The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014


Alistair Black

Just as forerunners of the novel can be found in Antiquity, long before the genre became rooted in society in the eighteenth century, the institution of the library can also be traced back thousands of years prior to the appearance of popular libraries around the eighteenth century. For most of their history, the aims and roles of libraries have been related to the formal institutions of state, church, trade, and education. The content of libraries throughout most of their history has been scholarly, religious, civic, and practical. From the eighteenth century on, however, a new type of library, the social or people's library, began to emerge. While not jettisoning the instructional dimension, nor forgetting that poetry and plays as well as scholarly writings had long offered pleasure as well as entertainment to their readers, the aims of the social library included a greater prominence of recreation and diversion, of which the novel was the prime vehicle.

As literacy improved (by the early nineteenth century around half the population of Protestant northern Europe could read) and the book trade expanded, the number of libraries of all kinds grew. It is not within the scope of this entry to examine the history of the library in all its manifestations. Instead, attention is concentrated on the past development of the social library. This is because, notwithstanding the existence of works of fiction in other types of library—from research, university, and learned and professional society libraries, to national, museum and ecclesiastical libraries—it is the histories of the commercial, subscription, public, and personal library that intersect most strongly with that of the novel. Mention is also made in the entry of what we can term “hidden libraries,” social libraries of an ephemeral nature that were of marginal importance in an organization, social institution, or larger human activity, but which are nonetheless an extremely interesting historical phenomenon. Although the focus of this brief survey is on Britain, supplemented by a sprinkling of evidence drawn from the American experience, it should be noted that many of the developments described and analyzed were also to be found, if not always contemporaneously, in those countries around the globe that established systems of library provision.

Subscription Libraries

In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as towns and cities grew (London's population, for example, increased from 600,000 in 1700 to over a million in 1800, making it the largest city in the world), social intercourse intensified. Citizens became increasingly “clubbable.” The emergence of associationalism and communities of shared interest fed, among other things, into the establishment of subscription libraries. These were institutions run for and by their members. Driven by a voluntarist spirit, they were established on a membership basis requiring an annual fee and/or a proprietary share. The fellowship that characterized subscription libraries was as important as the access they provided to literature. They were agencies of civilized urban sociability, and although in places they fostered a shared political identity, the main motive for using them was generally less ideological than the desire for participation and cultural enrichment. In keeping with the beneficial social friction and increasing openness and sense of progress that characterized the Enlightenment, subscription libraries were places to be seen. They corresponded with the credentials of the pure public-sphere institution theorized by the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas in his Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1989): rational, open, democratic, independent of the state and of commercial interest, and supportive of the free expression of ideas and of scientific and intellectual discovery.

The forerunner of the subscription library was the book club, where people would pool literary resources and exchange reading on a mutual basis. It was a short step from here to the realization of this practice in a physical setting: a library. During the course of the eighteenth century some three thousand subscription libraries and book clubs were founded in Britain, and foundations continued into the nineteenth century. Some of these early subscription libraries still exist today, such as the Leeds Library (established 1768) and the London Library (established 1841), perhaps the most famous of all the libraries of this type. The number of debating, literary, and scientific institutions grew rapidly from the late seventeenth century and many—such as the Royal Society (est. 1660), the Geological Society (est. 1807), and the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (est. 1781)—developed libraries for their subscribing members as an aspect of their cultural provision.

The early development of subscription libraries in Britain was replicated in America. In 1727 Benjamin Franklin, printer and future signatory of the Declaration of Independence, organized a discussion club, the Philadelphia Junto. To support its activities, he and friends founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. This was the first subscription library in America and it became the model for numerous subscription library foundations throughout British North America, a great many of them in the states of New England. The Library Company of Philadelphia was established by means of selling shares to provide capital to purchase books. Although open to citizens other than the political elite, the Library acted as the de facto Library of Congress until the capital of the U.S. moved to Washington in 1800. By 1851 the Library contained over sixty thousand volumes. The Redwood Library was established in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1747, and the following year merchants, slave traders, lawyers, clerics, and physicians in Charleston came together to form the Charleston Library Society. Some members of these early subscription libraries were hesitant about the legitimacy of including novels in the library stock, but as time passed, requests for fashionable novels increased, though the appetite for them did not eclipse the pursuit of useful knowledge. When the Savannah Library Society commenced a subscription operation in 1809, novels accounted for 16 percent of the stock. In 1800 a quarter of the books borrowed from the Baltimore Library Company was fiction.

