Novels of Interest

3. Although Tales of the Genii and Tom Jones were packaged together for the Novelist’s Magazine, it was more common for circulating libraries to rent out single works published in multiple volumes. In this way, circulating libraries renting by the volume made expensive new novels more accessible to readers. A novel divided into three and sometimes four volumes, such as Walter Scott’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian (Edinburgh: Constable, 1818), could be rented to multiple people simultaneously. This system benefitted sellers, but also publishers and writers, looking for ways to increase readership and profits.

Circulating libraries were not cheap; membership and rental fees generally restricted access to the middle classes, or to those with expendable income for such pursuits. However, even in institutes set up to disseminate knowledge among the lower classes or the working classes, such as Mechanics Institutes, it was not long before popular new novels, for example those by Scott, began to appear by demand.