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The Secret Reading Life of Us

By Tim Dolin • June 8th, 2008

© Tim Dolin, Curtin University of Technology

[in Brian Matthews (ed), Readers, Writers, Publishers: Essays and Poems. Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities, 2004. 115-34.]

It is no secret that Australia, when it was formally constituted as a nation in 1901, was already a nation of readers; nor that most Australians read, and still read, fiction; nor again, that most of that fiction was and is popular fiction written and produced elsewhere for a worldwide English-language market; nor that until the middle of the twentieth century about ninety percent of that production took place in Britain. [1] We know that Australia was the largest market for British book exports continuously from at least 1889 until 1953′ (Johanson 5; Lyons, “Britain’s Largest Export Market”); and that the Australian appetite for cheap popular fiction—much of it supplied in newspapers and special colonial editions; and most of it borrowed from commercial circulating libraries, Mechanics’ Institute libraries, or public libraries [2]—only decreased when reading was succeeded as the dominant form of popular household recreation by radio and television in the 1950s. Because ‘Australia’s book trade and readers were … part of an imperial cultural space, dominated and defended by London publishers’ (Lyons, “Britain’s Largest Export Market” 22), fiction was cheaper here than almost anywhere else in the world; for the same reasons, it is held, Australian writers, publishers, and readers found it all the more difficult to establish, develop, and support a national literary culture.

We have a very clear picture of what books were available to readers in Australia between 1880 and 1950—bookseller’s catalogues and advertisements, publishers’ archives, library catalogues and many other sources tell us what was on the shelves, and annual reports from Mechanics’ Institutes and other publicly subsidized libraries provide unambiguous statistical information about the circulation of books by category, confirming that Australians did read what is politely called ‘light fiction’ imported from Britain. Recent histories of reading (e.g. Lyons, “Readers Demand”) have substantiated what earlier commentators observed (and deplored). Mass-market fiction was pervasive. Publicly subsidized libraries, through which governments aimed to provide education and intellectual stimulus to Australians from all walks of life, failed to do so (Candy and Laurent). Instead they bowed to pressure from their own members, who demanded only the latest fiction, and would gladly pay to borrow it if necessary from the plentiful commercial circulating libraries springing up in every suburb and town across the country (e.g. Lyons, “Readers Demand”). But in general, Australian reading histories have been hesitant, or reluctant, to ascribe any positive cultural significance to this trend, in part, perhaps, because mass culture is held to be self-evidently uninteresting, undifferentiated, and immaterial to a national history of the book. Its readership is Australian, but at the same time ‘the masses’, that large, widely dispersed, anonymous, demographically heterogeneous but behaviourally homogeneous group of people who, it is said, lack self-awareness as masses or binding social ties with one another (McQuail). Even those cultural theorists attentive to the problems with the term (e.g. Ohmann) understand mass culture to signal ‘the homogenization, the overriding of local and subcultural divisions’ that accompanied the expansion of print media in the late nineteenth century. Implied in the term is the notion that the culture industries are powerful, and ‘shape audiences and groups of consumers’ (Ohmann 14) by producing, for profit, cultural commodities ‘for millions … to share, in similar or identical form, either simultaneously or nearly so [and] with dependable frequency’ (Ohmann 14). Mass culture creates and then caters to an audience that is both habitual (‘sharing common needs and interests’ (Ohmann 14)) and passive; and in the process, the argument goes, it erodes local cultural identities and national traditions and values.

These assumptions have informed previous histories of reading in Australia, I would suggest, despite the fact that reading history has always been alert to the strategies of incorporation and resistance at work in the relationship between cultural producers and readers. But the anonymity and silence of this vast class of readers has always conspired against them. Reading history is largely a phenomenological enterprise, concerned with finding out not just what readers read and where, but why they read it, how they interpreted what they read, what connections they made between their reading and their everyday lives, what intellectual, social, and political effects their reading had, and how their reading changed over time. This had led reading historians to favour the evidence of personal narratives of reading, which foreground a particular kind of reading and a particular kind of reader: the self-conscious or conscientious reader, articulate and attuned to the symbolic value of works and the cultural value of reading as an act. Because these readers are the pre-eminent subjects of reading history, they unbalance and falsify the histories they help to make.