In India a number of subscription-based social libraries were established in the late nineteenth century, including the Calcutta Circulating Library (1787). In the tradition of the libraries set up earlier by the East India Company, these subscription libraries supplied imaginative literature alongside “useful” knowledge. In Singapore, founded as a British trading post in 1819, a proprietary library, the Singapore Library, was established in 1844. In 1874 it changed its name to the Raffles Library and continued to provide British expatriates and educated English-speaking local residents with novels as well as commercial and technical sources.

Subscription libraries could be found at all levels of the social scale. In southwest Scotland a library for the gentry opened in Dumfries in 1745, while in the isolated hill villages of Leadhills and Wanlockhead, libraries were set up by local miners in 1741 and 1756, respectively. Libraries run by and for the working classes became more common in the nineteenth century. Such libraries provided material to suit the needs of working-class readers. They also developed rules and regulations (such as evening opening) to match their culture and patterns of work. A number of operatives' libraries were established in Nottingham in the first half of the nineteenth century, often in congenial surroundings above public houses. Libraries were founded in Chartist and People's Halls, although the idea of the Chartist leader William Lovett to have small libraries in hundreds of towns and villages, their collections rotated periodically, was never realized. Libraries were also to be found attached to Owenite Halls of Science, workingmen's institutes and the institutions of the Co-Operative Society. In South Wales in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a large number of libraries were established by miners' institutes.

From the 1820s on, the mechanics' institute movement provided fairly extensive library access to workers who could afford the subscription. By 1850 there were over seven hundred mechanics' institute libraries in existence, with fiction forming an ever-increasing proportion of their stock for an increasingly middle-class membership. Mechanics' institute libraries were dogged by political and religious differences. Many were also divided on the issue of fiction, to the extent that in some cases this became a major cause of their demise. In 1830 in the Morpeth Mechanics' Institute, Walter Scott's Waverley novels were purchased against the wishes of some members, who were to a degree assuaged by the decision to charge an extra penny per volume for lending the titles. As time passed, subscription libraries of all kinds increasingly purchased works of fiction.

In Germany, workers' libraries first appeared in conjunction with the liberal revolution of 1848 and by 1914 there were over 1,100 such libraries, many provided by the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions. The initial purpose of workers' libraries was to provide reading of a social and political nature, but as the decades passed the loan of light fiction began to constitute their major function.

In the twentieth century, as publicly funded libraries (“free municipal,” university, national, or government) developed and became more accessible, social libraries relying on independent sources of income inevitably declined. However, in our pluralistic, postmodern or late modern world, where niche cultures have room to flourish, the voluntary social library remains in existence in one form or another. In Britain, for example, the Association of Independent Libraries (AIL) represents around thirty social libraries, many of them subscription libraries dating back to the eighteenth century.

Commercial Libraries

Other kinds of social libraries were based less on public-sphere values than on commercial interests. Much more numerous than the lump-sum-payment subscription library was its pay-as-you-go counterpart, the commercial library (or commercial circulating library, to give it its full title). The commercial library in Britain was a modern phenomenon, born of a society that was becoming not only more associational and progressive but also more open, relaxed, and “fashion-conscious.” Commercial libraries were run in response to market demand and appealed less to the more esoteric, traditional purposes of the preservation of culture and the advance of knowledge. Subscription and commercial libraries were not particularly in competition with each other. To a significant extent, commercial libraries became conduits of fashion, providing the latest, talked-about books. Much of the profit of commercial libraries came, of course, from the lending of books of fiction. It would be wrong, however, to think of commercial libraries as novel-dominated institutions. In the eighteenth century novels rarely accounted for more than 20 percent of the stock. To secure a viable market share, commercial library entrepreneurs often specialized in niche non-fiction areas. With profit rather than established social attitudes acting as their guiding tenet, commercial libraries attracted an entirely new category of library reader: women. In subscription libraries women borrowed by proxy, through husband, father, or brother. In the commercial library setting they were directly empowered.

