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Mark Towsey



Elizabeth Rose, the lady laird of Kilravock near Nairn, was a prodigious reader. She kept journals throughout her adult life in which she recorded every book she read, and collected passages from those books in a series of voluminous commonplace books — of which at least 10 survive. These commonplace books provide an exceptionally rare insight into the reading habits and strategies of an ordinary female reader who lived in rural isolation in the north-east of Scotland. For Elizabeth, reading was a serious and studious activity: she apportioned time every morning to close study of the Bible and other devotional texts, and also engaged intelligently with many of the most important literary and intellectual debates of the age. Reading was a virtuous occupation that was explicitly intended to effect her own moral improvement — to prepare her for the world of action into which she had suddenly been thrust on the premature deaths of her father, her two elder brothers and her husband of just six months; to prepare her to be a dutiful landholder, a virtuous mother, a responsible educator, an attentive reader and a sympathetic friend. Using Elizabeth's surviving commonplace books, her correspondence with the novelist Henry Mackenzie (her kinsman) and her marginalia, this article evaluates Elizabeth Rose's engagement with women writers from England, Ireland and further afield. It considers how Elizabeth shared her reading priorities with other readers known to her locally, arguing that she actively sought to cultivate a specific philosophy of reading in the next generation of female readers.

SvD, February 2011

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