Jonathan Rose, Book History Reader, 2nd edition (424)

Note: first few pages of article omitted, **

Old vs. new book history (**).

On some of the “common fallacies” of studies of reading: that “high culture” tends to reinforce the prevailing ideas of the social order; that the canon is defined by the social elite; that “‘popular’ culture has a much larger following than ‘high’ culture, and therefore it more accurately reflects the attitudes of the masses” (**).

Rose remarks that uneducated readers were often able to discover the ‘great books’ on their own; and in their effect, “far from reconciling them to the status quo, the classics were more likely to stir up ambitions and dissatisfactions among common readers” (**).

Reading revolution around 1800 sees also writing revolution: working class memoirs, often about reading (424).

Question of canon: imposed or offering universal values (425).  Smith’s argument: cannonical works maintained not because of intrinsic vaue (425).

That working class readers may have had reading suggested to them by clergymen, instructors, or by periodicals; but more often by their friends and workmates (426); trickle-down hypothesis dismissed (426); Number 2 pit at mine a “university”;

Readings acquired in some cases simply by picking books up “from rubbish heaps and tuppeny second-hand bookstalls” (427).  Rose’s summary of what the first large cohort of Labour MPs had read shows predominantly classical and canonic texts: i.e., Ruskin, Dickens, Carlyle, Scott, Shakespeare are high on the list (427). 

Problems with “popular” as definition (428).  Where working class readers read “popular” literature, they seem to have been aware of its difference, and in some cases it led to seeking something better (429).

“Receptive fallacy” basis of cultural study (429), as in Hayden White (429).  Working class calls on Dickens as representing them (429). 

Popular transmits formulas; canonical works fire imagination (430): e.g., Edith Hall reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles; canonical book can “burst the boundaries of the mind” (430-1).

Direct response to a text, e.g., Elizabeth Bryson discovering Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus was a “miracle,” “the exciting experience of being kindled to the point of explosion by the fire of words” (cited 431).

Opposes Eagleton or Baldick, that literature pacifies the reader, for social control: “Canonical literature tended to spark insurrections in the mind of the working class reader and was more likely to radicalize than mollify him” (431-2). 

Working class readers independent thinkers, “far from docile”; cf. de Certeau (readers not sheep) (433).

Culler cited: “Literary works may be quite baffling to those with no knowledge of the special conventions of literary discourse” (433; from “Prolegomena,” 49, in Suleiman and Crossman, The Reader in the Text)

Resistance to moralizing, Acorn; propaganda for imperialism, Dunae’s insistence on its effects; it was read, but readers' indifferent to its message, as in Henty novels (434).

Objects to seeing readers “sutured” [joining together by stitching]; Chartier’s unsupported assertions (435); as passive (435).

Need for a history of audiences to discover what texts do (436).  (Hence limitation of standard classroom treatments of literary texts; cannot infer their historical reception, what they did for or to their readers.)

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Document created February 15th 2011 / Updated February 17th 2011