Staging Readers Reading
William B. Warner
UC/ Santa Barbara
The rise of the novel narrative, as perfected by Ian Watt in 1957, and extended by many other literary histories in the years since, is not "wrong," but it is biased and incomplete. Why is this so? First of all, Watt's classic account places the novel within a progressive narrative, which assumes that the modern era has discovered increasingly powerful writing technologies for representing reality: he calls this "formal realism" and links it to another focus of modernist triumphant narratives: the bourgeois invention of a complex and deep self. Secondly, the rise of the novel narrative is vitiated by the fact that its essential aim is to legitimize the novel as a form of literature. Thus the rise of the novel narrative demonstrates that the technology of realism enabled prose narratives about love and adventure, which large numbers of readers had begun to read for entertainment by the second half of the 17th century, to rise into a form of literature every bit as valuable and important as the established literary types of poetry, epic and drama. Thirdly, and this follows from the first two, the use of the definite article in the phrase "rise of the novel" turns novelness into a fugitive essence every particular novel strives to realize. What has been the effect of this narrative? It has ratified the project of the novel's moral and aesthetic elevation undertaken by novelists from Richardson, Fielding, Prevost and Rousseau to Flaubert, (Henry) James, Joyce and Woolf. But it has also impoverished our sense of what the novel is, first by taking novel criticism into interminable and tendentious debates about what realism really is, and second by making it our business to be guardians of the boundary between the "truly" novelistic and the "merely" fictional. We need a more historically rigorous and culturally inclusive conception of what the novel is and has been. My recent book, Licensing Entertainment aims to contribute to such a project. There, I document the development of the rise of the novel narrative within a long literary historical tradition that begins with Clara Reeve (1785) and John Dunlop (1814) and extends through many of the literary histories before Watt (including Scott, Hazlitt, Taine, Saintsbury, ). At the same time I have articulated my critical differences from Watt and many more recent critics who have sought to update or revise that narrative. (Licensing Entertainment, 1-44)
To develop a more inclusive understanding of early modern novel reading and to grasp novels at their highest level of generality, it is useful to compare the novel to that other successful offspring of the cultures of print, the newspaper. A newspaper is not just an unbound folio sheet printed with ads and news. It evolved within a social practice of reading, drinking (usually coffee or tea) and conversation; it required the development of the idea of "the world" as a plenum of more or less remote, more or less strange things--events, disasters, commodities--translated into print and worthy of our daily attention. The idea of the modern may be the effect of this media-assisted mutation in our way of taking in the world. This intricate marriage of print form and social practice has survived to this day as "reading the paper." In an analogous fashion the institution of novel reading requires a distinct mutation of both print forms and reading practices. While the printing of books devoted to prestigious cultural activities (like religion, law, natural philosophy) began in the 15th century and gained momentum in the 16th century, it was not until the later 17th century that short novels helped to shift the practices of reading so that novels could become a mode of entertainment. Several factors helped promote novel reading for entertainment: lower printing costs; an infrastructure of booksellers, printers and means of transport; a critical mass of readers of vernacular writing; and the opportunistic exploitation of the new vogue for reading novels (usually in octavo or duodecimo format) by generations of printers and booksellers. But if there was to be a rise of novel reading, it required a complex shift in reading practices. Historians of reading like Robert Darnton and Roger Chartier have described these changes, changes which are never complete or unidirectional: from intensive reading of a few books (like the Bible) to extensive reading of a series of similar books (like novels); from slow reading as a prod to meditation to an absorptive reading for plot; from reading aloud in groups to reading alone and in silence; from reading the Bible or conduct books as a way of consolidating dominant cultural authority to reading novels as a way to link kindred spirits; from reading what is good for you to reading what you like. Like television watching in the mid 20th century, novel reading took France and England by storm; like television watching, reading novels engendered excitement and resistance in the societies where it first flourished.
