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  • The Fate of an “Ambitious School-Marm”Amy Cruse and the History of Reading
  • Patrick Buckridge (bio)

As the author of a series of four large “reader-centered” volumes of English literary history, published 1928–1938, and extending from the Anglo-Saxons to the Edwardians, Amy Cruse (1870–1952) was undoubtedly a pioneer historian of reading. Yet she is seldom mentioned by later reading historians, and when she is it is often with a certain ambivalence. Richard Altick, while never giving her entrée to his main text, credited her in a footnote with “a good description of the place of religious literature in Victorian middle-class life” and adopted her figures for Mudie’s book purchases in the 1850s.1 By 1980, however, his caution had grown to the point of footnoting an uncorroborated statement about the magazine publication of Nicholas Nickleby with the comment, “So, at least, says Amy Cruse in The Victorians and their Books (London, 1935)”—declining even to provide a page reference.2 Kate Flint, in The Woman Reader 1837–1914, makes explicit the basis for Altick’s caution—and probably for the wide berth other scholars seem to have given Cruse’s work—when she calls The Victorians and their Books “one of the earliest examples of research into nineteenth-century women readers, … wide-ranging but infuriatingly unreferenced.”3

And there, probably, we have it. Her books are not entirely without scholarly apparatus: they all have indexes. But of the hundreds of interesting, useful, sometimes quite recherché examples of individual and collective reading-responses and observations about books that are reported or quoted throughout the four volumes, none is conventionally referenced, and only a very few are casually and incompletely identified in the main text. It is indeed an infuriating state of affairs, even though, as I shall try to show, the books are interesting and satisfying in their own right, and deserve to be better known.

But the question of why Cruse made the seemingly perverse decision not to reference her work properly in the first place is itself of some interest. [End Page 272] What could she have been thinking? An answer to that question may help us to understand and appreciate her achievement better, and at the same time open a window on a somewhat neglected aspect of the institutional provenance of modern reading historiography.

If, as Leah Price has suggested, “no academic discipline can really be said to have arrived until it receives the final mark of legitimacy: a Routledge Reader,”4 then the history of reading, like book history, has indeed arrived—if not as a discipline, then certainly as a “defined field of study.” For the editors of the recent Routledge Reader, the new field has emerged “from the context of the history of the book, economic and social history, and literary criticism and theory”5—an impeccably scholarly genealogy. But Cruse’s adoption of what the Routledge editors would call a “micro-analytical approach” to the history of reading, namely the study of individual readers’ recorded interactions with specific books,6 predates the work of scholars such as Jauss, Tompkins, and Ginzburg by several decades,7 and later, more wide-ranging microanalytical studies and projects by three-quarters of a century.8 What is different about Cruse’s work is that it emerges out of a context not of academic scholarship, where full and accurate referencing has been de rigueur for 150 years or more, but mainly of applied curriculum development and practical pedagogics in teacher education, where referencing has been much less consistently practiced.9

The different institutional contexts and discursive conventions are a necessary but not, I think, sufficient determinant of Cruse’s decision. Another possible factor would of course be pressure from her publisher, whom one might suspect of trying to economize by refusing to pay for more “extras” than a general index; but this is made less likely by the fact that the four books were published by two different publishers. George G. Harrap published The Shaping of English Literature (1927) and The Englishman and his Books in the Early Nineteenth Century (1930), and George Allen & Unwin The Victorians and their Books (1935...


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pp. 272-293
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