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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850 by Carl Dawson

The Crystal Palance

Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850
by Carl Dawson
p. 1979, The Johns Hopkins University Press

  This is a survey of English Literature circa 1850, with an eye towards inclusiveness well summarized in this quote:

     English book reading habits were essentially serious... of the 45,000 books listed by the London Catalogue (sic) as published between 1816 and 1851, 10,300 were works on divinity.  Sermons were bought, and presumably read.  Newman's Tract 90 (of controversial interest to be sure) sold 12,000 copies before it finally went out of print in 1846...In a list of 117 new books noted in the Athenaeum on October 23, 1841, thirty-nine were on religious subjects, eleven were poetry, ten medical, thirteen travel and only sixteen were novels.  p. 109, citing John Dodds, The Age of Paradox.

  On the later sample of 117 works published in fall 1841, 13% are novels.  Over the course of the 1816 and 1851 period, we're talking 5800 novels, or 135 novels a year.  This is a period before serialization of novels is acceptable, so assume that this number increases vastly after 1850 as serialized novels are increasingly published.

  What is interesting to note here is the disproportionate role that those novels play in our understanding of this period.  If you look at the other categories of literature: religious subjects, poetry, medical and travel- they are assigned little attention- I'm talking about the works in those categories during this specific time period- not the categories themselves.

   Dawson's main point in Victorian Noon: English Literature in 1850 is that critics were slow to embrace the novel even as the general reading public flocked to buy them

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