The eighteenth century saw the beginning of the practice of booksellers charging customers to borrow books for home reading, in addition to allowing them to read books on their premises for a small fee. Commercial libraries were provided by other kinds of retailers too (such as stationers, watchmakers, silversmiths, and dispensers of medicine), and by those who simply had an eye for an emerging market and a new source of profit. Some establishments charged an annual fee in addition to the fee for each loan. A commercial circulating library was set up by Allan Ramsay in Parliament Square in Edinburgh in 1725 (before this date the only libraries that effectively circulated books were subscription libraries). In London, in 1742, the dissenting clergyman Samuel Fancourt established the Universal Circulating Library. By 1800 some six thousand circulating libraries were in existence. From the late seventeenth century, coffeehouses, inns, and eating houses provided newspapers, magazines, and books for their patrons; for those not drinking or eating, reading privileges could be purchased on an hourly basis. Joseph Fletcher's “Solomon's Temple,” which combined a hotel and coffee-room with a circulating library, was opened in Matlock Bath in 1773. By the middle of the nineteenth century it was estimated that there were around two thousand coffee houses nationwide, and five hundred of these had a library. At this time, Isaac Potter's coffee house in London's Long Acre had a library of over two thousand volumes.

The earliest known circulating library in the U.S. was set up by Annapolis bookseller William Rind in 1760. The Bradford Circulating Library, Philadelphia was established in 1769. Nearly two-thirds of its three- hundred-volume stock was fiction, compared with just 4 percent in the Library Company of Philadelphia. Half of the Bradford Library's clientele were women. After 1800, circulating libraries operated by bookstores, coffeehouses, millinery shops, and other retail outlets began to provide reading rooms on site. By the 1850s there were over a thousand commercial circulating libraries in New England alone. From the 1830s the library of the Phoenix Society of New York offered black Americans, excluded from other libraries, an opportunity to defend their racial consciousness and develop a cultured social status. In Brooklyn alone, over thirty commercial libraries were founded between 1809 and 1896.

In nineteenth-century Britain, commercial libraries became so numerous and some so large that they in isolation supported the activities of some authors and publishers. Large proportions of a book's print run, sometimes well over half, might be bought up by the commercial library sector. Enterprises like Mudie's Library and W. H. Smith's were highly successful in tapping into the opportunities offered by an expanding economy and a deepening commercial society. They also offered an alternative to what some saw as the unrespectable and unhygienic service offered by public libraries. Mudie's—London and Britain's most famous circulating library—was founded by Charles Mudie in 1842 as part of a shop that purveyed stationery, books, and newspapers. Moving from Bloomsbury to Oxford Street in the 1850s, in 1860 it occupied a spacious, purpose-built, neoclassical building that was more conducive to the large-scale business it was becoming. Mudie's lending branch, the London Book Society, received thousands of orders each day, dispatched by van to within a twenty-mile radius. Beyond twenty miles the work was undertaken by the library's Country Department, which was a misnomer as it served customers not only in Europe but across the Empire. Book clubs and other libraries were also served by Mudie's. Individuals paid a minimum two-guinea (i.e., forty-two-shilling) subscription, and although this amounted to approximately the weekly wage of a teacher in the late nineteenth century, it was an attractive outlay relative to the price of a first-edition three-volume novel (around thirty shillings) or even a reprint (often priced at around six shillings). Fiction represented a large and increasing proportion of the books lent by Mudie's. As books that people generally did not need or want to own for future reference, novels were perfectly suited to the commercial library format. In 1857, 25 percent of titles in the Mudie's catalogue were fiction; by 1931 that figure was 33 percent. Issues of fiction were higher than these percentages, since many fiction titles were made up of three volumes, although nonfiction borrowing was always in the ascendancy. Mudie's boasted that the fiction it stocked was tasteful and morally wholesome.

The interwar years witnessed the appearance of a truly popular commercial venture in the field of libraries: the “twopenny library,” the progenitor of the video and DVD lending shops of recent years. Twopenny libraries lent books to readers, virtually without discrimination, at a rate of twopence or threepence per volume. The staple diet was escapist, popular fiction, and like the earliest commercial libraries, they were to be found in a wide variety of shops, from grocers and general stores, to tobacconists and confectioners, as well as in premises devoted solely to the business in hand. Frowned upon as culturally worthless or even damaging by some librarians, yet a convenient means of reducing the public library's responsibilities in the area of popular culture, others saw them as a legitimate response to public demand and a model for a more customer-driven public library of the future.

