Historians have always known much more about writers themselves than about what ordinary people actually read, and why. In this remarkable book, we hear first-hand the voices of working men and women (drawn from newly-discovered memoirs and autobiographies) who participated in the vigorous reading culture of 19th and early 20th century Britain. Bricklayers, weavers, and washerwomen were so eager to educate themselves that they formed lending libraries, mutual improvement societies, and subscription concert series. A perusal of these groups' records dispels any notion that high culture was the province of the elite: Welsh miners read Jane Eyre
alongside Tarzan of the Apes
and Das Kapital
, young women subscribed in serial format to the Iliad
, and Pilgrim's Progress
was the most widely stocked book in prison libraries. Rose's book poignantly affirms the universal value of reading itself, which leads (not, as commentators of the day feared, to a particular political viewpoint) to the creation of a questioning, critical mind. 'Authors are far more likely to inspire generations of readers...if they produce novel, distinctive, provocative, even subversive ways of interpreting reality. That is exactly what autodidacts, struggling to make sense of it all, found in Shakespeare, Bunyan, Defoe, Carlyle, Dickens, Ruskin, and countless others. They embraced...the classics, because [they] offered a hundred ways of understanding the world, and a hundred plans for changing it.' Very slight age-toning to textblock edges.
An Eighth Day View:
This prizewinning book provides an intellectual history of the British working classes from the pre-industrial era to the twentieth century. Drawing on workers' memoirs, social surveys, library registers, and more, the author discovers how members of the working classes educated themselves, which books they read, and how their reading influenced them.