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Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England$
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Jan Fergus

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199297825

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199297825.001.0001

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Audiences for Novels: Gendered Reading

Audiences for Novels: Gendered Reading

(p.41) 1 Audiences for Novels: Gendered Reading
Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England


Oxford University Press

This chapter takes issue with assumptions about gender and fiction in this period: novels were neither primarily written by women nor primarily, in the provinces, consumed by them — the word ‘consumed’ throughout this study is meant in a purely economic sense, not in the pejorative sense of mindless ‘consuming’ or devouring of fiction. The chapter begins by reviewing the buying and borrowing of two men with a strong interest in print, John Latimer of Warwick and Henry Bagshaw Harrison of Daventry. Figures for adult buying and borrowing of fiction taken from the Clay and Stevens records are summarized and tabulated, and this evidence of adult men's and women's consumption is placed in the context of their other purchases. Men are so numerous, however, that the chapter focuses upon a subgroup — men who subscribed to the Monthly and Critical Reviews — because their subscriptions allow the study of the possible effect of reviewing on purchases of new fiction and other works. The far fewer women customers for fiction is considered in detail, offering case studies of purchases and borrowings of women who were members of the gentry and the professional, trading, and servant classes. The chapter speculates first on why the novel was in 18th-century England so closely identified with women even though no empirical evidence seems to support this identification; and second on what men might gain by being culturally invisible as readers of fictions.

Keywords:   novels, John Latimer, Henry Bagshaw Harrison, fiction, women readers

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