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Patrick Brantlinger

Related: literature - cultural history


Patrick Brantlinger[...] is a man of wide interests and significant accomplishments. Currently Professor of English at Indiana University, he is the author of a number of often-cited books in the field of Victorian Studies including The Spirit of Reform (1977), Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1900 (1988), and, more recently, The Reading Lesson: Mass Literacy as Threat in British Fiction (1998). In addition, his interests in culture and history have won him a wider scholarly audience as he has ranged broadly over territory such as economic history, cultural studies theory, and theories of mass culture. Books such as Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture As Social Decay (1983), Crusoe's Footprints: Cultural Studies in Britain and America (1990), and Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain, 1694-1994 (1994) represent this side of Brantlinger: the cultural historian of impressive erudition. He served for ten years as editor of Victorian Studies and has won numerous fellowships and awards including a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. For this year's Fletcher Lecture he will be speaking on the topic "Cannibals and Missionaries. --http://www.asu.edu/english/events/fletcher/brantlinger.html [Mar 2006]

Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture As Social Decay (1983) - Patrick Brantlinger

Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture As Social Decay (1983) - Patrick Brantlinger [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

See also: popular culture - mass society - Patrick Brantlinger

The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (1998) - Patrick Brantlinger

Patrick Brantlinger's 1998 work, The Reading Lesson, is a valuable study of 19th-century elitist attitudes toward mass literacy. As Brantlinger reminds us, the reading of popular Victorian novels was viewed as "vampiric" and "addictive." Too much reading was an impediment to living; books and the fantasies they inspired ill-prepared their readers for real life.

By the late 19th century, and into the 20th, many Anglophone intellectuals had come to hate the "masses" who by then were dominating cultural life. The critic John Carey has documented this hostility among a generation of British (and Irish) writers, including Wells, W.B. Yeats, and D.H. Lawrence, all of whom fantasized the destruction of this dangerous class. Yeats hoped the masses would all perish in a great war against the better classes; Lawrence wished for their extermination in a great chamber "as big as the Crystal Palace." Indeed, many such authors didn't want a mass readership at all, because it would have threatened their lofty status; the heart of literary modernism involves a balance of writerly "difficulty" intended to dissuade a mass readership, with a penchant for creating popular notoriety. The point was to appeal to the emerging middlebrow public, which was founding its cultural aspirations on the Book-of-the-Month-Club version of the elitist reading list. --Charles Paul Freund via http://www.reason.com/links/links072204.shtml [Nov 2005]

The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (1998) - Patrick Brantlinger [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

SIPs: cheap literature movement, obscene father, artful priest, penny fiction, criminal reading (more)

CAPs: New Grub Street, Oliver Twist, Lady Audley, Poor Jane, Vanity Fair (more)

From Publishers Weekly
Dour pundits witness the explosion of popular entertainment for the masses and predict the end of Western civilization. Fine literature and intelligent thought has been debased, these Jeremiahs proclaim, by floods of ill-educated consumers who want only sensational, sex and violence. Sound familiar? Such predictions were inspired not by today's boob tube and high-concept action movies but by the cheap fiction and rapidly increasing literacy among the masses that provided Victorian Britain with its own threat of cultural decline. Brantlinger, longtime editor of Victorian Studies and author of Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay, argues that anxieties about degraded popular literacy powerfully affected the novels written in the 19th century. Brantlinger trains his critical lens on a broad range of British fiction: he reads Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as an allegory of middle-class fears of mass literacy; Dickens's Oliver Twist as staging a conflict between "criminal reading" and edifying reading; Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a response to "the commercialization of literature and the emergence of a mass consumer society in the late-Victorian period." Sounding at times like he is giving a lecture survey course, Brantlinger covers so much ground that he can be reductive. But his writing is admirably lucid, his knowledge impressive and his thesis a welcome reminder of the class bias that so often accompanies denunciations of popular fiction. --Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc. literature - UK - 1800s

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