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Abstract

This article examines a growing body of work on the psychology of novel reading in the Victorian period by focusing on how three related fields have recently, simultaneously, turned their attention to readers’ minds: the history of reading; studies of psychology and literature; and, more surprisingly, studies of Victorian sociability. Across these fields, critics have found that Victorian readers were not always expected to pay attention: 19th-century psychologists and observers of literary culture thought that many layers and vagaries of the reader’s consciousness and unconscious mind were at work in the reading process. Newly accessible, first-hand accounts of reading experiences have also underscored that Victorian readers used books in unpredictable ways, often as a prompt for their own associations or to turn inward and reflect on social practice. Partly in response to the Foucauldian emphasis on the coerciveness of novel reading that long monopolized literary studies, critics have been redrawing 19th-century reading history to include not reading, or perhaps not only reading, but also the ways novel reading afforded unique forms of self-knowledge amidst the pressures and worries of the modern Victorian world.