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Katie Halsey

"Tell me of some booklings": Shared reading in female literary networks

The neighbours and we have set up a book-club since the beginning of the year, & I want to beg you to tell me of some booklings for it. We have got Macaulay and Layard, and the Monasteries of the Levant, and other big books, but I want some moderately moral French novel, or some very amusing two and sixpence or five-shilling English book to keep the thing going. Such a book as La Mare au Diable, or La Chasse au Roman, would be the thing, or Murray's Life of Condé, or his Memoirs of a Missionary. Can you kindly recommend some? (Caroline Clive to Mary Russell Mitford, 21 Feb, 1848).

In this paper, I will consider the ways in which female literary networks come into being, and are maintained, expanded and perpetuated through the practice of shared reading, and shared comments about reading matter. I will discuss the correspondence of Mary Russell Mitford and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two literary women at the centers of separate but overlapping literary networks, to show how knowledge and ideas about books and writers of various nationalities pass between them, and circulate amongst the other members of the networks. One of the most striking features of female literary networks is their sophisticated understanding of the demands of friendship, and I will focus briefly on the ways in which this understanding creates a particular kind of language and vocabulary to be used about books and writers. Close attention to such language tells us much about the unwritten assumptions, codes and practices of female literary networks.

SvD, April 2008

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Chawton 2008 > Halsey

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