Charles Reade archive visit: theoretical and critical readings

Here’s the promised post framing our readings on Charles Reade, the novel of research, aesthetics of research, and ideas about note-taking in preparation for both our seminar meeting (which will take place during our trip) and our related visit to Charles Reade’s papers at Princeton’s Firestone Library’s rare books and special collections department.  A second post describes the goals of the Reade archive visit itself and will give you a checklist of how to prepare. (Remember to sign up for an account here here in advance of the day of our visit.)

Charles Reade, Hard Cash. Self-explanatory! Also read Reade’s Dictionary of National Biography entry for background.

Lewis F. Haines, “Reade’s Realistic Method.” A 1940s view of Reade’s brand of realism; use it to get a picture of Reade’s theories and methods of realism and some possible relations between his research methods and his novel-writing. Think back to the definitions of realism we’ve been cataloging, debating, applying, and problematizing over the course of the first half of this seminar.

Mary Poovey, “Forgotten Writers, Neglected Histories: Charles Reade and the Nineteenth-Century Transformation of the British Literary Field” (2004). Poovey argues that the exclusion of writers like Reade from the canon was a crucial – but contingent – aspect of the formation of the modern literary field; she tries to account for the reason that novelists like Dickens and Bronte (and even Trollope and to a lesser extent Oliphant) have been read and reprinted regularly in the twentieth century, while novelists like Reade have not. Important both for her overall argument and also for her characterization of Reade’s writing (do you agree with her?)

Ann Blair, Preface and Note-taking sections from Too Much to Know. A background-type reading for us (but an important one), Blair tells frames our current 21st century fears of “information overload” in a much longer history in her Preface. The rest of the book goes on to discuss how early modern readers and writers sought to manage both this sense of information overload and information itself; the “Note-taking” chapter we’re reading gives an interesting overview of early modern note-taking practices which remain very relevant to the nineteenth century and to Reade in particular. (Can you tell which early modern note-taking manual he seems to have read most carefully?)

Roland Barthes, selection from The Preparation of the Novel. Not a finished book but a set of notes for his series of lectures on the idea of preparing to write a novel, I hope this Barthes reading will help us as we think through the way Reade’s own research-based “preparation” to write his own novels has a kind of autonomy and aesthetics of its own apart from the actual novels that were the supposed products of all this research. Note a shift – or at least I think I see one and would like to know what you think – in this very late work of Barthes’ away from his post-structuralist skepticism about the very possibility of reference (as in “The Reality Effect”) or of the ability of literature to refer and towards an interest in reference or referentiality as an interesting and complex possibility for the novel. Preparation might also be interesting considered as a set of notes on research itself, though very different obviously from Reade’s notes.

Sianne Ngai, “Merely Interesting.”  An admittedly somewhat challenging read but full of very generative ideas, Ngai’s argument about the “interesting” as one of the aesthetic categories of modernity gives us another path into Reade’s research project.

Totally optional, for now or later: Peter Logan’s article about Reade’s sources for Hard Cash and Andrew Piper’s Book Was There – in his words “an attempt to understand the relationship between books and screens, to identify some of their fundamental differences and to chart out the continuities that run between them” (Piper, Prologue). (Available as an ebook via Tripod.)