In this essay I will interpret some of the paintings and prints of the period that stage readers reading in hopes of broadening our understanding of the first century of novel reading. In adopting this strategy, I will be doing the reverse of what early modern image makers have done. As we shall see, early modern artists use images of readers reading to reflect upon the nature of viewing painting; in this essay, I will read these paintings to see how they reflect the crisis in early modern reading provoked by the popularity of reading novels for entertainment. Anyone surveying the Dutch and French genre paintings and prints of the 17th and 18th century--a type of image making that captures ordinary people in their everyday domestic activities--will quickly discover the currency of images of readers reading. From old men reading grand folios in solitude to young women absorbed in their novels, the paintings and prints of the period stage reading as inviting, compelling, and sometimes dangerous. They document the period's fascination with what was after all still a relatively new activity, one which, with the spread of literacy, was becoming an increasingly important part of everyday life. These images don't merely reflect a struggle around literacy happening elsewhere; instead, these images are themselves part of a critical debate that developed, over the course of the early modern period, as to how reading influences readers. What started as a promotional campaign for the reading of moral and didactic books ends up as a culture war about the pleasures and dangers of novel reading. However these visual texts also meditate upon a cultural problem closely related to book reading, the question of how a viewer should benefit from their encounter with a painting.
I begin with several images that communicate the higher purposes of reading. Rembrandt’s "The Prophetess Anne" (figure 1: 1631) suggests the thoughtful solitude of a reader absorbed in her book. Several features of this painting's composition imbue reading with hushed reverence: the old woman bends into the grand folio volume she holds; the hand with which she gently touches the page is painted in high focus; a swirl of color and light--hood, shawl and page--cast her face into the shade of meditation; there is an utter absence of distracting background. This painting, in which Rembrandt used his mother as a model, stages reading as an intimate and delicious encounter with the light of truth. In a painting by Chardin from 1734 (figure 2), reading is imbued with a similar hush and solemnity. However, the different titles given to this celebrated painting suggest the pivotal role of reading in the professions: "The Chemist in his laboratory", "The Alchemist", "A Philosopher occupied with his Reading" (1734; the Salon of 1753), and more recently, "Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved." This painting's communication of the cultural centrality of reading is made explicit in the contemporary commentary upon this image by the Abbe Laugier at the Salon of 1753: "This is a truly philosophical reader who is not content merely to read, but who meditates and ponders, and who appears so deeply absorbed in his meditation that is seems one would have a hard time distracting him."(Fried, 11) In Absorption and Theatricality, a broad spectrum of French 18th century genre painting, Michael Fried demonstrates what he calls "the primacy of absorption," in the subjects , who are represented reading, sleeping, playing games, or caught up in a moment of high personal drama. Fried shows how representation of figures deeply absorbed in some activity becomes a strategy for taking painting beyond the arch theatricality and superficial sensuality attributed to the Rococo style by mid century. At the same time various compositional effects are used to produce paintings that will absorb the beholder of the painting: rich painterly surfaces (Chardin), animated brush work (Fragonard), and didactic drama (Greuze). It is no surprise, I think, that figures of readers reading figure so prominently in this elevation of the cultural role of genre painting: by articulating beholding an image with reading a book, images of reading could anchor the greater cultural significance being claimed for painting. It is as though these images are saying, "look at this image with the same seriousness of purpose that these readers accord to reading."
In the 18th century, reading was not always silent and solitary; it was also oral and collective. Reading could offer a means of inculcating religious and family values. In this painting by Greuze, entitled "The Father of the Family reads the Bible to his children", (figure 3; Salon 1755) reading has the power to compose a magic circle in which nearly the whole family is absorbed into the power of Scripture as it is relayed through the father's voice. Like the paintings of Rembrandt and Chardin, this painting grasps a particular moment: when the smallest child's effort to play with a dog fails to distract a family utterly absorbed by the reading. In this way the power of reading to move its auditors is put on visual display. How does this painting earn its claim to broad moral significance? Norman Bryson argues that Greuze's dramatic tableaus of family life arrange a variety of ages and human types out of a single family, so that, hermetically sealed off from the world outside the home, a general "idea of 'humanity' with its powerful emotional and didactic charge, can be generated."(Bryson, 128)