In part, too, reading history has found little to say about the significance of mass-market fiction in Australia because, although we know that Australians read a lot of it, we have not analysed what they actually read. That information can only be recovered from circulation data—library loan records. As Priya Joshi remarked in her study of the English novel in India, published in 2002: ‘It has remained every book historian’s dream … to locate circulation records from a … public library in order to conduct a sustained intellectual history of reading alongside broader social and political trends. To the best of my knowledge, however [she writes], these data have proven extremely elusive’ (Joshi 50). [3] Only one study, Paul Kaufmann’s pioneering study of the Bristol Library Society in the late eighteenth century, has been able to make effective use of circulation records. Yet, remarkably, in Australia loan records survive from at least twelve community-based, government-subsidized libraries operating out of Mechanics’ Institutes, Literary Institutes, and Schools of Arts between about 1880 and 1950. These libraries were located in cities and large towns (Geelong, Launceston, Bundaberg), small pastoral communities (Rosedale in Victoria), and industrial towns (Victoria Mills, Lambton) in all colonies/states. [4] Some of the records span only eighteen months or so, yet detail thousands of transactions. Others record, virtually uninterrupted, the borrowings of forty years. Some libraries had many hundreds of subscribers; others as few as thirty. Compiled with additional circulation data from more than one hundred libraries—data contained in members’ suggestion books, annual reports, minute books, and printed library catalogues—as well as with archives and studies of British and American publishers and Australian distributors, this material is extraordinarily rich; and the history it reveals is truly a secret history of Australian reading.

Consider just one example. In 1901, a small coalmining and logging town in the south-west of Western Australia was declared a municipality, and a Mechanics’ Institute was built. The area had been mined since the 1880s, but the town, Collie, had only been proclaimed in 1897, when the mining operations, underwritten by the state government, began in earnest and the railway line linked the town to the coast. That year there was an influx of migrant labour to work in the new shafts, and by 1901, the town’s population had reached more than 1000. By 1908 Collie was one of 118 Mechanics’ and Miners’ Institutes active in W.A. At that time it held 1165 books (out of a total of nearly 100,000 across all the Institutes in the state); of those, 1067 were novels (an unusually high percentage). There were 10,268 recorded loan issues in 1908-09, of which 8562 were books (the remainder were periodical loans); of those books, 8433 were novels (only 129 non-fiction books were borrowed). The fiction issues encompassed 804 titles. About 75% of the total fiction collection was borrowed; a quarter of all books, in other words, were not borrowed at all during the eighteen months from July 1908 and December 1909, for which complete circulation data survives.

The Collie Institute had 392 members on its books in 1908-09 (346 men and 46 women), out of a population of about 1200. (It should be remembered that Worsley, a couple of miles away, was included in the Collie Municipal Council area, and had a larger institute and library. [5]) Of the 392 members of the Collie library, 328 actually borrowed books during this period (84% of the membership): 7280 loan issues were made to men, and 1282 to women. Women were on average bigger readers than men, however: they borrowed an average of 28 books each; men 21 books each.

Because of the high itinerant population in mining communities it has only been possible to identify the occupations of about 60% of borrowers from electoral rolls. But even given this limited data, occupational information has proven extremely useful for analyzing reading habits against occupational profiles. We know, for example, that, by far the largest group of borrowers were miners: a category that takes in a wide range of skilled trades and unskilled labouring jobs. This may seem unremarkable for a mining town, or indeed for a Mechanics’ Institute, governed and administered by the local town elite and ‘purported to serve the educational and recreational needs of the working class’ and lower middle class (Rose, Birman and White 128). By 1900, however, the original ideals of the institutes movement—’the mental and moral improvement and rational recreation of its members’ (Candy 8)—had been eroded and ‘in town after town, ‘the ‘respectable’ members of society, with their own [middle-class] prejudices … and standards, committed many institutes to a tone and reputation which alienated the mechanics’ (Whiting 178). This was not the case in Collie, however, as figure 1 shows. We can tell from this data what the clergymen borrowed, and the policeman; what the local member of parliament read, and the hotelkeepers, grocers and engine drivers; the law clerk, doctors, and the postmaster. We can tell what the members of the local union executive read, and mine management. Most importantly, we can tell whether the mine manager read the same books as the miners or not; whether women read different books from men; and whether the clergymen and the publicans shared a favourite author.

