• Selective Memory: Victorian Periodical Receptions of Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Novels

      Newman, Steve, 1970-; Mitchell, Sally, 1937-; Logan, Peter Melville, 1951-; Buurma, Rachel Sagner (Temple University. Libraries, 2010)
      Attention to Victorian reviews of eighteenth-century and Romantic novels reveals sympathy's importance to the survival of classic novels and its role as a catalyst for critical standards that remain central. I demonstrate that reviewers used sympathy to describe a widespread but untheorized system of useful reading. Reviewers argue that rational sympathy could make reading a process of moral education. That is, if readers reject emotional stimulation, then reading about characters' motives teaches readers to evaluate the people and situations they encounter in the real world. By looking at already canonical novelists like Richardson, Fielding and Scott, by denying canonicity to gothic novelists, and by creating new classics with figures like Austen, Victorian reviewers engage sympathy to teach their readers how to read reviews and novels appropriately. In doing so, reviewers also alter the reviewing voice, making it more sympathetic as well as using it to cajole and convince readers (rather than expecting agreement based on the reviewer's expertise). Additionally, reviewers use persuasive techniques to build imagined relationships between readers, encouraging readers to take the moral ideals garnered from their reading and put them to use in relationships. I claim, then, that Victorian reviews, aimed at leisure readers, explore artistic questions primarily as contributors to sympathy and focus on how to read for moral and emotional education. As a result, crucial definitions and tenets about novel writing and reading are buried in paragraphs on morality or biography. If scholars understand why and how Victorian reviewers criticize novels, they will also recognize the complex arguments in these oft-derided articles. The result will be a fuller understanding of the history of novel criticism and a clearer picture of the values that guided the canonizing process during the Victorian period.