In all three of these paintings—whether reading is oral or silent, part of solitude or social exchange—it is supposed that one reads to improve the self. In The Practices of Everyday Life, Michel DeCerteau suggests that a particular concept of the book lies at the heart of the enlightenment educational project: "The ideology of the Enlightenment claimed that the book was capable of reforming society, that educational popularization could transform manners and customs, that an elite's products could, if they were sufficiently widespread, remodel a whole nation."(166) This enlightenment project is, according to De Certeau, structured around a certain concept of education as mimicry, with a "scriptural system" that assumes that "although the public is more or less resistant, it is molded by (verbal or iconic) writing, that it becomes similar to what it receives, and that it is imprinted by and like the text which is imposed on it."(167) The disciplinary promise and weight of the book receives their most explicit expression in early modern education. Here are several images that express different aspects of that vast cultural project. In a painting by Reynolds, entitled a "Boy Reading"(figure 4; 1747), the tension between resolute body language and an abstracted gaze communicates the arduous demands of labor with books. To imprint the knowledge of the book upon one’s mind requires all of one’s energy, as expressed for example, in Greuze’s "A Student who studies his Lesson" (figure 5; 1757), where the posture of the student--he is poised over the book--and the high focus of the fingers crossed over the volume--suggest the concentration required to memorize. This student, like Rembrandt's Prophetess, and like Chardin's philosopher, is touched into a state of silent thought by the book he touches. In the companion piece of the same child, we can see the exhaustion this sort of intensive reading may entail. ( Greuze, "A Child Who Sleeps on his Book" (figure 6; 1755))
Finally, in a painting by Chardin, "A young girl reciting her Gospels," (figure 7;1753), one grasps the expected payoff of the enlightenment pedagogical project: a young girl stands before her mother, who is holding a book, and recites what she has learned from her reading. The intimacy of this domestic space does not qualify the solemn importance of what is transpiring. Here truth is given its ideal symbolic resonance as light: it passes from Nature (as sunlight) to the mother ('s dress) to the gospels she holds, to the face and bonnet of the young girl who recites the Word she has learned. While this metaphorical substitution of light for truth has its grounds in the fourth Gospel (John 1:4-5,9), this trope was also of course adapted by secular thinkers of the Eighteenth century to characterize this epoch as an "age of Enlightenment."(Kant) These four paintings describe, celebrate, and promote the proper practice of reading as a way to enlighten readers by educating them. Of course, like all representations of reading or spectatorship, these images don’t really tell us what is going on when one reads. But notice the implicit corollary of the enlightenment program of reading as mimicry: by making the reader a passive receptacle for the book’s meaning, this theory of reading makes the reading of the wrong kind of writing especially dangerous. By interpreting reading as automatic and uncritical, the enlightenment theory of reading produced as its logical correllary the anxiety triggered by the popularity of novels among the young.
Given the enormous cultural investment in reading for instruction, how did reading for entertainment become an important new form of reading? The market plays a pivotal role in advancing this new kind of reading. In the England of the early 18th century, printed matter became what it is today: a commodity on the market. Rather than requiring subsidy by patrons, print received its ultimate support from that complex collaboration between producers and consumers we call "the market." Eighteenth century observers of these changes were less sanguine and less resigned about the effects of taking culture to the market than we seem to be today. In The Fable of the Bees (1712, 1714) Bernard Mandeville offers an ironic celebration of the surprising effects of markets: many individual decisions produce effects in excess of any single guiding intention. But while the market in books meant increases in both production and wealth, it also entailed the publication of anything that might sell, a relaxation of "standards" and an unprecedented access to print for writers of all levels of quality, in both 18th century senses of that word—value and class. Since the 18th century this new cultural formation—then dubbed "Grub Street", now called "Hollywood"—has been celebrated and condemned for its fecundity and filth, its compelling vulgarity. To conservative critics of the 18th century print market, the trade in books seemed a system dangerously out of control precisely because no one was in control.
Improvements in the production and distribution of printed books allowed booksellers to expand the numbers, kinds and formats of books printed; this allowed booksellers to promote reading for entertainment. However, reading for entertainment set off a debate about the proper functions of reading. Although publishers found that many species of books (from ghost stories to travel narratives to a criminal’s Newgate confessions) might gratify this desire for reading pleasure, no genre was more broadly popular than novels. We can glimpse one way novels were used in this painting by Carle Van Loo, entitled "the Spanish Reading" (figure 8; 1754). In this idealized bucolic setting, reading aloud harmonizes a diverse group into a tableau of "the good life." Here a young beau reads to two young women, who appear entirely enraptured by what he reads. An 18th century commentator interprets the painting in terms of the anti-novel discourse which developed to oppose novel reading.
