This introductory chapter begins with five images which depict women readers absorbed in texts, apparently oblivious to artist and observer. One of the paintings, Ralph Hedley’s Seeking Situations (1904), serves to alert one to the proximity of textuality and sexuality in discourses of reading throughout the Victorian and early Edwardian period. This book offers suggestions as to why ‘the woman reader’ was an issue addressed with such frequency throughout the period. It treats reading both as a leisure activity and as an essential component of more formal education, whether this education was home based or, increasingly, obtained at school. The study of literature, in particular, became an area for discussion as girls’ education widened in availability and seriousness in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book presents a variety of accounts of reading, providing evidence of the wide-ranging practices of particular girls and women throughout the period; their opportunities for obtaining books and the differing degrees of supervision exercised over their consumption of print.
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