Victorian Domestic Fiction and the Settler Reader: Annie Baxter Dawbin, 1834-1868

By Tim Dolin • June 8th, 2008

© Tim Dolin, Curtin University of Technology 2006

[delivered at “Readers and Reading Masterclass”, Australian Studies Centre, University of Queensland, 29 Oct 2006]

And no doubt that is what reading is: rewriting the text of the work within the text of our lives. (Barthes 101)

At the forefront of the new empiricism in literary studies has been the call for a “larger idea of literary history” (Moretti “Slaughterhouse” 208) and a counter-intuitive idea of how to approach critical reading, which together claim to transform established interpretive practices using the quantitative analysis of historical data and the methods of the spatial and natural sciences. Most notably, Franco Moretti’s contribution to the history of nineteenth-century fictional genres, conventions, and devices began by bridging “two lines of research: book history—and the history of forms” (Atlas 143), and developed rapidly, marrying formalist hermeneutics to evidence-based analysis, using graphs, maps, and trees to show relationships between the internal dynamics of literary works, spatial structures, and broad trends in print culture and social and literary history. What these undertakings share with other empiricist work is a move away “from the close reading of individual texts to the construction of abstract models” (Moretti “Graphs I” 67). In large part, this has been necessitated by the analytical breadth of the enterprise. In “The Slaughterhouse of Literature”, Moretti has observed that only two hundred British novels out of some twenty thousand published in the nineteenth century are still remembered and read today—0.5 percent of the total output for the century. The other 99.5 percent have disappeared, most of them forever (hence the image of the slaughterhouse). A literary history aspiring to be more inclusive, even on a modest scale, must take some account of this “great unread” (“Slaughterhouse” 227): but how? Moretti freely admits to the futility (and, he implies, the tedium) of trying to read this formidable noncanonical majority. Other skills are needed: “sampling; statistics; work with series, titles, concordances, incipits” (“Slaughterhouse” 208-09)—in short, a vast empirical apparatus of checklists, catalogues, bibliographies, and databases, an ambitious reach for the long durée, the flows of history, and the rises and falls of hegemonic forms: of modes and genres.

Those of us still struggling with the two hundred Victorian novels we ought to have read may protest mildly, invoking the well-known passage from chapter 15 of Middlemarch: “I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.” And those of us working in that corner of the new empiricism where we are trying to build a bridge between the history of reading, literary and cultural history, and formalist critique, have little choice. There is certainly some evidence in Australia to show which nineteenth-century novels were read: by individuals, by groups of readers (families, lending-library subscribers, church members, and so on), and by societies. And there is some evidence of how those novels were read and received. But it’s not much to go on. The “most impassioned reading destroys its own traces”, as Leah Price puts it: “The greater a reader’s engagement with the text, the less likely he or she is to pause long enough to leave a record: if an uncut page signifies withdrawal, a blank margin just as often betrays an absorption too rapt for note taking” (Price 312-13).

What, then, is the rationale for pursuing a detailed investigation of the readership of Victorian fiction in colonial Australia? In the study of which this paper is a part, I look at a range of different sources—mostly library catalogues and loan registers, memoirs and diaries, letters, booksellers’ records, advertisements and articles in newspapers and magazines, and book reviews—to trace the growth of a mass reading public in colonial Australia and the implications of its “dependence … on the English book trade” (Askew and Hubber). Some of this information is derived from quantitative analyses of large samples of data, but they are relatively few and far between. It is simply not possible to base definitive claims on such scattered samples, as significant as they are; or even to suggest that they are broadly indicative of mainstream trends in nineteenth-century Australian reading. Unlike Moretti, therefore, I am not interested in analysing vast quantities of empirical evidence to support a comprehensive or coherent history of the circulation of Victorian culture in colonial Australia. My aim is quite different, and speaks to the necessity and the value of concentrating on particular cases: a handful of libraries, a small number of readers. What can such work contribute to a “larger idea of literary history”?

In some ways, reading history is committed to emulating the epistemological ambitions of the Victorian novel itself. Eliot’s “study of provincial life”, most famously, projected a series of metonymic relations between the particular web and the social universe: between unhistoric individuals and world-historical change (the novel focuses on the inhabitants of a midlands town and the inexorable and barely perceptible changes that overtake them during the period of the First Reform Act). In literary history, readers are the unhistoric actors, living faithfully their hidden lives and resting in unvisited tombs. Studies of unremarkable readers—whether they are lists of library subscribers, members of book clubs, or individuals who note down what they read in letters or diaries—therefore have the potential to show how private lives touched, and were touched by, public history. In this paper I want to illustrate what I mean by considering the career of a single unexceptional reader, whose exceptional diary is also one of the fullest records of a woman’s life in nineteenth-century Australia.