"A young man dressed in Spanish costume is reading aloud from a small book which, on the evidence of his keen attention and that of the company, can be recognized as a novel dealing with love. Two young girls listen to him with a pleasure expressed by everything about them. Their mother (actually their governess), who is on the other side of the reader and behind him, suspends her needlework in order to listen also. But her attention is altogether different from that of the girls; one reads in it the thoughts that she is having, and the mixture of pleasure given to her by the book and the fear she perhaps entertains of the dangerous impression that that book might make on young girl’s hearts." [Quoted by Fried, 27]
Print might impress itself upon the (page of an) impressionable heart: this metaphor, which uses the mechanism of printing (the press which makes identical impressions) to elucidate the practice of reading, resonates through Eighteenth century discussions of print media policy. Worry focuses upon a possible reversal of proper agency, by which a weakened subject—the susceptible reader—might come under the control of a smart object—the insinuating novel. Thus "The Whole Duty of Woman" (of 1737) registers this warning to novel readers: "Those amorous Passions, which it is [the novel’s] Design to paint to the utmost Life, are apt to insinuate themselves into their unwary Readers, and by an unhappy Inversion a Copy shall produce an Original." In keeping with the latent misogyny of the period’s anti-novel discourse, it was widely thought that novel reading could induce a restructuring of the labile emotions of the woman reader.
If collective reading of a novel carried risks, what might be the effect of novel reading upon a solitary woman reader? We can approach this question by looking at what two major French painters of the mid 18th century do with the topic of the woman alone with her novel. Fragonard’s painting, "The Reader," (figure 9; 1769-72) does not invest the figure with a specific legible meaning. The painting is one of fourteen paintings art historians call "Figures de Fantaisie," all men and women in half-length portraits of the same dimension, apparently executed very quickly, and dressed in what were known as Spanish costumes...with "expressions lively, their eyes turned away...as if they have been frozen in the middle of an action." (Jean-Pierre Cuzin, 102) Norman Bryson has explained the effect of these paintings of Fragonard's in terms that are useful to understanding the absorptive power of novel reading, especially of the vivid "hallucination" of experiencing Richardson's characters as though they were real persons.(104) To know a character in a novel or the woman in this painting as an "ideal presence, half transmitted by the artwork" requires "for its full existence the imaginative participation of reader or viewer"(Bryson, 104). There are several ways "The Reader" teases its viewer into interpretation: the painting is incomplete (for example in the drawing of the left hand) but the brush-strokes are richly evocative; the blankness of the background withholds any context for this figure; and, and finally, the brilliant foreground lighting of the Reader’s gold and white Spanish costume gives this pretty young woman an oddly extravagant aura. She seems to be posed for our gaze, but she looks away. The delicate balance of book, hand and head as seen in profile, and the ease of her body resting against cushion and arm rail, communicates the graceful self-completeness of the solitary reader. Some art historians suppose that "The Reader" is the portrait of an actual young woman (Curzin, 123-125), "The Reader" remains enveloped in mystery, as illusive as the thoughts and feelings of another person's reading. In this painting, reading achieves an allegorical generality.
If Fragonard's painting offers an implicit endorsement of the pleasures of a young girl's reading, Greuze's "Lady reading Eloise and Abelard" (figure 10; 1758-59) seeks to make visible the explicitly erotic dangers of novel reading. In contrast with the self-possession of Fragonard's reader, passion sweeps through this solitary reader: there is a strong contortion to her position, her lips are open, her hands languorous. The title of this painting by Greuze gives the reason for this disorder: "Lady Reading the Letters of Helouise and Abelard." The tokens on her table—a billet-doux, a string of black pearls, a sheet of music, and a book entitled "The Art of Love"—are the details that allow the viewer of the painting to surmise that this reader is involved in an affair of her own. The lighting and contiguity of book, dress and bosom invite the viewer to detect a causal relationship: it is precisely this kind of reading that leads to illicit affairs, it is this novel that has transported this lady into a state of distracted arousal. But the didacticism of this image is fraught with unintended consequences. By linking the animated white leaves of the book to the white morning dress that is slipping off the partially exposed breasts of this aroused reader, by inviting us to survey the erotic effects of novel reading upon the body of this woman, this painting becomes as lush and explicit and arousing as the novel reading it intends to warn us against. The resulting confusion of erotic means and ends is one Greuze's painting will share with Richardson's novels. (Warner, Licensing Entertainment, 212-224)
William Hogarth embeds a warning against novel reading into a non-seductive, broadly comic set of images. In Hogarth’s playful pair of erotic prints from 1736, entitled "Before"(figure 11; 1736) and "After" (figure 12; 1736), William Hogarth finds a very different way to encode a warning against novel reading. The heroine’s succumbing to her admirer suggests that the influence of the volume of "Novels", as well as the poems of Rochester, have prevailed over the other book on her night stand, "The Practice of Piety." In this pair of prints, the abrupt movement from the "before" to "after" (sex), prevents precisely the sort of absorptive identification Greuze's painting encourages.
