"Timely, scrupulously researched, thoroughly enlightening, and steadily readable... Here is a book about readers that is genuinely for readers... Brantlinger catches once again the pulse of recent Victorian studies... A work of agenda-setting historical scholarship." Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa "[Brantlinger's] writing is admirably lucid, his knowledge impressive and his thesis a welcome reminder of the class bias that so often accompanies denunciations of popular fiction." Publishers Weekly
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"Timely, scrupulously researched, thoroughly enlightening, and steadily readable...Here is a book about readers that is genuinely for readers...Brantlinger catches once again the pulse of recent Victorian studies...A work of agenda-setting historical scholarship." - Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa. Fear of the novel stalks the pages of Patrick Brantlinger's latest book. Its central plot involves the many ways in which novels and novel reading were viewed - especially by novelists themselves - as both causes and symptoms of rotting minds and moral decay among nineteenth century readers. The fear of mass literacy is a familiar theme in histories of the period. The guardians of middle class culture were alarmed by the mass literacy that brought with it a mass consumer market for such popular, supposedly low forms as Gothic romances, penny dreadfuls, and Newgate crime stories. Nor were their higher priced and higher brow cousins, the three-decker novels, immune from concern: after Zola, "serious" realistic novels were no longer thought to be a palliative for the excesses of romance and crime fiction.
Brantlinger demonstrates how these attitudes were shared in various ways by Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, Collins, Gissing, Stevenson, and others, who echoed the suspicion of their audiences about the negative consequences of reading. Brantlinger sets the scene with discussions of the Gothic romance and other "poisonous fictions" and of the anxieties about democracy and the mob during and after the French Revolution. Among other examples, he analyzes M. G. Lewis's "The Monk", William Godwin's "Caleb Williams", and the surprising literacy of the monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". He then explores respectable vs. criminal reading in Dickens's "Oliver Twist" and Henry Mayhew's "London Labour and the London Poor"; representations of the working class in novels by Harriet Martineau, Charles Kingsley, George Eliot, and Charlotte and Emily Bronte; counterfeit money as a metaphor for realism and the novel in the realistic novels of Thackeray and Trollope; and the "moral panic" caused by the Sensation Novels of the 1860s. He closes with studies of the conflict between respectable and mass or low culture played out in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde" and George Gissing's "New Grub Street" and of "overbooked vs. bookless futures" in William Morris's "News From Nowhere" and H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine".