On March 22, Professor Deidre Lynch delivered a lecture as part of the Book History and Print Culture Lecture Series at the University of Toronto. Following is an excerpt from the U of T press release on Dr. Lynch’s talk, titled “Recycled Paper: Readers’ Scrap-books in Late Georgian Literary Culture.” Enjoy!
Early nineteenth-century literary culture in Britain depended to a remarkable extent on readers’ practices of excerpting, clipping, and pasting, and redrafting, recontextualizing, and recycling: practices that would seem alien to literate individuals’ standard definitions of the act of reading, except that recently our interactions with the reading materials of the Internet have made them newly familiar. To ponder the historical changeability of our definitions of literary appreciation, this paper surveys the scrapbooks created by leisure-class girls and women: a collection of hand-made, personalized anthologies of quotable quotes, riddles, and poetic beauties, which also functioned as an exhibition-space for polite female accomplishments such as botanizing, flower-painting, and fern-pressing. In the context defined by early-nineteenth-century women’s scrap-booking, the retranscription of literary texts to fit new contexts was an important part of the reading process: that these readers read with pencil and scissors at hand challenges historicist accounts of reading as acculturation. In this context, too, literary appreciation was a forum for sociability and social rivalry, in ways that challenge accounts of reading as a solitary, private process. “Recycled Paper” also looks to these scrap-books for how they might illuminate the love of literature: the labours with pen, paintbrush, scissors, and paste that created these albums also converted books by authors into love tokens to authors–votive offerings to a canon of authorial saints.
Deidre Lynch is Chancellor Jackman Professor of the Arts and an associate professor in the Department of English. With the support of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center (in the United States) and, most recently, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, she has published widely on the theory and history of the novel and on the literature, information cultures, and book history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.