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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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The Book as Go-Between: Domestic Servants and Forced Reading

The Book as Go-Between: Domestic Servants and Forced Reading

(p.175) Chapter 6 The Book as Go-Between: Domestic Servants and Forced Reading
How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

Leah Price

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses why secular fiction devoted so much space to jokes about tract distributing. Where tracts imitate the formal conventions of the same novels with which they competed, mid-Victorian novels almost obsessively represent characters distributing—though rarely reading—tracts. Yet tract distribution was only one among several practices that the secular press used to figure questions about the relation between supply and demand. The experiences of being handed a tract, read aloud to, and tricked into mistaking printed advertisements for personal letters, all provided the novel with mirror images for its own claim to be freely chosen. By satirizing intrusively personal forms of charitable and familial transmission, the novel made a virtue of a traditional accusation against it: that its commercial distribution and solitary consumption made the novel an antisocial genre.

Keywords:   secular fiction, tract distribution, mid-Victorian novels, secular press, antisocial genre

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