The reader of these two prints is positioned as a bemused observer of a comic deflation in condition: in "Before," the woman is a heroic defender of her virtue, but "After" she is a pathetic petitioner for the man's attentions; and likewise, the man goes from being the robust lover to a condition of confused, and slightly harassed, sexual reticence. While Hogarth’s moral rhetoric in this pair obliquely invokes the warning of the epoch’s anti-novel discourse—that is, ‘purify your reading if you would guard your virtue’—, his more famous Progress Pieces, are much closer in their narrative trajectory and entertainment values of the novels they ostensibly spurn. For most of the 18th century, readers accepted as a truism the proposition that novel reading did one no real good, and that other, more serious reading, should attract our reading energies. For an example of this by then antiquated opinion, one can read Jane Austen's satirical account of Mr. Collins attempted reading of Fordyce's sermons after supper on his first night with the Bennet's in Pride and Prejudice (1812?). In one pair of paintings, John Opie offers wry social commentary upon this chronic schism in the order of reading. In "A Moral Homily" (figure 13; date), Opie represents the likely effects of improving reading here imposed by a solemn dame upon her comely young auditors—yawns and boredom. However, the structure the governess or teacher has imposed—auditors gathered around one reader with the book—can be adopted to other purposes.
Once the austere matriarch has left, evidently taking her heavy tomes with her, the girls can gather into a rapt circle to hear "A Tale of Romance,"(figure 14; date) the title of this painting. Opie's representations of novel reading and its effects suggest a question for those who want to exploit the improving potential of books.
How is an author to solve the problem posed by adolescent boredom with conduct discourse and fascination with narratives of love? For a writer like Samuel Richardson what was required was above all the development of a hybrid form of writing, one which would use stories of love to attract young readers to the higher purposes of reading, reading as a spur to meditation. The connection between books and mediation is illustrated by the print entitled "Meditation" (figure 15; date) from Ripa’s Iconologia (1709). With a book on her lap, and her feet on several grand folios, reading has become a prod to deep thought. In Ripa’s gloss on this iconography, dame Meditation’s "holding up her head with her hand, denotes the gravity of her thoughts."(Paulowicz, 50)
In this Reynolds portrait,entitled "Theophilia Palmer Reading Clarissa Harlow"(figure 16; date), we find the same tight compositional circle of head, arms and book we have found in other absorbed readers. But here Reynold's use of the iconography of meditation--the touch of the hand to the forehead--gives visual expression to Richardson’s program to reconcile novel reading with the weighty purposes of moral reflection. With this painting, Reynolds represents the woman reader Richardson intended Clarissa to win: one immune from erotic appropriation. Thus, Reynolds does not imbue this woman novel reader with any of the mystery of Fragonard's "Reader" or the emotionally labile susceptibility of Greuze's reader. Instead, here we have an ordinary girl, safely ensconced in her sturdy chair, directing her full attentions to Clarissa Harlowe. But the actual readers of Richardson's novels found them rife with erotic potential. (footnote:For the remarkably erotic imagery that develops around the Pamela vogue, see James Turner, Representations. For accounts of the dangous effects of reading Richarson's novels see RC, LE.)
