Pearson, Jacqueline. Women’s Reading in Britain, 1750-1835: A Dangerous Recreation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Reviewed by William Warner | July 12, 2000
Jacqueline Pearson offers a very broad survey of the way men and women represent women’s reading practices. In placing the debate about women’s reading within a larger struggle for cultural authority, this book does not break new ground. However, it does offer the largest survey to date of the many different voices, speakers, and positions within the fraught debate about whether and how women should read. This book offers an overview of many sites of the reading debate: Richardson’s program for women’s reading; the many genres that attracted women readers (from sermons and poetry to romances); case histories of very different readers (Laetitia Pilkington, Frances Burney, Elizabeth Carter and Jane Austen); the physical places of reading (from private library to circulating library); the breakthrough represented by working women’s reading; and, finally, the debate about novel reading. Pearson’s study shows the many ways reading became a fraught cultural act.