Recently I’ve been reading Women and Literature in Britain, 1800-1900 by Joanne Shattock, and it’s an absolutely delightful book. It describes both female writers and female writers in the 19th century, through essays by various writers. And even though all contributing writers are female, it is not a feminist manifesto but seems very objective in its observations.
My favourite chapter is about women and print, and the problem of women reading. Especially at the start of the 19th century, solitary reading was deemed a dangerous activity for women, unless it was the bible or light literature. Even though female writers were already an established practice, women’s reading was monitored to make sure they would not read the wrong kind of books. It is argued that middleclass women read most, because upperclass women were busy with social resposibilities, and working class women couldl often not afford literature or did not have the time to read.
The reason that reading things was so dangerous for women was because they read in a different way then men did. While men read with their head, women read with their bodies, and where therefore more vulnerable to the effects of literature. Women were scolded for reading light, frivolous novels, but on the other hand they were banned from reading scientific books.
In addition, the book has a very interesting chapter on children’s literature (for example the genre of consolation literature, which was hugely popular because of the many child deaths. Almost 15% of all children died in the 19th century, and these books could give children some consolation.) There are also chapters on theatre, poetry, the public debate and the domestic sphere. I would definately recommend this book. (A part of it is on Google Scholar)
Something different: I often get trackbacks of sites that cite my content, and usually they say ’19thcentury wrote a post about … here,’ but the other day I got one that said:
Henry David Thoreau wrote an interesting post today on Coffee houses. Here’s a quick excerpt I guess it’s a mistake but wouldn’t it be interesting if Thoreau would write blogposts! (Maybe not about coffeehouses though…) It’s here