The major claim made by this study is that early modern English prose fiction self-consciously invented a new form of literary
culture in which professional writers created books to be printed and sold to anonymous readers. It further claims that this
period's narrative innovations emerged not solely from changes in early modern culture like print and the book market, but
also from the rediscovery of a forgotten late classical text from North Africa, Heliodorus's Aethiopian History. In making
these claims, Steve Mentz provides a comprehensive historicist and formalist account of prose romance, the most important
genre of Elizabethan fiction. He explores how authors and publishers of prose fiction in late sixteenth-century England produced
books that combined traditional narrative forms with a dynamic new understanding of the relationship between text and audience.
Though prose fiction would not dominate English literary culture until the eighteenth century, Mentz demonstrates that the
form began to invent itself as a distinct literary kind in England nearly two centuries earlier. Examining the divergent
but interlocking careers of Robert Greene, Sir Philip Sidney, Thomas Lodge, and Thomas Nashe, Mentz traces how through differing
commitments to print culture and their respective engagements with Heliodoran romance, these authors helped make the genre
of prose fiction culturally and economically viable in England. Mentz explores how the advent of print and the book market
changed literary discourse, influencing new conceptions of what he calls 'middlebrow' narrative and new habits of reading
and writing. This study draws together three important strains of current scholarly inquiry: the history of the book and
print culture, the study of popular fiction, and the re-examination of genre and influence. It also connects early modern
fiction with longer histories of prose fiction and the rise of the modern novel.