On 13 February 1851, Annie Maria Baxter noted in her journal the passing of another uneventful day on board the brig Calcutta, one month out from van Diemen’s Land and bound for Plymouth:

13th Thursday. Yesterday was such a lovely day, we all felt quite in good humour. I only was ill; my hysterical feelings get the upper hand sometimes. After dressing Annie [her niece], I went on the Poop, and walked for some time there.

Today is neither one thing or the other; but I had an hour on Deck after breakfast, and then came down & bound the Captain’s Chart, for it was so terribly torn. I had a tedious business with it, but ended by doing it.

What a relief it is to be alone! I cannot bear to be obliged to talk; & I really sometimes am quite rude in not speaking when spoken to. Reading the “Heiress”, & am interested in it rather.

On dit we shall round the Cape Horn on Sunday = I shall then feel away from my dearest friends in V. D. Land. (Dixson vol.14/file no.ab39)

It is a characteristic entry in a remarkable work. Thirty-two volumes of the journals of Annie Baxter (later Annie Dawbin) survive: five-and-a-half-thousand pages, roughly 845,000 words (Frost xvii), beginning on 12 September 1834, the day after the seventeen-year-old bride boarded the convict-ship Augusta Jessie with her young soldier husband to sail to Australia, and continuing, with only occasional interruptions, for thirty-four years. Subsequent volumes record daily life in the regimental society of Launceston and Sydney, the couple’s long struggle to establish and make a living from a cattle station, Yesabba, on the remote Macleay River in mid-northern NSW, their forced migration to the more hospitable country of the squattocracy on the southern coast of what became Victoria, and Annie’s decision to separate from her increasingly violent and unstable husband, and join her widowed brother William and his family as a companion and housekeeper back in Launceston. In 1851, almost exactly half-way through the period covered by the journals, she accompanied William, also a soldier, on his return journey to England to claim a share in the estate of the wealthy deceased uncle who had virtually raised the children (the entry above was written on that journey). Not a significant beneficiary of the will herself, she was forced to move with William when he was posted to Cork in Ireland in 1852, and stay on even after he remarried. Three years later, however, Annie was released from her ever more uncomfortable duties in the crowded household when she learned of the suicide of her estranged husband in Melbourne. Almost immediately she sailed back to Australia to claim a share of his by-then considerable property. On the voyage out, she met another man, Robert Dawbin, whom she married in Australia, and who proved to be an incompetent and unreliable man of business, running through Baxter’s £5000 in a few short years. In 1863, he sailed for England again, leaving Annie alone in lodgings and boarding-houses in Melbourne until he was settled. In 1865, she finally joined her husband, staying in England until 1868, when he was appointed by the Otago Provincial Government to introduce salmon into New Zealand. The journals end abruptly on 2 May 1868, on another ship, the Celestial Queen, moored in Port Chalmers in Dunedin where “the passengers had to remain on board all day, as no steam—” (Dawbin 585). Annie Dawbin was fifty-one years old: she died thirty-seven years later, on 22 November 1905.

Like other women’s diaries, the journals of Annie Baxter Dawbin [1] do not tell a life story. In the early 1840s she did refashion some of the material from the Yesabba journals into a book of letters addressed to a fictitious correspondent, Henrietta, about “bush life” (Frost xxix-xxx). And in 1873 she published an unremarkable memoir based on the journals: Memories of the Past, by a Lady in Australia. The journals themselves, however, are a record of “living in the daily” (Bunkers and Huff 6): of “entering … each day, or each time that I felt inclined, such events as were occurring” (1857). They are the impressions of, and reflections on, an extraordinary colonial experience, written in the language of an educated, cultured woman from the military small gentry for whom writing and reading were essential accoutrements of rank and sex, which set her apart in settler and station society. The structure of Annie’s diary narrative is typical of its form, governed by “irregularity, discontinuity, and fragmentation rather than a coherent shaping of life events” (Bunkers and Huff 7): it is an aesthetic of women’s work, still there to be done last thing every night, and never to be finished. At the same time, the journals move through “a series of moments in time” where the “ultimate, long-range significance” of those moments “cannot be assessed” (Pascal 2). They are pervaded with anxiety about the unglimpsed future, and constantly readjust the meanings and significance of past events.

