In 1804, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia was described as “a book that all have heard of, that some few possess, but that nobody reads.” Indeed, the usual critical narrative has Philip Sidney’s romance falling sharply out of fashion in the eighteenth century from its height in the mid-seventeenth, before being rediscovered within a limited academic context. This essay, however, finds value in charting the circulation and reception of this apparently “unpopular” and “outdated” work. Focusing on how Sidney’s Arcadia was published, refashioned, and read in the eighteenth century, rather than on how it was not, means more than simply disproving the absence of evidence. Rather, it sheds light on questions about the reception of Renaissance literature (beyond Shakespeare) in this period, the generic relationship between the romance and the novel, and the way that individual readers’ experiences help to transform and transmit particular texts forward through time.

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