace Book connects his thinking to his printed works. Because of its heretical nature, the book wasn't published until well after his death. Including a collection of manuscripts and drafts, political poems, and other writings, the book helps researchers gain insights into the work of this author.


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, authors continued to use sponsors to finance their work. The sponsor would pay the author for the work then create a limited edition for their fellow researchers and friends.

A wealthy banker and co-director of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), George Clifford III was known for his love of botany. He was employed Linnaeus to write Hortus Cliffortianus. Linnaeus' compensation included room, board, and a financial allowance of one ducat a day. From 1736 to 1738, the Swedish naturalist studied Clifford's garden and produced a book in folio containing 36 plates. It was printed in limited edition and copies were presented to Clifford and fellow researchers in a plant exchange (Cambridge Special Collections, 2012).

Cambridge Special Collections (2012). Landbeach to Linnaeus. Available:

EgyptWhile some books are written, printed, and published by a single individual, other works involve dozens or even hundreds of people.

One of the largest projects for the Imprimerie Imperiale was the publication of Description de l' Egypte or Description of Egypt (image shown on right). Between 1798 and 1801, Napoleon's Egyptian campaign took place involving military personnel as well as over 100 scholars, scientists, mathematics, artists, and cartographers. In 1802, a committee was formed to prepare the publication. The volumes were published between 1809 and 1829 employing over 2000 artists, technicians, and engravers.

At the time, it was the largest printed book ever produced. The three atlas volumes were on double elephant folio (108 x 73 cm). The eight plate volumes (73 x 56 cm) and the nine text volumes (42 x 28 cm). As Egyptmania spread through Europe, buyers built special cabinets to hold their collection.

Illustrator Innovation

flearRobert Hooke (1635-1703) was the first to use a microscope the create illustrations in his work Micrographia. Cormack and Mazzio (2005) note that

"the first treatise to use the microscope, redefined knowledge by redefining what it meant to see. With the use of scientific technology, to know became a matter of seeing things close up. Such technology subordinated a natural seeing to a new kind of seeing, more specialized and hence more useful in a scientific domain. Hooke's text offers new ways of thinking about the relationship between the printed book and the physical world.... Hooke again and again draws his readers into the domain of the material book. Although the use of microscope technology everywhere subtends the book, the reader's eye is directed from narrative text to plate and back again, such that the image comes to illustrate the text and not the world. "


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