As the twentieth century progressed and as publicly funded libraries expanded, commercial library ventures found their profits squeezed, forcing them to withdraw from the market. The commercial library went into steep decline. Mudie's stopped trading in 1937. After the war, the twopenny library virtually disappeared. The W. H. Smith Library and the Boots Booklovers' Library ceased operations in 1961 and 1966, respectively.

Public Libraries

In Britain, the appearance and growth of “free” local libraries funded from local taxation, which for over a century and a half we have referred to as public libraries, resulted from the Public Libraries Act (1850). Public libraries were seen as helpmates to the new industrial capitalist society, contributing to a more educated, self-reliant, and disciplined workforce and attracting workers away from irrational recreation and wasteful lifestyles. They also served to boost the civilized image of towns and cities, indirectly attracting investment to, and retaining skilled and professional workers in, local economies. Interest in public libraries by its providers has noticeably quickened at times of social crisis.

Being permissive in nature and limited in other ways—local authorities were not required to support public libraries and the amount of money they were allowed to spend on them was capped at a low level—the Act did not result in a flood of libraries being established overnight. However, in the first two decades after the Act, many of the country's largest provincial towns, including Manchester and Liverpool, adopted the legislation and opened public libraries. The first public library in the U.S. is regarded to be that opened at Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. The first major town to open a public library was Boston, in 1854. The New York Free Circulating Library was established in 1879, and received municipal funding in 1886. The magnificent and still operating New York Public Library was opened in 1911. Before WWI, thousands of libraries appeared on “Main Street, USA,” nearly 1,700 of them with the assistance of the philanthropic steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who acted as the benefactor of over 350 public libraries in Britain also (although both in the U.S. and Britain there was opposition in places to Carnegie's money, prompted by his aggressive attitude to labor unionization and the poor conditions that many of his workers had endured in his steel mills). By the second half of the nineteenth century, reading had become a necessity of life in America, critical to the country's rapid westward and commercial expansion. In Osage, Iowa reading was furthered by the establishment in 1871 of the Osage Library Association, a fee-based library which in 1876 became a public library whose main clientele was female and whose book stock was over 40 percent fiction. The library served as an important means of strengthening the identities and value systems of the wide variety of religious groupings that had resulted from large waves of immigration over the recent decades. Middle-class Protestants in Osage had a predilection for novels that reinforced dominant norms of power and gender.

In Britain (as well as in the U.S.) users were drawn from a wide variety of social classes and occupational groups. Working-class readers predominated, but the middle classes were also present on library membership rolls in large numbers—in a proportion greater than their representation as a social group in the population as a whole, moreover. A variety of services was developed. By providing fine collections of reference books in reverential surroundings, providers endeavored to ape the Reading Room of the British Museum in London. The provision of newspapers and journals in newsrooms proved extremely popular. Lending libraries lent mostly works of fiction, leading to opposition from those objecting to recreation funded from local taxation. From their inception, public libraries promoted themselves as sources of both useful knowledge and rational recreation. They sought to meet the educational and technical needs of an increasingly commercial and politically informed society. However, they also made available the “diversionary,” imaginative literature required to help counteract the social stress, alienation, and dehumanization associated with an industrialized, urban, and increasingly “rushed” society. Public libraries collaborated with the National Home Reading Union, established in 1889 to encourage systematic programs of improving reading. They accommodated the Union's reading circles or ran their own on the Union's model.

The “Fiction Question” dominated public library discussions for many years around the turn of the twentieth century. Tapping into the longstanding discourse on the detrimental effects of “low” fiction, librarians argued that it overromanticized and sensationalized life. Low fiction was believed to raise individuals' expectations and be productive of unrealistic social attitudes, whereas better fiction portrayed characters honestly, avoided distorted perspectives on life, and improved discipline. Some objected to taxpayers' money being spent on fiction per se: “There is all the difference between instruction and amusement...but there is no difference between amusement in the form of novel-reading at the public expense and billiards and shove-ha'penny,” shouted a correspondent to the Islington Daily Gazette (8 Nov. 1906). Others accepted the novel as a legitimate aspect of public library provision but noted the relative value of the various forms of fiction. Thus, in 1895, at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Everton Public Library, Liverpool, a local councilor named Austin Taylor proclaimed that if citizens desired intellectual recreation, they could gain something “by the study of that interesting product of modern days, the novel, which he might perhaps classify in a fourfold division, as the novel metaphysical, the novel grotesque, the novel with a purpose, and the novel with a yellow back” (qtd. in Cowell, 158). Many library supporters welcomed “light” fiction as a necessary stage in reading development: “there is no use in providing a step ladder for the aspiring to climb, if you make the first step of the ladder too high,” Carnegie was told when opening the Toxteth Public Library, Liverpool in 1902 (qtd. in Cowell, 180).