A “book of the self” (Fothergill 52), Annie’s journals challenge “the boundaries between the public and the private” (Bunkers and Huff 2). As Lucy Frost has shown, she at first used locked boxes, ciphers, and foreign language to keep intruders away (and especially her husband). At the same time she coquettishly loaned out current volumes to a succession of men with whom she fell in love, deriving an erotic satisfaction from her suitors’ (sometimes annotated) readings of her strategic and often cryptic declarations of passion. As she grew older, however, she became less inclined to write for the inspection of these ever-present admirers. Gradually, in the journals, “self-invention, self-discovery, and self-representation merge” (Gilmore 42) into a recognizable voice that grows more aware and more confident of the existence of an unknown public: readers in the distant future whose possible existence defies, as the very voluminousness and ambitiousness of the journals defy, the possibility of her remaining unheard and unknown. “[Y]our pages like my little troubles will never be seen!”, she declares as a twenty year old; but a decade later asks: “ I frequently wonder who will read these when I’m dead; and often think of bequeathing them to some person, as a momento [sic] of as queer a compound of Reason & Madness, as ever existed!” (9 December 1848).

A queer compound of Reason and Madness: if all diaries consciously or unconsciously fictionalise the lives of their writers, the journals of Annie Baxter Dawbin are elaborately, even ostentatiously, artificial. They display their indebtedness to public literary forms, and especially to contemporary and older narratives of women’s experience, both fictional and non-fictional. “What a Romance the whole of my life has been!” she writes exuberantly in 1847: “it is scarcely to be believed” (27 February 1847). And yet few works record so diligently, and with so much fidelity, the unremarkable duties and pleasures of everyday colonial life. They tell us what it was like to keep house in a slab hut, to be stranded for days by flooded creeks, to bathe in a bogy-hole on a hot day, to fall off a horse or kill a snake in a dark store room; the pleasure of receiving cuttings of roses and geraniums, and of keeping poultry. We are present at soirées musicales, quadrille parties, balls, hunts and rides, picnics, race meetings, the theatre. We follow the endless rounds of visits (‘such quantities of Visitors’ [8 September 1850]) which ward off the loneliness of station life and bring a constant traffic of letters, legal papers, newspapers, and books. We experience long journeys by foot, on horseback, by sea; and experience the tedium of staying home all day and all night with needlework and mending. There is sheet music to copy, and games making up verses to given words; there are flirtations, secret loves, courtships, weddings, pregnancies, miscarriages; rumours and innuendoes abound, blackmail, scandal, rows and disputes. The drunkenness and lasciviousness of colonial men are ever-present; with the fear of night trespassers, problems with servants, dealings with aborigines, the annoyances and grievances of an unhappy domestic life, the pervasiveness of illness and pain, the dependence on laudanum, the ubiquity of death, by suicide, misadventure, childbirth, or infectious disease. And like Victorian novels themselves, the minute particulars of private experience are faithfully described against a background of public history: the 1848 revolutions, the Great Exhibition, the gold rushes, the Crimean War, the railway, mesmerism, chloroform, gaslight.

Throughout all this, too, the journals record Annie’s turbulent dream life, her sometimes candid, and sometimes affected or self-conscious assessments of her own strengths and weaknesses. Day after day, she takes the pulse of her deepest feelings: her fears, disgusts, passions, nostalgias, forebodings. In the 1851 Calcutta entry, this dialectic of temperate common-sense and impassioned, impulsive self-expression are evident. The author-protagonist seeks relief in solitude and writing almost as one of Charlotte Bronte’s autobiographer-heroines might: relief from incapacitating nervous energy, frustrated imaginative and intellectual ambition, boredom, petty annoyances and illnesses, loneliness, and anger, all submerged beneath the surface of good humoured days, domestic chores, social duties, and shipboard recreations. [2] Only six months earlier, Annie had in fact read and admired Bronte’s Shirley, noting in her journal: “Finished “Shirley”; & think it well worth reading. They may say what they like respecting a few of the Conversations therein; I maintain they are true, altho’ one would not wish them published!” (13 July 1850). [3] In the privacy of her journals, we can see something of the familiar Brontean struggle between reason and madness, between the “sentiment, and poetry, and reverie” of romance—the “passion, and stimulus, and melodrama”—and “something real, cool, and solid”, something “unromantic as Monday morning” (Bronte 5). The journals are a compound of realism and romance, in other words, and through them we can trace a generic struggle that is also simultaneously running through the literary history of the nineteenth-century British novel.

