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How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain$
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Leah Price

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691114170

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691114170.001.0001

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David Copperfield and the Absorbent Book

David Copperfield and the Absorbent Book

(p.72) Chapter 3 David Copperfield and the Absorbent Book
How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

Leah Price

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses what makes the novel associate printed matter with interruption in particular. It also asks what difference does it make that the act in which the characters are interrupted consists not of reading, but rather of using an unread book as a material prompt or alibi for inwardness and abstraction. The bait and switch that structures the midcentury bildungsroman sets readers up to expect a novel about an agent shaped by books, only to reveal the protagonist instead as an object compared to books. As the plot of David Copperfield turns a child who is acted upon into an adult who acts, its trope shifts from metaphor to metonymy. As a result, it turns only belatedly into a proto-Smilesian account of self-help. Its first debt is to an older genre that associates selfhood with helplessness and passivity—more specifically, that locates consciousness not in a person marked by books, but in a book marked by readers.

Keywords:   novel, reading, unread book, bildungsroman, books, David Copperfield, printed matter, metonymy, self-help, selfhood

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