So what, in the broadest terms firstly, did Collie’s readers borrow? It should be said that virtually all the fiction in the Collie library was also in other Mechanics’ Institute libraries in WA and in other states. This should come as no surprise, given that the library committee had a standing order with a supplier, E.S. Wigg and Son in Perth, for six new titles per month, which would account for the dominance of new fiction in a library that had only been operating for a few years. None of the top fifty novels borrowed in 1908-09 was first published before 1890, and 45 of them were published after 1900. Of those 45, moreover, 32 were published in 1907, 08, and 09 alone. [6] Of course readers could only borrow what was on the shelves, so it is important to know what they chose not to borrow: this included, for example, any of the works of William Shakespeare, Thackeray, Hardy, Kipling, Stevenson, Arnold Bennett, or H.G. Wells. Of the whole of Sir Walter Scott’s fiction, only Ivanhoe was borrowed (five times); of Dickens, only The Old, Curiosity Shop (twice) and Pickwick Papers (once). The favourite George Eliot was (perhaps predictably) Felix Holt; and favourite Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer. The most popular Australian novelist (if we don’t count Nat Gould) was Steele Rudd: all of eighteen readers borrowed Dad in Politics. [7] Seven Little Australians went out only three times; Robbery Under Arms twice; and only the bank manager thought The Bulletin Story Book might be worth a read.

Collie’s borrowers read contemporary bestsellers almost exclusively, therefore, but where did they come from? Of the top ten bestsellers in the United States for each of 1908 and 1909, only five were on the shelves in Collie: John Fox’s runaway bestselling Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Harold MacGrath’s The Lure of the Mask and The Goose Girl, and Louis Vance’s The Black Bag (Rex Beach’s The Silver Horde [1909] was added to the collection in 1910). [8] None of these made it into the top fifty, suggesting that British bestsellers were preferred. Yet nor does the loans data show that Collie borrowings correspond strongly to circulation patterns of British public libraries for the same period. Simon Eliot’s study of multiple copies on library shelves in Britain shows the continuing dominance there of Scott, Dickens, Mrs Henry Wood, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, whose popularity was only rivalled by Walter Besant, Rider Haggard, and Mark Twain (Eliot). In Collie, Wood and Rider Haggard are both top ten authors; but curiously, neither Scott nor Dickens make it even into the top fifty. Moreover the biggest selling British author for 1908 and 1909, Marie Corelli, is unplaced in the top ten loan titles for the period, as figure 2 shows.

There is one American author in this list: David Graham Phillips, who wrote muck-raking exposes of American high society with average sales of 100,000 copies (Kunitz and Haycraft 1100). Interestingly, there is also a Canadian, Ralph Connor—real name Charles William Gordon, a Presbyterian minister who wrote stories combining ‘exciting adventure and moral purity’ (Kunitz and Haycraft 553)—and an Irishwoman, Katherine Thurston, whose novels of impersonation and mistaken identity were huge bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic. [9] These novels were, however, distributed in Australia in British editions, as the publisher data in the table shows, a reminder that the dominance of the British imperial book-trade in Australia does not altogether equate with the dominance of British fiction here. Also, interestingly, Phillips’s novel, The Second Generation (1907), was never published in a British edition, yet by 1908 the US edition was readily available in Australia—an import market officially monopolized by British publishers. [10]

Of the authors of these ten most heavily borrowed books, probably only Rider Haggard and E. Phillips Oppenheim are immediately recognizable to modern readers as bestselling authors of the period. And, certainly, few readers now would expect to find four novels out of the ten by two members of the same family: Joseph and Silas Hocking, Methodist ministers of Cornish background who, like Connor, wrote adventure romances of faith and doubt—a sort of boys’ own Robert Elsmere. One might be tempted to construe from the popularity of non-conformist novelists in Collie the presence of a stern Methodist minister, but the sheer diversity of other loans to those who borrowed the Hockings’ fiction discounts that possibility—and circulation data from another Australian library collection, in the small Gippsland town of Rosedale in Victoria, confirms the popularity of the Hockings—and indeed clergyman novelists—among turn of the century Australian readers. [11]

