“Such books are to be shunned as a moral leprosy:” 1848

A specimen of depraved reading.

A specimen of depraved reading.

Reading and Books.

Paragraphs are to be seen every day, in newspapers and elsewhere, in favor of reading. This is to be a paragraph against reading, or rather against the abuse of it. It is good to read, but it is not good to read every book. The number of books that are merely useless is already Legion; while the number of those whose tendency is positively injurious, is increasing to a deplorable extent. On looking over the counter of any popular book store, it is truly lamentable to find how large a proportion of the books and pamphlets whose price renders them accessible to the majority of readers, is of this description. There may be seen, in all directions, staring the public in the face, like murderers shameless of their crimes, books with such titles as “The Bloody Hand,” “The Crimson Dagger,” “The Bloodstained House;” and also another description – such as, “The Haunted Hall,” “The Apparition ,” &c. pretending, as their titles would indicate, to be stories about resurrectionised ghosts, which, inasmuch as they are what they pretend to be, are wretched enough; but these also contain scenes, which, as may be discovered by merely glancing at the heads of the chapters, are not a whit less sanguinary than the others. The scenes portrayed are such as there never was and never will be the most distant resemblance of on earth – probably not in hell. They are scenes of horror from beginning to end – relying, in fact, upon this one feature, for all their interest. The writers seem to imagine, that the more horrible, unearthly, and unnatural they make their productions, the more popular will they be. Where these miserable abortions find readers it is difficult to imagine. No one will read them who has the slightest regard for his peace of mind, and who does not wish to have his night visions disturbed by apparitions of spectres and hobgoblins, and men weltering in blood, in the last throes of an agonising death. A book, that it may be fit to be read, must have at least the shadow of rationality. Such books as those with the above titles, have not. They store the mind and imagination with, at best, nonsense – with, at worst, vice. Such books are to be shunned as a moral leprosy. Let them sink deep down, down, into the lowest depths of a merited oblivion, if not into the still deeper abyss of a shameful infamy. – J.D. The North Star [Rochester, NY] 12 May 1848

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The late Dr. Richard Altick, in his memorable volume, Victorian Studies in Scarlet, suggests that such lurid literary creations had a salutary, escapist function for the working class:

Such works as The Black Monk; or, The Secret of the Gray Turret; Almira’s Curse; or, The Black Tower of Bransdorf; The Ranger of the Tomb; or The Gypsy’s Prophecy; and above all Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood chilled the marrows of countless workingmen and their families, transporting them from their dingy world into the dungeons of sinister castles hidden in German forests or convents where nuns found entertainment in flogging screaming novices. Life was much easier to endure when one could read, with mounting horror, of the evil deeds of werewolves and vampires, specters and hags, in a twilight or midnight world where murder was the most commonplace of events.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott, one of the Two Nerdy History Girls, recently wrote this delightful piece about the effects of reading romance novels, complete with a 18th-century image of a young lady who seems to have lost her virtue to a book.

Mrs Daffodil apologises for lapsing from posting Saturday Snippets. Things have been very busy at the Hall recently.  She has decided to post shorter items on a (perhaps) irregular basis on Saturdays as she can find time. The regular weekly schedule will not be altered.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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