Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Carolyn Betensky

Abstract

During the nineteenth century, mass literacy was taking hold in Britain, spurred on by the widespread availability of printed materials, crossing class and gender borders as never before. Most literary scholars concerned with reading in nineteenth-century England investigate the female reader within fiction, analyzing the various cultural, especially social and gender-specific, aspects of how, where, why, and what women read. This project addresses the gap in our knowledge created by this focus on the female reader in Victorian fiction: the position and function of the male reader. It argues that concerns over too much reading, or not reading the “right” thing, extended beyond gendered borders in subtle and not-so-subtle depictions of male characters who read, especially those who read fiction.

Both literary depictions of characters who read as well as illustrations that accompanied many of the original publications of several texts are analyzed, including: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, The History of Pendennis by William Makepeace Thackeray, The Fifth Form at St. Dominic’s by Talbot Baines Reed, and both The Doctor’s Wife and Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. These analyses demonstrate that: 1) how and what a male character reads influences his characterization on multiple levels; 2) the genre of sensation fiction seems to allow flexibility for character development for adult characters who read that some other genres do not; and, 3) the use of illustrations in sensation fiction requires the real-world reader’s active engagement with the novel, engaging the visual acuity of the reader to provide unknowing instruction for the reader on how to interact with a variety of texts.

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