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ELT 38:2 1995 James, although quirky, extends our own tolerance for the mysteries embedded in James's cultural quest as well as for hermeneutic criticism of this sort, which bravely attempts to solve those mysteries—and sometimes creates new ones in the process. Peter Bien ------------------------ Dartmouth College Women Reading Kate Flint. The Woman Reader 1837-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. χ + 366 pp. $38.00 THE TITLE of this book promises much and mystifies not a little. Had it been "English Women's Reading, 1837 to 1900" it would have seemed more plausible and I think it would have been more apt, for that is the author's subject: what the English woman in the Victorian period was supposed to read and did read and when and how and especially what she was supposed not to read and, to some extent, why, and how we know about these matters. One cannot too highly praise Flint's industry. She has gathered—and reproduces—a mass of data, all meticulously documented in references which, happily, appear on the relevant pages in an old-fashioned format now almost abandoned. Flint has read both primary and secondary sources. She refers, though not often, to the standard reference work (ten years in the making) Richard Altick's The English Common Reader (1957) and to Griest on Mudie's Circulating Library (1970)—so crucial to the Flint subject. She has read the novels and autobiographies by women and the endless comments relating to the education of girls and the beginnings of higher education for women (how late it was in England!—compared with our fortunate situation—two women's colleges by 1837). What she has done with her findings is the problem. The preface provides an indispensable clue. The author there recounts how she was provoked to do this book by writing an introduction to Trollope's novel Can You Forgive Her? The year ofthat enterprise having been 1981, she was of course inescapably led to consider the implications of a gendered answer to the question. Henry James had felt no such compulsion on reviewing the book when it appeared (1864). He disposed of the answer in short order: . . . Can we forgive Miss Vavasar? Of course we can, and forget her, too, for that matter. What does Mr. Trollope mean by this question? It is a good 230 book Reviews instance of the superficial character of his work that he has been asking it once a month for so long a time without being struck by its flagrant impertinence . By the time of his final piece on Trollope (1883), James had mellowed toward that popular writer and praised him for being prolific and appreciating the usual. Considering her options for the projected book, Flint rejected a "materialist history" (what would be an immaterialist history?). This explains her disregard of chronology. She rejected also doing "the possible relations of women and texts" which she considered "a work of critical interpretation" [read speculatiori\. This was a fortunate rejection . Instead, she "chose to examine the topos of the woman reader, and its functioning in cultural debate between the accession of Queen Victoria and the First World War." Is topos something other than topic, which is the usual translation of the Greek, so that we must now transliterate the Greek to convey a new concept? Possibly not, for The Woman Reader turns out to be a collection of data having to do with women's reading and, to some extent, writing. Collection is the key word. Organization there is not. Consider the contents, which, to convey some idea of the book, I must reproduce. It will immediately appear that there is disturbing overlap in the topics and these do not cut the cake all in the same direction. Also, chronology is not provided for: Part I. 1. Introduction; 2. Theory and Women's Reading; Part II. 3. Victorian and Edwardian Reading, 4. Medical, Physiological, and Psychoanalytical Theory, 5. Advice Manuals, Informative Works, and Instructional Articles , 6. Reading at school, 7. Reading in the Periodical Press; Part III. 8. Reading Practices; Part IV. 9. Fictional Reading, 10. Sensation Fiction, 11. "New Woman" Fiction; Part V. 12. Conclusion. The author disclaims any...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 230-233
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Ceasing Publication
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