A list of the most borrowed authors in the Collie library (figure 3) takes us back to more familiar territory: Joseph Hocking, again, is far and away the most popular author, but there are few other surprises: Nat Gould, Mrs Henry Wood, Marie Corelli, the Scot S.R. Crockett (another clergyman and one of a number of Scottish romancers who dominated the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century best-seller lists [12]), Horace Vachell (author of country house mysteries), and the spy novelists and invasion-scare novelists Oppenheim and Le Queux. All of these authors were British, although the significance of the different regional origins of popular British novelists should also be noted, especially in relation to migration and settlement patterns in Australia. A pie chart (figure 4) showing the relative national origins of all authors borrowed during this period confirms the dominance of British authors, but shows also how important American popular fiction had already become in the Australian market. (The chart also shows a relatively high proportion of borrowings of Australian authors, but this is slightly misleading because it includes Nat Gould, a Briton who lived in Australia for less than a decade.)

A great deal more could be learned about reading patterns from this circulation data—patterns of women’ reading, for example, or children’s reading. In addition, once comparable data has been collected from other libraries, reading patterns might usefully be mapped to other coordinates, such as physical landscape, demographic data, pastoral and industrial conditions and work practices (comparing two coalmining towns, Collie and Lambton, for example, or a coalmining town and a small farming community), religious practices, and other salient factors. This data can also be queried for more specifically cultural patterns: of canonicity, for example—which libraries read more ‘canonical’ texts? Previous studies have approached this important question using such straightforward methods as marking all authors mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography—’far from perfect, of course (and also much larger than the canon in the strict sense): but … a rich and plausible index’ (Moretti 146). [13] Alternatively, it is possible to get a rough idea about canonicity—particularly in newspapers and periodicals—by indexing their scales of production. After 1880, when the new generation of mass-market tabloids and weeklies began flooding the periodical market, and the three-volume novel went into decline, circulation figures and cover price can together give a reasonable measure of ‘literariness’. [14]

The level of local detail that becomes available once readers from a neighbourhood can be identified—once we know something about where they lived, whether they were married, what they did for a living, what their status was in the community, when they were born and how they died, and much more, in some cases, from local or parish records and local newspapers—has the potential to transform our understanding of ‘communities of reading’. Literary studies has long been concerned with ‘interpretive communities’ made up ‘of those who share interpretive strategies’ (Fish 14), but it has had difficulty going beyond ‘the supposed experience of a generalised reader’: it has no real interest in ‘the actual reading experiences and responses of specific individuals to specific works’ (Suleiman 26). Reading history, on the other hand, has vigorously taken up that pursuit of individual readers and reading communities, but has never quite resolved the tension between the two—the subjective reading experience of the individual reader and the collective social action implied in the activities of a reading community. [15] In part this is because of a tendency to conceive reading communities as local forms of resistance to the strategies of power of hegemonic imperial or commercial cultural interests—an everyday tactics, in de Certeau’s sense (de Certeau). 16] What reading historians typically try to reconstruct is the localized culture as mentalité, in Roger Chartier’s term, with its own specific forms of sociability and modes of thought (Chartier 2-3). While I agree that the history of reading must be something more than the history of what is read, to borrow Chartier’s dictum (one that surely arises out of the very paucity of circulation data), we still badly need histories of what was read where in the past, as well as what readers there chose not to read; and those data can tell us a great deal about local cultures and their intersections with national and transnational cultural experiences.

Reading communities, after all, are both social networks (a book club, workplace, or university class) and formations based on genre—readers who have in common only their readership of a certain category of book—communities of crime fiction readers or science-fiction buffs, or whatever (Radway). Quantitative reading data derived from library circulation records, ‘organized and enriched in a database capable of supporting analytical procedures’ (Harvey and Press 7), reveals in sometimes surprising ways how these two kinds of communities were juxtaposed. We know that the local school teacher in Collie read Sesame and Lilies; that a mining engineer borrowed everything of Carlyle’s he could find (three volumes of The French Revolution, The Life of John Sterling, and Past and Present); that The Origin of Species was tackled by a miner, a grocer, and a coal hewer; and that both volumes of Macaulay’s History of England were checked out to an engine driver. We know, too, what the four mine managers, W.D. Bedlington, Fred Howie, George Leitch, and John Evans Snr.—all read. Together, they borrowed nearly 300 books over that eighteen month period (although more than half of those were borrowed by Bedlington, manager of the Co-operative Colliery). But more importantly, we can learn what Bedlington read in common with Mary Hartley, a local housewife. Figure 5 shows that more than half of the 71 books Mary Hartley borrowed were also borrowed by Bedlington; and that these include—apart from the ubiquitous Hockings—novels we now think of as rather boyish—Mrs Hartley was a great fan of Rider Haggard and the sub-Dickensian cockney low-life romances of Tom Gallon; and Bedlington read plenty of novels we now think of as written for women: Mrs Henry Wood, for instance, and Marie Corelli.