Why are so many images of readers reading so close to the plane of the canvas that they threaten to fall right into the viewer's own space? Norman Bryson's interpretation of the "transformations of rococo space" during the first half of the 18th century offers an account that links one of the chief traits of the rococo--the elimination of classical space established through Renaissance perspective--and the way the subject on the surface of the rococo makes itself available to the fascinated gaze of the beholder. Within "rococo space" Bryson finds that "the erotic body is not a place of meanings and the erotic gaze does not attend to signification... [instead the painting devotes its painterly resources to] providing a setting for the spectacle...transported to [a] space that is as close as possible to that inhabited by the viewer..[that] of the picture plane [itself]."(Bryson, 91-92) One can see the erotic potential of this sort of compositional strategy at work, in a rather sublimated form, in a glamorous portrait by Francois Boucher, of his celebrated patron "Mme. Pompador," the mistress to Louis the XVth (figure 17; date). This portrait catches its subject in a momentary pause in the elegant leisure activity of what is most likely novel reading. Several factors conspire to compose a shimmering surface that invites the spectator's gaze to wander: the oblique gaze of Mme. Pompador releases our eyes from her face; instead the viewer's eye is free to wander over the artful arrangement of her arms and hands, over the richly detailed silk brocade of her dress, to the animated leaves of the book that lies at the center of this composition. Here is painting that addresses its beholder outside of any informing moral purpose, looking that is in danger of becoming its own pleasurable end. The anti-rococo reaction, most evident in the morally programmatic paintings of Greuze, resonates with the anti-novel discourse deployed by Richardson in his morally programmatic narratives. For critics of early modern novel reading were not just concerned about mimicry of a novel’s action; they were also alarmed about the perverse displacement by which the reader, through the repetitive effects of absorptive reading for pleasure, conducted in freedom and solitude, (in other words in the sort of autonomous erotic reverie the rococo encourages) might become a compulsively reading body. In a painting entitled "Reclining Nude" (figure 18; 1751; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum), Boucher uses another of Louis XV's mistresses, Louise O'Murphy as a model. Here, the open book to the left of the nude woman reclining on the couch suggests that the equivocal potential of reading novels for pleasure arises in part from a shift in location: one may read these books in the intimate undress of the boudoir.
The novel in this setting functions as a stimulant, like tea in the samovar, which has replaced the novel in this rendering of the same model in the same pose in a painting of the same title (figure 19; 1752; Munich, Alte Pinokotk ).
With a small difference in position, and woth a dark haired model, the painting becomes more explicitly salacious, and well on the way to the pornographic image. (figure 20; 1745).
1748, the year of the publication of the third and final installment of Clarissa, is the same year as John Cleland’s anonymous publication of "The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure", better known to us by the title, "Fanny Hill." The erotic use of novels becomes quite explicit in this Pierre Antoine Baudourin’s print of 1770, entitled "Midi" (figure 21). This image suggests that the head or heart were not the only body parts that might be stimulated by reading. In his analysis of this print, Jean Marie Goulemot notes what invites the viewer to enjoy this spectacle of this aroused young lady: the secure enclosure of a stage-like garden setting, the presence of a voyeur in the form of a statue, and the young female body posed to maximize our view of her. The print invites us to note the crucial details: a small book has dropped from her right hand; her left hand had disappeared into her dress. In this print the outcome dreaded within the anti novel discourse, the reader aroused to the point of orgasm, becomes a positive program: solitary reading for entertainment is a preparative to masturbation. The reading body has become a pleasure machine.
