This chapter examines the varied uses to which literary references to reading are incorporated within novels. It argues that, by incorporating references to reading, novelists were attempting to question dominant ideas about the relationship between women’s reading practices and their responses to what they read. Polemic against the common expectation that women automatically and unreflectingly identified with central women characters, or that they would be unfailingly corrupted by reading about matters concerning sexuality, was met head on within the pages of those very books which caused conservative commentators the greatest anxiety. Many of the numerous references to the reading of women and girls which one encounters in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction are utterly predictable. They confirm the messages that are endlessly reiterated in advice books and magazine articles: that reading fiction itself is something only to be indulged in moderation; that romantic novels, in particular, carry with them a propensity to corrupt; that French publications are the worst of all.
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