From the mid-1890s, British lending libraries became even more popular, as many began to be converted from closed-access facilities into places where people could freely browse the shelves and choose books without requesting them from library staff. From the 1880s, children's libraries began to appear. Some larger libraries provided reading materials for the blind. A major step forward came with the Public Libraries Act of 1919. This abolished the restriction on the amount of local tax that could be raised to fund libraries—a restriction that had previously restrained library provision. The 1919 Act also empowered county authorities to provide a library service, thereby bringing free books to rural areas. Freed from legislative restrictions on expenditure, though spending was held in check by the generally poor economic conditions faced by the nation, many urban areas between the wars developed fairly sophisticated services, including commercial and technical libraries for progress in business and technical education. Libraries at this time also provided a haven for the masses of unemployed that the economic depression of the 1930s created. In WWII, despite shortages of books and the destruction of many library premises, public libraries experienced a boom in demand. Drawing on the increased public expenditure that characterized the growth of the welfare state, public libraries, especially after 1960, went from strength to strength. The Public Libraries Act of 1964 made it compulsory for local authorities to provide an efficient and comprehensive library service. In the late twentieth century the traditional role of the public library was supplemented (some might say superseded) by increased investment in new formats and strategies. In the 1970s and 1980s, librarians developed an innovative model of service known as community librarianship, while new forms of communication—video, CDs, and later DVDs and the internet—began to appear across the public library network, reigniting anxieties concerning the cultural worth of the public library that had previously been expressed over the issue of fiction.

The growth of public libraries in countries other than in Northern Europe and the U.S. was very much a twentieth-century phenomenon. Public libraries styled on the European model appeared in China from 1905 thanks to the efforts of the American missionary Mary Elizabeth Wood (1861—1931). Their nature changed with the Communist Revolution of 1949. Nonetheless they grew strongly until Mao Zedong's (1893—1976) ten-year cultural revolution, commencing in 1966, curtailed their development. In postwar Japan a Public Library Law was enacted in 1950. In Spain a patchwork of libraries were freely open to the public according to various criteria developed in the nineteenth century. However, free libraries in small towns and villages did not begin to appear until the early 1930s when the government began to donate small collections, including novels, to private institutions to promote literacy. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 there were about two hundred such municipal libraries in existence.

Hidden Libraries

Unlike public libraries, a number of the libraries discussed above—one might highlight, in the British context, twopenny, marginal subscription, and coffeehouse libraries in this regard—have a relatively low visibility in the historical record. Indeed, one might consider them to be libraries that are hidden from history. Under the broad miscellaneous description of hidden libraries we might list those in prisoner-of-war camps, army installations, hotels, bed-and-breakfast establishments, launderettes, alternative communities, holiday camps, community centers, pubs, restaurants, accommodation and facilities for servants and workers, lighthouses and seamen's establishments, prisons, and asylums.

Further examples of this type of library are those associated with various types of modern transport: airliners, tramcars, railways, buses, and ships. Described in 1938 as “the most unusual lending library in the country,” the collection of 150 books housed in the waiting-room of Garsdale Station, on the main line between Leeds and Carlisle, served mainly railway staff, the station master acting as ex-officio librarian (“An Unusual Library,” Yorkshire Observer, 20 July 1938). Apparently bequeathed to the station in the 1890s by two elderly women, the library was said to contain a mixture of Victorian “improving” literature and modern fiction.

In the early nineteenth century the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and the Religious Tract Society supplied schools (including Sunday schools), chapels, and churches, free of charge, with small collections of books of around a hundred volumes, including novels of a moralizing kind. At about the same time, Sunday school libraries began to appear in the U.S., often stocked with moralizing fiction supplied by agencies like the American Tract Society.