Clearly we must question certain assumptions about class, gender, and genre when we begin thinking about the framing experiences and assumptions of a local community of readers in Australia: their material and social environment, local institutional contexts, and habitus, and the ways these might linked to the works themselves through generic codes, narrative conventions, material and institutional conditions, and cultural values passing back and forth between those two worlds. We can only reach some understanding of this process of exchange by analysing in a more comprehensive way—with reference to the known reading habits of thousands of people in different parts of Australia—who read what, when, and where. What may be insignificant at the level of individual readers and individual works becomes highly significant, I would suggest, at the level of reading communities and genres—the place where individual readers enter into a complex network of relations with other readers’; and where ‘individual work enters into a complex network of relations with other works’ (Corti 115).

The project I have in mind here is clearly not a history of reading, but something else: a literary history, first of all—a history of forms (Moretti 143)—but at the same time an attempt at a broader cultural history. It begins from the assumption that stories are a basic human strategy for coming to terms with time, process, and change; and that they are also chief among those ‘material, representational and symbolic activities which find their hallmark in the way individuals invest in places and thereby empower themselves collectively by virtue of that investment’ (Harvey). Literary and (especially) sub-literary genres are extremely durable, encoding particular norms of temporal existence, material habitation, and spatial orientation. It may even be argued that genres are marked according to their particular symbolic uses of space (Lefebvre 39) (think only of the Western, the invasion-scare novel, or the noir thriller). If they are, in Fredric Jameson’s words, ‘institutions, or social contracts between a writer and a specific public, whose function is to specify the proper use of a particular cultural artifact’ (Jameson 106), their effect is also to reinforce specific kinds of spatial and temporal experience. In the mass-marketplace, where genre entered the ‘brand-name system’ of the market economy (107) so as to differentiate and target cultural markets, that process of reinforcement was intensified.

All of which raises the question: would we describe Collie’s borrowers as a readership, a culture, or a market? It is an important question, because it brings me, finally, to the point I am trying to make with the title of this essay. Who exactly is the us whose secret reading life I am attempting to retrace here? Australians, of course, but also migrants, workers, Western Australians, locals; all of them, however—and this is where the allusion to the slick commercial TV soap comes in—the targeted consumers of particular kinds of cultural products. So where is that ‘us’ in Australian literary and cultural history? Histories of the novel are histories of national cultural evolution—one thinks of A.G. Stephens famously declaring the arrival of ‘the very first Australian novel’, My Brilliant Career (1901), on the stroke of federation. But as we have seen, the history of novel-reading is a history of something quite different—of culture and imperialism, only partly; of culture and consumerism, overwhelmingly. Perhaps what is needed, then, is a fresh examination of the convergence of two parallel events—national formation and mass-culture formation—in the history of Australia.

Australian nationhood occurred relatively late. By the 1880s, when colonial governments began seriously discussing it, a new economic, political, social, and cultural order was being shaped by the most powerful nations of the West—a transnational order, characterized by global monopoly capitalism and aggressive imperial expansion, the rapid development of new communications technologies and industries (electricity, transcontinental telegraphy, and telephony), the rise of an influential professional-managerial class and a vast new class of information workers (clerks and stenographers), new labour movements and feminist movements, and new mass entertainment technologies—cinema and radio, the tabloid press—and mass consumerism and advertising.

