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The Pleasures of Memory

Learning to Read with Charles Dickens

Sarah Winter

Publication Year: 2011

What are the sources of the commonly held presumption that reading literature should make people more just, humane, and sophisticated? Rendering literary history responsive to the cultural histories of reading, publishing, and education, The Pleasures of Memory illuminates the ways that Dickens's serial fiction shaped not only the popular practice of reading for pleasure and instruction associated with the growth of periodical publication in the nineteenth century but also the school subject we now know as English.Examining the full scope of Dickens's literary production, Winter shows how his serial fiction instigated specific reading practices by reworking the conventions of religious didactic tracts from which most Victorians learned to read. Incorporating an influential associationist psychology of learning and reading founded on the cumulative functioning of memory, Dickens's serial novels consistently lead readers to reflect on their reading as a form of shared experience, thus channeling their personal memories of Dickens's unforgettablescenes and characters into a public reception reaching across social classes. Dickens's celebrity authorship, Winter argues, represented both a successful marketing program for popular fiction and a cultural politics addressed to a politically unaffiliated, social-activist Victorian readership. As late-nineteenth-century educational reforms in Britain and the United States consolidated Dickens's heterogeneous constituency of readers into the masspopulations served by national and state school systems, however, Dickens's beloved novels came to embody the socially inclusive and humanizing goals of democratic education.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Opening her first collection of critical essays on English literature and culture, Virginia Woolf invokes an image of the common reader as her counterpart...

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Introduction: Dickens and the Pleasures of Memory

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pp. 1-30

In the decades following Charles Dickens’s sudden death on June 9, 1870, at the age of fifty-eight, Victorian critics and writers were divided in their judgments of his work. Eulogizing Dickens at Westminster Abbey on June 19, Benjamin...

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1. Memory’s Bonds: Associationism and the Freedom of Thought

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pp. 31-78

During one of his solitary walks to the Meagles family cottage at Twickenham after Pet Meagles’s marriage to Henry Gowan, Arthur Clennam learns that Mrs. Tickit, the housekeeper who presides over the cottage in the owners’ absence...

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2. Dickens’s Originality: Serial Fiction, Celebrity, and The Pickwick Papers

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pp. 79-143

In 1848, Charles Dickens performed in Glasgow with the Amateurs, a theater troupe that included Mark Lemon, John Forster, Henry Mayhew, and Douglas Jerrold. Outside the hotel where the troupe was staying, a crowd had gathered...

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3. The Pleasures of Memory, Part I: Curiosity as Didacticism in The Old Curiosity Shop

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pp. 144-176

In the previous two chapters, I have been investigating both how the associationist pleasures of memory imply a regulated freedom of thought activated and implemented in reading and how the figure of Dickens as celebrity author could channel...

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4. The Pleasures of Memory, Part II: Epitaphic Reading and Cultural Memory

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pp. 177-225

The previous chapter’s account of the remediation of didactic literature and patterning of reception in The Old Curiosity Shop raises the question whether, for Dickens’s contemporaries, the social reform effects of his writings were...

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5. Learning by Heart in Our Mutual Friend

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pp. 226-269

Dickens’s final completed novel, Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), could be described as a story about the repercussions of learning to read. I want to distinguish the novel’s specific interest the experience of literacy from political arguments...

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6. Dickens’s Laughter: School Reading and Democratic Literature, 1870–1940

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pp. 270-324

Through his lifetime, Dickens’s celebrity authorship projected an image of popular democratic literature as a means for readers to generate and share lasting social and aesthetic values that could cut across other social divisions. By featuring...

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pp. 325-328

By paying attention to associationist theories of reception in Victorian literary criticism and pedagogical theory, my study has specified how the reading lessons provided by Dickens’s serials could have contributed to the novel’s central role...


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pp. 329-407


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pp. 409-436


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pp. 437-455

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248858
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823233526
Print-ISBN-10: 0823233529

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 732959327
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Pleasures of Memory

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870 -- Influence.
  • Collective memory and literature.
  • Books and reading -- Psychological aspects.
  • Books and reading -- History -- 19th century.
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