The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens

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Fordham University Press, 2011 - Literary Criticism - 455 pages
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What are the sources of the commonly held presumption that reading literature should make people more just, humane, and sophisticated? Rendering literary history responsive to the cultural histories of reading, publishing, and education, The Pleasures of Memory illuminates the ways that Dickens's serial fiction shaped not only the popular practice of reading for pleasure and instruction associated with the growth of periodical publication in the nineteenth century but also the school subject we now know as English.Examining the full scope of Dickens's literary production, Winter shows how his serial fiction instigated specific reading practices by reworking the conventions of religious didactic tracts from which most Victorians learned to read. Incorporating an influential associationist psychology of learning and reading founded on the cumulative functioning of memory, Dickens's serial novels consistently lead readers to reflect on their reading as a form of shared experience, thus channeling their personal memories of Dickens's unforgettablescenes and characters into a public reception reaching across social classes. Dickens's celebrity authorship, Winter argues, represented both a successful marketing program for popular fiction and a cultural politics addressed to a politically unaffiliated, social-activist Victorian readership. As late-nineteenth-century educational reforms in Britain and the United States consolidated Dickens's heterogeneous constituency of readers into the masspopulations served by national and state school systems, however, Dickens's beloved novels came to embody the socially inclusive and humanizing goals of democratic education.

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About the author (2011)


Sarah Winter is Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

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