The project of a national literature therefore coincided with the rise of a vast new readership for fiction that was indifferent to the boundaries of nation-states. This new generation of readers was, it has been noted, ‘little different from their counterparts in Birmingham, Boston, or the Cape’ (Lyons, “Reading Practices in Australia” 336). They belonged to an entirely new sort of reading community, one that spanned the English-speaking world, and seems on the face of it to have been markedly at odds with the imagined community of the nation-state or the symbolically powerful community of the British Empire. At once part of a newly nationalizing culture vigorously asserting and differentiating itself and part of an undifferentiated mass-market, Australian readers were stranded between two dominant manifestations of modernity—nationalism and transnational mass-consumerism.

What were the implications of this for the development of a genuinely original Australian literature, a literature capable of expressing, in the rhetoric of the period, ‘a vigorous and continuous national life’ (Posnett 339)? Given the circumstances, it might be truer to say that a distinctive Australian literature wasn’t ‘chronically incipient’, as Miles Franklin and so many others believed—’always emerging but never fully emerged’ (Carter 260)—but chronically belated: the product of an emergent nation-state destined never to have quite enough time on its own to experience that continuous national life, undisturbed by the explosive global expansion of cultural practices and products that attended its modest emergence.

When Australian nationhood was still being brokered, the novel was already a global print commodity. Yet the significance of that remains unexplored, even though we know that novels ‘exercise real power in the social order’; that they ‘shape the cultures in which they win currency and mediate conflicts within them’ (Lynch and Warner 2). Our only concern is with the novel as it bears witness to ‘the locality of the group’—hence ‘the great Australian novel’, a local equivalent of ‘the great American novel’ (4)—and in so far as it represents the universalist aspirations, which is to say the modernity, of the local. In this, it performs the function of producing a national population by projecting a national culture onto the world stage: ‘as Goethe intimated, national canons exist in an explicitly comparative and implicitly competitive global environment’ (Livingston 151).

But as I have suggested, the fledgling Australian novel, if it had to struggle against the rival universalisms of the great established national literatures, also had to struggle against another, very different universalism: that claimed by the totalizing conditions of capitalism, which would reduce all experience to ‘a single language and a single network’ (Greenblatt 4). As literary historians, we are the heirs of Stephens’s nineteenth-century conviction that the only ‘“real” or “authentic” culture … [is] that which is subjectively shared by a given community and therefore local’ (Huyssen 363). The counterpart of a culture’s national individuality in its literature is originality—the definitive marker of literariness. Originality is precisely what popular fiction lacks, both in the sense that it lacks aesthetic value—it is not, as Q.D. Leavis argued, ‘serious reading’—and it ‘lacks a national, symbolic value’ (Corse 130): its publishers seek maximum investment profitability and need to find the largest, and least differentiated, market possible (Corse 10). But more than this, originality defines a national culture, and can only be associated with writing—with literary production. Nations comes into being as representations, as narratives: ‘the power to narrate’ (Said xiii) is the power to identify oneself. Is it possible, then, to speak meaningfully about a reading culture—an inarticulate reading culture, indifferent to the Australianness of Australian writing—as a national culture? Or is it only by self-narration, by independent, individual self-expression, that we can assert our separate sovereignty?

Nations gain meaning from the stories they tell; but they also gain meaning from the stories they read. We have always, in our cringing way, been ashamed of our own cultural timidity: our reverence for British elite culture and our appetite for British and American popular culture. There have been spasmodic eruptions of nationalism, and with them moments of assertiveness and confidence—the revitalized film industry in the 1970s, for example. There is such a thing as an Australian literature; but we have achieved it only at the cost of not seeing ourselves as we are, but as a wishful image of an ideal national culture past its time. What we haven’t been prepared to see is that bad literature—the ‘raw material of literary evolution’, Franco Moretti memorably calls it—has been vital in our cultural development; and that it has usually been bad literature from somewhere else. I don’t mean that a history of the novel in Australia should modishly ‘move into that crucial cultural space between the local, the national, and the global’, therefore; simply, that that is where European Australian culture has always been.

