19th Century Literature

Jacob Proffitt Jacob at Proffitt.com
Mon Jul 30 16:48:24 EDT 2001

---Original Message From: Hallie O'Donovan
> More synchronicity - on my Open University conference people are just 
> discussing what course to take next year, and the 19th C Novel is one 
> of the most popular choices.  All of us seem to have read some of the 
> biggies before off our own bat and are eager for a year of it.  It's 
> odd to come from an enthusiastic discussion of the reading list to 
> see Jacob doubting whether people read this stuff for fun much any 
> more.

Yeah, well, it isn't like I haven't been wrong before, so it wouldn't
crush me to be wrong here.  I still don't think I'm wrong, though.  At
the expense of appearing the curmudgeon, I'll point out that a) all the
accounts here of the popularity of Victorian novels is anecdotal by
nature and I would hesitate to generalize based on those accounts b) the
group here has a number of traits that make them much more likely than a
general audience to like Victorian novels (like having discussed Jane
Austin and comparing DWJ to her) and to associate with others who would
read such novels, and c) familiarity with Victorian works is one way to
display intelligence or at least learning--i.e. people will exaggerate
their familiarity with Victorian novels to make themselves look better.
In fact, the example here by Hallie displays all three traits--it's
anecdotal, features a population that would be disproportionately likely
to know about 19 C. novels, and is a forum where people would be prone
to exaggerate their familiarity.

I'm not accusing Hallie of exaggerating her proficiency.  In fact, one
of the things I like about the DWJ list in general is the lack of
pretense and the intellectual engagement here.  I think this is a
singularly excellent email list.  And that is really my point.  The
people here are exceptional and I don't think very representative of the
population as a whole.  In fact, I think you all are exceptional even
for a University educated population.  I know that sounds dreadfully
elitist, but in my discussions with people at large, even University
educated, liberal arts degreed people, the popularity of Victorian works
is non-existent.  Some people will say that they liked this or that
novel, but if you press, their familiarity is not from having read the
work, but from having discussed it with others or from films or other
popular media representations of those works.

Jacob Proffitt

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