The struggle I am referring to is most evident in the emergence of a number of mixed generic forms for the representation of female experience in the mid-Victorian novel, forms which govern the characters of their heroines, the spaces female protagonists are permitted to inhabit, and the plots available to give shape to their represented actions, and meaning to their lives. In effect, this struggle took place along class and religious lines, and reflected volatile ideologies of normative and aberrant femininity, and their complex relationship to other ideological faultlines of the Victorian middle classes—around industrial labour, Roman Catholicism, racial difference, and so on. In fiction, it was played out in the adaptation and reconfiguration of narrative syntaxes and registers from established romance forms—the courtship novel, the sentimental novel, historical romance, Gothic fiction, the silver-fork novel, and so on—and their “domestic” counterparts: epistolary novels, village tales, evangelical novels. Its most notable manifestations were in the transitional middle years of the century, when women were central to the social problem novel of the 1840s and 50s, the English Bildungsroman and the domestic realism with which it is associated, beginning in the late 1840s, the religious novels of the Tractarian period, the provincial novel, and, most especially, the sensation fiction of the 1860s.

What I want to do is map Annie Baxter Dawbin’s fiction reading between 1834 and 1868 onto this literary-historical narrative of femininity and its representations in British novelistic genres of this period. There are countless references to reading in the journals. It is private reading mostly, although sometimes Annie is read to by various men, and she is thankful for the opportunity to listen while she gets on with the relentless mending and dressmaking (“I sat up so late last night, finishing a dress, & reading – it was morning before I fell asleep” [7 January 1844]). She does not always bother to note what she is reading: the more immersed she is in a book (returning to Leah Price’s earlier point), the less she feels the need to pause and note down her thoughts about it. Yet we can feel her reading life going on, as an unremarked part of the daily rhythm of her life. There are more than 500 references to reading in the journal in the years between 1834 and 1857, and several hundred more in the decade between 1858 and 1868. And for the whole thirty-four years, there are 279 references to particular books she is reading.

Of those titles I can identify and categorise, the majority (122) are British novels; Annie also read French (or French novels in English) and learned German. Importantly for her own enterprise, a significant part of her reading was devoted to forms of life-writing, and particularly to memoirs by and about women; and to travel books (the most popular non-fiction genre in colonial Australia, and still relatively unexamined). As a young girl flirting with dangerous men in the fashionable society of the garrison towns, she was also an inveterate reader of the scandalous works of Byron, an ardour that cooled somewhat in the bush, although her love of poetry remained. She also read history, and popular religious/contemplative books. The remainder are unidentified.

There is a great deal one could draw from this information: about that notable abstraction, the Victorian “woman reader”, for example—a bundle of assumptions about “what, when and how a woman should read” (Flint 73) in advice manuals, medical texts, polemical articles, book reviews—or about nineteenth-century women’s reading and its association with the body. Examining the pattern of Annie’s reading over the thirty-odd years, however, I was struck at first by the curious way in which the evolution of her journal narrative and its represented self strangely parallels changes in the representation of women in the novel over the same period. When she embarked on her first journey to van Diemen’s Land, she was, I thought, surely a sort of Lydia Wickham, impulsively drawn by girlish romance into marriage with an unsuitable and unloving husband. Her Launceston and Sydney journals are full of the artificial language of the silver fork novels and historical romances she was reading; as her life deepens and grows more sombre, and she is faced with domestic hardship and disappointment, she finds herself and her experience refracted in the newly serious novelistic discourses of domestic realism and social problem fiction.

As an experiment, I decided to tag Annie’s fiction reading by date and genre and map it onto a graphical representation of the sequence of British novelistic genres during the period [show Moretti]. This graph comes from Franco Moretti’s “Graphs, Maps, Trees”, and it indicates the emergence and decline of the major genres. Moretti’s hypothesis is that genres disappear after about twenty-five years because their readers disappear: a generational change in “the mental climate” is also a generational change in audience, which is imprinted on the novelistic field. The etymological affinity of genres and generations lends the argument a certain credibility: but is it borne out in practice? Moretti is hesitant, concluding only that “some kind of generational mechanism seems the best way to account for the regularity of the novelistic cycle” (“Graphs I” 83). In his argument, however, the vanishing readers are only implied by the generational shifts in the currency of genres themselves; and that currency has itself been posited from the vantage point of an already resolved literary history, in which genres neatly succeed each other. In practice, however, readers of one genre did not simply die out, even when new examples of the genre were no longer being written and published.

