Of Victorian Interest

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CFP: NeMLA 2014 "'The gin and whiskey of literature': the Dangers of Novel Reading" (9/30/2013; 4/3-6/2014)

45th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
April 3-6, 2014
Deadline: September 30, 2013
Co-chairs: Carolin Lange (German literature, University of Washington) and Marie Léger-St-Jean (English literature, University of Cambridge)
This panel will seek to contrast and compare the attitudes towards and economics of popular culture in different countries from the 18th century onwards. The panel chairs invite papers of all kinds: e.g. on the dangers of reading from medical history or media history perspectives; cheap literature and its distribution, perception, or poetics.
British radical MP William Cobbett wrote in his Spelling-Book (1831) for the working classes that novels “are the gin and whiskey of literature: they besot, without enlivening, the mind”. Yet, radical publishers soon started publishing fiction in penny numbers because it sold tremendously. Ever since novels became increasingly accessible from the 18th century onwards, they have been mostly thought of as suspect, both feared and ridiculed. Only rarely were they hailed as commodities leading nations towards progress. The cheaper they were sold, the more awe they inspired. Today, Harlequin novels are still the object of ridicule.
The panel chairs would like to bring together scholars of cheap literature across periods and national borders to better understand how, both generally and specifically, it was distributed, feared, and censored. Starting around 1750, identificatory reading was believed to ruin (sexual) morals, middle-class core values, aesthetic standards, health, and intellect. By the mid-19th century, when novels were sold in weekly penny numbers, the British middle classes lived in — rather hysterical — fear of being poisoned by their novel-devouring servants and maids. Later, in the 1920s, the German parliament passed the so-called "Trash- and Dirt-Literature-Law." Interestingly, the rationale always calls upon dietary and medical imagery, regardless of time and place.
Please submit 250-500 word abstracts to Carolin Lange at clange@u.washington.edu.
If the panel receives too large a quantity of high-quality submissions to accommodate in a single panel, the chairs will consider turning it into a round table.

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