Given the range of these images of readers reading, one might well ask "Is reading to serve education, provide entertainment, promote moral improvement, or turn us on?" My study of British print media culture suggests the answer should be, "All of the above." The diverse representation of novel reading in the painting and prints of the 18th century, and the polymorphous uses of painting (for instruction, pleasure, etc.) suggest the struggle going on in the culture at large. Over the arc of the period, educational and moral projects to improve reading collide with market driven efforts to popularize reading in such a way as to expand and deepen the repertoire of reading practices. Thus between 1684 and 1730, Behn, Manley and Haywood wrote short, erotic, plot-centered novels that were accepted as the fashionable new thing in reading. However, the avid reading of these novels, especially by youth, drew a strong critique from those who wished to reserve reading for valuable, elevating, educational practices. In response, novelists like Manley and Haywood blended the anti-novel discourse into their own novels as a way to make novel reading more deliciously transgressive, as well as to protect their own novels from censure. Reformers of the novel –from Defoe and Aubin to Richardson and Fielding—sought to rewrite reading by offering their novels as substitutes and antidotes to the novels of amorous intrigue. But while they sought to purify their narratives of novelistic erotics, they could only guarantee the popularity of their books by incorporating the plot formulas and character types perfected by their antagonists. By my account, the Pamela media event—the outpouring of criticism, sequels, and revisions that followed the 1740 publication of Pamela—marks a turning point in the debate about the pleasures and dangers of novel reading. By winning a large and admiring readership, and by attracting sustained acts of criticism, Pamela changed the terms of the anti- and pro-novel discourse. Now it is not a question of whether one should read novels, but of what kind of novels will be beneficial or dangerous to readers. Richardson’s project finds itself overcome by this irony: while he seeks to purge print media culture of corrupting novel reading, he can only do so by inventing new hybrids, like Pamela. While Pamela is supposed to be a non-novel which will end novel reading, in fact, of course, it expands the practices of reading, and the possibilities for novel writing. In order to enter the psychosexual life of its protagonists, the readers of Pamela practice hyper-absorptive reading which achieves new levels of emotional intensity and identification. This provides the pretext for new forms of erotic writing, like John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which stars a heroine-prostitute who has an odd combination of innocence and experience. In later decades Richardson’s Clarissa and Rousseau’s Richardsonian novel La Nouvelle Heloise invite rewriting as Laclos’s Les Liasions Dangereuses and Sade’s Justine. Efforts at moral and generic purification breed new hybids and mediators.
I can summarize the literary historical implications of this narrative, and come back to issue of the novel's "rise," in this way: when the market’s modernization of reading for entertainment stimulates an ethically motivated anti-modern critique, we get a hybrid of amorous novels and conduct discourse, which subsequent English literary historians dub "the first modern novels in English." Richardson and Fielding are usually given credit for this invention. Why? Because their novels include something central to all subsequent novels: a reader’s guide on how to use print media. Thus, at least since Fielding’s model Don Quixote, the novel warns readers of the dangers of mindless emulation; the novel teaches the reader the difference between fiction and reality; and the novel interrupts the atavistic absorption of the reader by promoting an ethical reflection upon the self. In this way the early modern struggle around the proper uses of reading sediments itself as thematic concerns and narrative processes within the elevated novel. But such a project of purification can not prevent, it may in fact incite, the development of new hybrids. By 1764, Horace Walpole pronounces himself bored with the limitations of the modern novel’s reading protocols and its version of reality. So Walpole offers his "gothic tale," The Castle of Ortranto, as a self-consciously concocted blend of ancient and modern romance.
These comments suggest some of the ways I have sought, in my book Licensing Entertainment, to challenge the distinctions, separations and efforts at purification evident in the canonical account of the novel’s acquisition of modern legitimacy, Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel. By aligning the formal traits of Richardson’s writing with reality, Watt countersigns the rough drafts for the ‘rise of the novel’ thesis Richardson and Fielding penned during and after the Pamela media event. By making a single novel an object and occasion for sustained critical writing, the Pamela media event defined task of much future novel criticism: selected novels are declared to be more than a vehicle of leisure entertainment. They come to be objectified as "the" novel and valued as a new literary genre. In the process, the promiscuous and unclassified mass of romances and novels that remain are cast into limbo as "non-novels." In order to secure the distinction between "the" novel and its others, criticism acquires the gate-keeping function evident in a range of practices developed over the 60 years following the Pamela media event: the emergence of journals reviewing novels (Monthly Review, 1749-; and Critical Review,1756-); literary histories of the novel; the collection of novels into anthologies and multi-volume sets; and the inclusion of novels in pedagogical projects, from those directed at young girls to those of Scottish university professors.(Court, 17-38) Of course, my book and this talk don’t escape that academic discursive system for defining novels. The institution of criticism and the pedagogical practice of English professors are shaped to teach informed reading, that is, reading purged of mimicry. Pedagogy becomes the cure prescribed for market based media. Of course, in the process, we may be replacing compulsive novel reading with our own repetitive and obsessional practice: "close" reading. Our institutional practices of teaching literature, and cultural narratives like "the rise of the novel," are deeply implicated in an ongoing effort, which began with the anti-print media discourse of the eighteenth century, to protect readers from market culture. In short, we are the late-modern offspring of early modern media policy.