By Patrick M. Brantlinger
"[Brantlinger's] writing is admirably lucid, his wisdom amazing and his thesis a welcome reminder of the category bias that so usually accompanies denunciations of renowned fiction." -- Publishers Weekly"Brantlinger is adept at discussing either the fiction itself and the social atmosphere during which that fiction used to be produced and disseminated. He brings to his examine a radical wisdom of conventional and modern scholarship, which ends up in an enormous scholarly booklet on Victorian fiction and its production." -- Choice"Timely, scrupulously researched, completely enlightening, and progressively readable.... a piece of agenda-setting ancient scholarship." -- Garrett StewartFear of mass literacy stalks the pages of Patrick Brantlinger's most up-to-date publication. Its crucial plot comprises the various ways that novels and novel studying have been seen -- in particular via novelists themselves -- as either explanations and indicators of rotting minds and ethical decay between nineteenth-century readers.
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"[Brantlinger's] writing is admirably lucid, his wisdom outstanding and his thesis a welcome reminder of the category bias that so usually accompanies denunciations of well known fiction. " -- Publishers Weekly"Brantlinger is adept at discussing either the fiction itself and the social surroundings during which that fiction was once produced and disseminated.
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Additional info for The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction
That there are degrees of intimacy and distance between writers and readers is obvious. There is much correspondence between Victorian novelists and their friends and relations that verges on collaboration or even coauthorship. The best-known instance of such intimacy and collaboration is that between George Eliot and George Henry Lewes, but there are others. At the opposite extreme lies the anonymous, mass readership, who borrowed and purchased Dickens's or Thackeray's novels, but who otherwise did not communicate with the authors.
Dickens published his first book under the family nickname of Boz, and from the start of his career he identified his interests with those of his readers. Their tastes were his tastes, their problems his problems, and he came among them as an intimate" (5). However, according to George Ford in Dickens and His Readers, even "the extraordinary relationship between Dickens and his public was a more tempestuous affair than is always recognized" (42), a fact evident, for instance, in the embroilment of Oliver Twist in the controversy over so-called Newgate crime fiction.
From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England . . are eulogised by a thousand pens, there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit and taste to recommend them. (58) Although it is often taken at face value, Austen's defense of novels of course occurs in a story that satirizes novels and novel-reading.