Annie Baxter Dawbin’s reading [show ABD graph] shows clearly how, in her early thirties, she embraced the new realist genres of the mid-century whilst continuing to read silver-fork novels of the 1820s. It may be objected that her access to new books (and new trends in fiction) may have been restricted, causing her to depend on old favourites. Yet a count of more than 32,000 loan issues at the SA Institute library in 1861-62 reveals how important old books continued to be [CR]. Annie’s reading, as we can see from this graph, more or less follows Moretti’s trajectory: she is reading silver-fork novels in the 1830s and sensation novels in the 1860s. Yet it also shows, first, how she continued to read old genres long after the end of their period of dominance. And secondly we can see how her most intensive reading clusters around that great flowering of the Victorian novel between the middle of the 1840s and the middle of the 1850s: when she was reading Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes, and the other mid-Victorians.

Elsewhere I have argued that the reading archive is a unique resource for an empirically-based critical practice because it shows up patterns and correspondences among literary works that do not display their affinities in generic or other formal characteristics, and have become dissociated by literary history (because only some are canonical, or because they belong in different national literatures or periods, or because of incongruities in their implied audiences). Reading data consistently shows that works cluster together unexpectedly, prompting us to read unfamiliar works and re-read familiar works against the grain of each other.

If Moretti’s graph shows what he calls “the limits of the imaginable” (Moretti “Graphs I” 82) in the life cycles of genres, we can see how reading data expands those limits, showing a more mixed and less predictable interplay of genres in the patterns of their consumption which reflects the internal generic mixing that became so distinctive of the greatness of the mid-Victorian novel: the romantic or historical elements of the Bildungsromane, the continuing importance of eighteenth-century picaresque in multiplot novels, and of Minerva romances in Elizabeth Gaskell’s social problem novels. Where Moretti finds “a rather regular changing of the guard … where half a dozen genres quickly leave the scene, as many move in, and then remain in place for twenty-five years or so” (Moretti “Graphs I” 80), the reading archive finds something slower and more variable: processes akin to Raymond Williams’s well-known rhythms of residual, dominant and emergent cultures. New genres emerge to shape “new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship [which] are continually being created”, but they are, as Williams puts it, : “emergent in the strict sense, rather than merely novel”; they carry forward the older forms.

What Annie Baxter Dawbin’s journals reveal is that daily life is not an orderly succession—a coherent narrative; and what her reading reveals is that literary histories, too, are the imposition of order and coherence on the past. Annie’s perspective is the migrant’s perspective: her journals record, in Paul Carter’s words, ‘movement … as a mode of being in the world’ (Carter 101), and they ask: ‘how does life in a new country acquire meaning?’ (Carter 98). This journal speaks to the nineteenth-century British world as one of perpetual migrancy: of unformed cultural identity. As a reader of English books, there is no sense that she is holding on to the culture of her homeland; but nor is she being reborn, and throwing off that culture. The only constancy in the journal is “today”: where everything is “neither one thing or the other”.

What might it be used for, all this research into the circulation and reception of the Victorian novel in Australia? Is it evidence for the transmission of the “great cultural archive”—the “intellectual and aesthetic investments in overseas dominion” (Said xxiii) of a great colonial power? Is it a key to the origin of some of our most enduring cultural narratives, which formed and emerged in a country that was deeply dependent on the importation of print culture from Britain, so dependent that it was significantly deprived of its own “power to narrate … [as well as the power] to block other narratives from forming and emerging” (Said xiii)? Those powers are celebrated in national literary histories: is the “larger literary history” being attempted here—rejecting the developmental narrative of the nation presumed in a literary history— indifferent to that struggle? In a sense, historical reading research is just that: research, not history. Its samples reveal an unresolved cultural space, not yet safely part of history: fragments of reading lives which, as George Eliot would have it in Middlemarch, “however typical, [are] not the sample[s] of an even web”.

