Readership and Non-Canonical Victorian Popular Fiction 1860-1900: Materiality, Textuality, and Narrative
Rooney, Paul Raphael
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Scholars of print media are increasingly realising significant headway in the recovery of the history of reading. The study of Victorian fiction has also expanded beyond a core body of canonical texts to encompass a more diverse range of novels. This dissertation looks to map the circulation of the popular novel in the mid and late Victorian periods in order to illuminate the practices and experiences of the common reader during the 1860s and the 1880s/1890s. In addition, the material that will inform this discussion is drawn not from the critical mainstream but instead seeks to cast a fresh light on specific works of lesser-known nineteenth-century fiction. The aim is both to redefine understudied writers like Fergus Hume and Anna Katharine Green and reorient attention toward minor novelists like Arthur Griffiths and Charles Warren Adams. The methodological foundation of this study draws on bibliography, theories of textuality and coding, and analysis of evidence of readers' responses. To this end, the ways in which periodical coding and visual/verbal co-texts conditioned consumption of serial fiction in the nineteenth-century press will be considered in the context of four specific publications. The reading practices elicited by the circulating library three-decker and its one-volume illustrated reprint along with the dynamics of situational reading by railway travellers will also be examined. The study will then theorise audience engagement with these narratives by endeavouring to reconstruct reader horizons while using ideas of textuality to ascertain the sort of gratification readers would have derived from the appropriative text. The aesthetic, intertextual, and generic links that emerged from the circulation of a novel as part of a publisher's series gave rise to a different sort of reading experience that will be recreated by exploring a collection's branding, materiality, and configuration. Contemporary transpositions of the popular novel to the stage in turn precipitated an oscillatory class of engagement with narrative. This project concludes by looking to chart how the repetition tempered by variation that characterises adaptation would have resonated with audiences.
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