Despite growing interest in “the reading experience,” most studies examine avid and accomplished readers. We know little of the responses of working-class readers targeted by the Religious Tract Society and other evangelical publishers in their crusade to purify popular literature. Focusing on five barely literate boys taught at Yarmouth Gaol in 1840 by the Christian prison visitor Sarah Martin, this article considers the experience of occasional, easily distracted, or reluctant readers. Examining the titles they read and their behavior inside and outside lessons, it explores the boys’ reactions to didactic fiction and illustration. For these prison readers, the pleasures of reading lay as much in the social and affective relationships surrounding the reading experience as in the meanings of particular texts.


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pp. 57-84
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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