Figures 1 – 4


  1. Here I follow Lucy Frost in assigning the compound name Annie Baxter Dawbin.
  2. On the Calcutta, too, Annie is reading another novel of a poor single woman’s ordeal—on the basis of what we know about her reading habits, it is almost certainly Ellen Pickering’s The Heiress, published in three volumes by Bentley in 1833—and volunteering only that she is “interested in it rather”. Pickering’s novels are “obsessed with status, marriage, and, particularly, the dilemma faced by a young woman who needs both money and marital security to survive” Mary Poovey, “Recovering Ellen Pickering,” Yale Journal of Criticism 13.2 (2000): 439.. These are Annie Baxter’s obsessions, too
  3. She also read Villette just after it was published two years later: “Reading ‘Villette’, by Currer Bell; & like it much” (2 April 1853).

Works Cited

  • Askew, M, and B. Hubber. “The Colonial Reader Observed: Reading in Its Cultural Context.” The Book in Australia : Essays Towards a Cultural & Social History. Eds. D. H. Borchardt and Wallace Kirsop. Historical Bibliography Monograph ; No. 16. Melbourne: Australian Reference Publications in association with the Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Monash University, 1988. 110-37.
  • Barthes, Roland. “Day by Day with Roland Barthes.” On Signs. Ed. Marshall Blonsky. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. 98-117.
  • Bronte, Charlotte. Shirley. Eds. Herbert Rosengarten and Margaret Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
  • Bunkers, Suzanne L., and Cynthia Anne Huff. Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women’s Diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
  • Carter, Paul. Living in a New Country: History, Travelling and Language. London: Faber, 1992.
  • Chartier, Roger. “Labourers and Voyagers: From the Text to the Reader.” Diacritics 22.2 (1992): 49-61.
  • Dawbin, Annie Baxter. The Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858 – May 1868. Academy Editions of Australian Literature. Ed. Lucy Frost. St Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, in association with the State Library of New South Wales, 1997.
  • Flint, Kate. The Woman Reader, 1837-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  • Fothergill, Robert A. Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries. London; New York,: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Frost, Lucy. “Introduction.” The Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858 – May 1868. Ed. Lucy Frost. Academy Editions of Australian Literature. St Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, in association with the State Library of New South Wales, 1997. xvii-lv.
  • Frow, John. Genre. The New Critical Idiom. London: Routledge, 2006.
  • Gilmore, Leigh. Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self-Representation. Reading Women Writing. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.
  • Moretti, Franco. Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900. London ; New York: Verso,, 1999.
  • —. “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History–1.” New Left Review 24.Nov Dec (2003): 67-93.
  • —. “The Slaughterhouse of Literature.” MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 61.1 (2000): 207-27.
  • Pascal, Roy. Design and Truth in Autobiography. London: Routledge & Paul, 1960.
  • Poovey, Mary. “Recovering Ellen Pickering.” Yale Journal of Criticism 13.2 (2000): 437-52.
  • Price, Leah. “Reading: The State of the Discipline.” Book History 7 (2004): 303-20.
  • Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.

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Fiction and the Australian Reading Public, 1888-1914

September 1, 2008
Tim DolinPapers, Reading

For a brief moment in the history of the modern West, between about 1880 and 1920, narrative fiction in books, newspapers, and magazines dominated the rapidly growing markets for transnational mass-produced popular entertainment in English, before being challenged successively by cinema, radio, and television.

Victorian Domestic Fiction and the Settler Reader: Annie Baxter Dawbin, 1834-1868

June 8, 2008
Tim DolinDiaries, Papers, Victorian Fiction

At the forefront of the new empiricism in literary studies has been the call for a “larger idea of literary history” and a counter-intuitive idea of how to approach critical reading.

The Secret Reading Life of Us

June 8, 2008
Tim DolinPapers

It is no secret that Australia, when it was formally constituted as a nation in 1901, was already a nation of readers; nor that most Australians read, and still read, fiction.


    Random Quote

    “The first and greatest caveat in the history of reading: to own, buy, borrow or steal a book is no proof of wishing to read it, let alone proof of having read it. The second caveat is that quoting, or misquoting, a text is no proof of having read it. The third caveat is, therefore, is that any reading recorded in an historically recoverable way is, almost by definition, an exceptional recording of an uncharacteristic event by an untypical person.”

    Simon Eliot, The Reading Experience Database; or, What Are We to Do About the History of Reading?