Reading, in Proust's view, is both intrinsically valuable and intrinsically inadequate, ‘essential yet limited’, because although literature introduces us to new ways of looking at the world, it does not constitute the world. Books can awaken us to the life of the mind, but they cannot take its place. Thus, a good book, carefully read, is both a fulfilment of and an incitement to imaginative life. In its end is our beginning. This can also be true of the way writers read one another. If Goethe was right to think that one proof of genius is its ‘posthumous productivity’, then the Victorian age has some claim to being as noisily and messily productive since it ended as it was while it lasted. Victorian ideas of human and literary succession, ascendancy, and sway have continued to shape later ways of thinking and writing.
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