Claire Bellanti

Claire Bellanti

Claire Bellanti’s talk focused on the circulating library.

Emily Bergman and Alice Bergman

Emily Bergman and Alice Bergman

The Bergman sisters’ talk included an examination of What Would Elizabeth Bennet Do?

Rand Boyd

Rand Boyd brought a selection of rare books for members and guests to peruse.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary

Between presentations, members had the opportunity to get a closeup look at some of the rare books Rand Boyd brought to the meeting.

Winter 2015

Reading in the Time of Jane Austen

December 5, 2015

UCLA Faculty Center


 Claire Bellanti — “You Can Get a Parasol at Whitby’s”: Circulating Libraries in Jane Austen’s Time
Emily Bergman and Alice Bergman — “I Want My Mr. Darcy”: Using Pride and Prejudice as Bibliotherapy
Rand Boyd, Pressman and Bookbinder — A Look at 18th Century Book Design and Printing


From the 18th century circulating library to bibliotherapy to Regency-era book design and production, the Winter Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Southwest explored the theme of Reading in the Time of Jane Austen. The event attracted a capacity crowd to celebrate the author, just before the 240th anniversary of her birth.

“You Can Get a Parasol at Whitby’s”: Circulating Libraries in Jane Austen’s Time

The opening presentation by JASNA President Claire Bellanti discussed the centrality of the circulating library and other forms of book sharing in Regency England as well as their importance to Austen in her life and fiction.

“The driving force behind the circulating library was economic,” Bellanti noted. “These were businesses, often run by publishers.” Despite high demand, books were too expensive to purchase for most families. Even the wealthy used circulating libraries, and they became important meeting places in many communities.

Books were rented by subscription, with the fee based on the number of volumes and the number of subscriptions. Novels in three volumes meant triple the revenue, as three people could read parts of the same novel at one time.

By the turn of the 19th century, nearly every town in England had a circulating library. They were especially popular in such resort areas as Brighton, where Lydia visits one in Pride and Prejudice, and Austen’s fictitious Sanditon, in which Whitby’s Circulating Library is central to the narrative.

In 1801, a thousand such businesses could be found throughout the country. The majority of patrons were ladies, and the most popular books were novels. Some circulating libraries in large towns would make subscriptions available to rural areas, with carriages traveling back and forth, charging rural patrons a higher fee, Bellanti said.

Women subscribers and institutions such as Minerva Press in London — which specialized in women authors and, with 20,000 volumes, was the largest circulating library in 1800 — helped fuel the rise in female novelists.

“Austen brought mentions of libraries into each of her novels,” Bellanti added. “Four circulating libraries are mentioned in Emma.” The Austen family enjoyed novel reading and frequented such institutions themselves.

“I Want My Mr. Darcy: Using Pride and Prejudice as Bibliotherapy”

The day’s second presentation by sisters Emily Bergman, a librarian, and Alice Bergman, a therapist, focused on the healing power of reading through bibliotherapy, an expressive therapy that uses the patient’s relationship to the content of books to assist with the resolution of complex problems. “Finding the right book for the right patient can be transformative,” Alice noted.

The duo offered several scenarios for audience participation, bringing the Pride and Prejudice characters into modern situations, such as Elizabeth being asked to be maid of honor for her best friend, who is marrying someone decidedly unsuitable in Elizabeth’s opinion — or a friend of Darcy’s approaching Elizabeth, who has been dating Darcy for awhile, to let her know she would never be accepted by his family or the “country club.”

It was noted that bibliotherapy started at least as early as World War I, when Austen novels were given to soldiers to help them cope with being far from home and under great stress. Austen herself may have even invented the concept, as Anne Elliot uses bibliotherapy to help Captain Benwick in Persuasion.

Pressman and Bookbinder: A Look at 18th Century Book Design and Printing 

The final presentation featured Rand Boyd, coordinator of Special Collections and Archives at Chapman University, who provided a broad overview of the developments in book layout, ornamentation, and typography in North America and England during the 18th century. He also brought along a display of books from the era that attendees could examine throughout the day.

Boyd explained that, until the 18th century, most books were religious and all were nonfiction, including geography and history. “People were taught to read so they could read the Bible,” he said.

During the 18th century, the increased demand for books was driven by a decrease in their cost. In 1725, London had 75 printers. By 1785, that number had grown to 124. Demand for business rapidly grew, with an increased trend toward fiction. The literacy rate in Britain was lower than in Europe and the Colonies, although the vast majority of books were published in the British Isles, compared with North America.

Boyd noted that women were frequently employed in the production of books during this period. Everything, including the paper, was handmade. The biggest cost at that time, he said, was the paper — even more than the cost of labor. The pages were sewn together, and women typically worked in the bindery, using their fine needlework skills.

The 18th century also saw passage by Parliament of the first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, in 1710, which for the first time recognized authors as important to the process of book creation, Boyd noted.


Claire Bellanti holds an MA in History (UNLV) and an MBA (UCLA). She is retired from a 35-year career as a library professional at UCLA. She is currently president of the Jane Austen Society of North America and has served in other capacities on the board of JASNA-Southwest and the board of JASNA since 1994. She has written and lectured frequently about the UCLA Sadleir Collection of 19th Century Literature, including the Jane Austen contents and Silver Fork portions of the collection.

Emily Bergman, MLS, has been a librarian for almost 40 years in all kinds of libraries, including corporate, public, hospital, academic and museum.

Alice Bergman, MBA, MA, LPC, works as a therapist in Portland, Oregon.

Rand Boyd is a certified archivist and coordinator of special collections and archives librarian at Chapman University. He has spent his more than decade-long career not only working with special collections but also writing articles and reviews, giving presentations and curating exhibits. He belongs to the Academy of Certified Archivists, the Society of California Archivists and the Society of American Archivists. He is also the archivist for the California Academic & Research Libraries Association. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Chapman University and his master of science in library and information science from San Jose State University.

The basket drawings are always a popular attraction.

One of the winners of the basket raffle

Recipient of one of the basket drawings