Figures 1 – 5

Occupational Profiles of Collie Borrowers, 1908-9


  1. See the Commonwealth Yearbook (no.4), p.656.
  2. Sidney Webb diary entry: —’A long conversation with the intelligent principal shopman in the largest bookstore in Sydney … He said there was no sale for anything but cheap novels, supplied from England in colonial editions at from sixpence to half a crown’. Quoted in Martyn Lyons, “Britain’s Largest Export Market,” A History of the Book in Australia, 1891-1945: A National Culture in a Colonised Market, eds. Martyn Lyons and John Arnold (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001) 25..
  3. See Paul Kaufman’s study of records from the Bristol Library Society 1773-84
  4. Circulation data for Lambton, NSW (1893-) is located in The University of Newcastle Archives; for Windsor, SA (1891-1896) in SA State Records; for Port Germein, SA (1892-1908) in SA State Records; for Wild Horse Plains, SA (1893-1954) in SA State Records; for Crafers, SA (1916-1946), in SA State Records; for Rosedale, Vic (1905-64) in Latrobe Library, Melbourne; for Shelford, Vic (1864-1943) in Geelong Regional Library; for Geelong, Vic (1930s-55) in Geelong Regional Library; for Victoria Mill, Qld (1925-),in James Cook University Archives; for Bundaberg, Qld (1890), in Bundaberg Regional Library; for Launceston, Tas (1860s-1950),in Launceston Regional Library; for Collie, WA (1908-17) in Battye Library, Perth.
  5. 1350 books: Western Australian Official Yearbook, (Perth: Government Statistician’s Office, 1909).
  6. One was published in 1909, eighteen in 1908, and thirteen in 1907.
  7. Sandy’s Selection was borrowed twelve times; On our Selection once; and Back at Our Selection four times.
  8. There are undoubted problems in using bestseller lists as data in book history: see Miller Book History 3, 286; no lists available for Australia for this period: see Walsh’s Literary Intelligencer?
  9. Her biggest seller was her first novel, The Masquerader (1904), published as John Chilcote, M.P. in England.
  10. Whether it arrived here as one of the hundred of thousands of second-hand books imported directly from the USA, or was distributed in its original bindings through a British publishing house, is unclear.
  11. Rosedale MI Collection, MS 9860, Box 4: 3.
  12. The so-called ‘Kailyard’ school, including Ian Maclaren and J.M. Barrie.
  13. Moretti notes that this is the method used in Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1965), Gaye Tuchman and Nina E. Fortin, Edging Women Out : Victorian Novelists, Publishers, and Social Change (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
  14. See ‘The Economic World Reversed, in Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
  15. For Lyons, for example, personal narratives of reading ‘reveal broad similarities and patterns of behaviour, together with all that is unique about one reader’s experience, and the social, cultural, and professional background which forms its essential context’ Martyn Lyons, “Reading Practices in Australia,” A History of the Book in Australia, 1891-1945: A National Culture in a Colonised Market, eds. Martyn Lyons and John Arnold (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001) 341..
  16. This motive lies behind Priya Joshi, In Another Country : Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

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Fiction and the Australian Reading Public, 1888-1914

September 1, 2008
Tim DolinPapers, Reading

For a brief moment in the history of the modern West, between about 1880 and 1920, narrative fiction in books, newspapers, and magazines dominated the rapidly growing markets for transnational mass-produced popular entertainment in English, before being challenged successively by cinema, radio, and television.

Victorian Domestic Fiction and the Settler Reader: Annie Baxter Dawbin, 1834-1868

June 8, 2008
Tim DolinDiaries, Papers, Victorian Fiction

At the forefront of the new empiricism in literary studies has been the call for a “larger idea of literary history” and a counter-intuitive idea of how to approach critical reading.

The Secret Reading Life of Us

June 8, 2008
Tim DolinPapers

It is no secret that Australia, when it was formally constituted as a nation in 1901, was already a nation of readers; nor that most Australians read, and still read, fiction.


    Random Quote

    “Far from being writers -- founders of their own place, heirs of the peasants of earlier ages now working on the soil of language, diggers of wells and builders of houses--readers are travellers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write, despoiling the wealth of Egypt to enjoy it themselves. Writing accumulates, stocks up, resists time by the establishment of a place and multiplies its production through the expansionism of reproduction. Reading takes no measure against the erosion of time (one forgets oneself and also forgets), it does not keep what it acquires, or it does so poorly, and each of the places through which it passes is a repetition of the lost paradise.”

    Michel de Certeau, "Reading as Poaching", in The Practice of Everyday Life, [1984]