Domestic and Personal Libraries

Another kind of hidden library has been the domestic, or personal library. The personal library is virtually as old as the institution of the library itself. Aristotle, Cicero, and Plutarch each had a personal collection of texts. It is a moot question, of course, as to whether personal collections of books and other reading material constitute a library. It might be argued that the use of the term “library” can only be justified in this context if the collection has a life beyond the individual collector. However, even if this strict criterion is applied, it is to be observed that most personal collections do in fact have, and have had, an existence linked to people other than their immediate owner. Contributions to personal collections are made by family and friends, who might also have access to the assembled library. In Cambridge, Isaac Newton (1642—1727) assembled a large library of over two thousand volumes, but much of his work made use not only of the university and college libraries, but also the library of his close friend Isaac Barrow (1630—77), Master of Trinity College.

In the eighteenth century many of the large personal libraries would have been scholarly collections in specialist subject areas, often with a high classical content, but even these would have included some general and imaginative reading. Perhaps the most famous personal library of all was that built up by a succession of British monarchs, a great proportion of which was donated to the nation in 1757 by George II (1683—1760) to form the foundation of the book collection of the British Museum, later absorbed into the British Library. In seventeenth-century colonial America typical private collections rarely contained more than a hundred volumes, but several large collections were amassed, including that of John Winthrop the Younger (1606—76), Governor of Connecticut, whose library grew to over a thousand volumes.

The term bibliomania has been used to describe the growth of domestic libraries in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With the marked increase in middle-class incomes in the second half of the eighteenth century arising from the industrial and commercial revolution of the time, books became a form of social emulative spending and cultural assertiveness. Whereas the domestic library was initially to be found in the homes of the aristocracy, gentry, clergy, and lay professions, in the nineteenth century the manufacturing middle class began to decorate their residences with large collections. Departing from the tradition of the domestic library as sanctuary, library rooms began to function as public spaces, in the form of drawing and reception rooms, for example. These spaces were signifiers of refined taste, as much for show as for intellectual use. A great house without a library was likened to a castle without an armory or a warship without a magazine.

Increasing incomes lower down the social scale meant that small collections could also be afforded in respectable working-class and lower-middle-class homes. This was a trend that continued into the twentieth century. However, the amount of money that could be spent on personal collections was always modest and the success of the public library as an institution in any case made this unnecessary. Emphasizing the value of the public library in the years of austerity following WWII, Southampton Councilor A. G. Stevenson observed: “In these days when rich men are few and we mostly dwell in small houses with small rooms and books are much more expensive than they used to be, few of us have either the money to buy, or room to store, an adequate private library. Therefore, the public library assumes even greater importance” (Southampton Daily Echo, 23 Nov. 1955).

In the late twentieth century the decline in the cost of books relative to increasing incomes led to a renaissance of the domestic library. Research on the subject of reading undertaken by the Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex, in 1988 (Directive on Regular Pastimes) revealed that personal libraries were a near-ubiquitous aspect of modern cultural life, especially among the middle classes. “Our house is choked full of reading matter,” recorded one of the Archive's correspondents, who went on to explain: “There seems to be a kind of Parkinson's Law about it: if there's a space somehow it'll get filled by a book.” Correspondents described in great detail the contents of their home collections. They also described where books were kept in the house, and in some cases this was virtually in every room: “Our books are in book cases all over the house. They do have order, but only we know this,” wrote one respondent. One woman had a bookcase containing cookery books in her dining room, a bookcase full of nonfiction in her living room, and a drawer full of paperback novels in her bedroom, which she lent to other family members. Contrary to the stereotypical image of seriousness attached to the teaching profession, a teacher recorded that she kept a large library that included “bodice rippers bought cheaply, but not [books published by] Mills and Boon, more historical ones.”

Libraries in Novels

Finally, it is worth reflecting on the fact that novels have not only contributed to the development of libraries but have also served as vehicles for imagining and publicizing them: i.e., libraries in novels, as opposed to novels in libraries. The setting of the library has provided authors with interesting contexts for the development of their plots and characters. In Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (1983), a monastic library serves as the backdrop to a complicated murder mystery, while, less famously, in J. Fothergill's Probation (1879), the chief protagonist, a young factory worker and self-improver, on one of his frequent visits to the public library, dramatically confronts the gloved and perfumed son of a local Tory manufacturer to protect the sensibilities of a young woman struggling to avoid the dandy's advances. In Kingsley Amis's That Uncertain Feeling (1955) the “very ancient and boring” (12) ruin that is the town's public library is at the center of the story of one librarian's efforts to break free from an existence of drudgery and mediocrity, the dominant but incorrect popular view of the librarian's lot in life.

SEE ALSO: Publishing, Reprints, Reviewing, Serialization.


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