The Moral Dangers of Reading Novels in 1864

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Eleanor Rose

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"Young Woman Reading" by Alfred Stevens, 1856.​

Do you enjoy reading a novel every now and then? Perhaps one set in the 19th century that represents people and events with some degree of realism. If so, beware!

In 1864 the warnings below were published in a New York religious tract entitled, “A Pastor's Jottings; or, Striking Scenes during a Ministry of Thirty-Five Years.” It was printed anonymously according to the introduction because the author "could thus write with more freedom." That same introduction assures readers that "the statements of this volume are all literally true." According to the anonymous pastor, reading novels was dangerous not only for women, but for men too! Who knew?

In fact, novels are at the top of the list of the many things (this religious tract is nearly 350 pages long) that distress this unknown pastor. He writes, "The minds of novel readers are intoxicated, their rest is broken, their health shattered, and their prospect of usefulness blighted." Yikes folks! I’m in trouble. :O o:

191ac830c363db20c3579213e0131a50.jpg

“Little Bookworm” by Josef Geyling Eduard Swoboda.​

But he doesn't want us simply to take his word for it. Apparently even novels by Charles Dickens are suspect, and he quotes the 19th century educator Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame to prove it:

"Childishness in boys even of good ability seems to be a growing fault; and I do not know what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusement, like Pickwick, Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc...that leave [a boy] totally palled, not only for his regular work, but for literature of all sorts."

Naturally women are the most susceptible to the terrible influences of novel-reading. In fact (and keep in mind ladies, "the statements of this volume are all literally true."), the pastor says women suffer even more than children or men:

"Listen to the evidence given by a physician in Massachusetts: 'I have seen a young lady with her table loaded with volumes of fictitious trash, poring day after day and night after night over highly wrought scenes and skillfully portrayed pictures of romance, until her cheeks grew pale, her eyes became wild and restless, and her mind wandered and was lost – the light of intelligence passed behind a cloud, and her soul was forever benighted. She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels."

768a18c7ce674c15c574e99d66958762.jpg

Of course insanity is only the beginning:

"Not very long since, a double suicide was committed...by a young married couple from Ohio, who were clearly proved to be led to ruin and death by these most pernicious books.... some of our own large cities, have given mournful evidence of the results of some of these novels when dramatized and performed on the stage, as leading to burglaries and murder."

Suicide, insanity, burglaries, and murder! As a lover of historical fiction, I may be in trouble and I certainly don’t want to be a bad influence on any of my CWT friends. So if you'd like to read more of the unnamed pastor's enlightenment, this is the link to his book. Save yourselves! :giggle:




Source: Two Nerdy History Girls
 

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View attachment 310891
"Young Woman Reading" by Alfred Stevens, 1856.​

Do you enjoy reading a novel every now and then? Perhaps one set in the 19th century that represents people and events with some degree of realism. If so, beware!

In 1864 the warnings below were published in a New York religious tract entitled, “A Pastor's Jottings; or, Striking Scenes during a Ministry of Thirty-Five Years.” It was printed anonymously according to the introduction because the author "could thus write with more freedom." That same introduction assures readers that "the statements of this volume are all literally true." According to the anonymous pastor, reading novels was dangerous not only for women, but for men too! Who knew?

In fact, novels are at the top of the list of the many things (this religious tract is nearly 350 pages long) that distress this unknown pastor. He writes, "The minds of novel readers are intoxicated, their rest is broken, their health shattered, and their prospect of usefulness blighted." Yikes folks! I’m in trouble. :O o:

View attachment 310892
“Little Bookworm” by Josef Geyling Eduard Swoboda.​

But he doesn't want us simply to take his word for it. Apparently even novels by Charles Dickens are suspect, and he quotes the 19th century educator Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame to prove it:

"Childishness in boys even of good ability seems to be a growing fault; and I do not know what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusement, like Pickwick, Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc...that leave [a boy] totally palled, not only for his regular work, but for literature of all sorts."

Naturally women are the most susceptible to the terrible influences of novel-reading. In fact (and keep in mind ladies, "the statements of this volume are all literally true."), the pastor says women suffer even more than children or men:

"Listen to the evidence given by a physician in Massachusetts: 'I have seen a young lady with her table loaded with volumes of fictitious trash, poring day after day and night after night over highly wrought scenes and skillfully portrayed pictures of romance, until her cheeks grew pale, her eyes became wild and restless, and her mind wandered and was lost – the light of intelligence passed behind a cloud, and her soul was forever benighted. She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels."


Of course insanity is only the beginning:

"Not very long since, a double suicide was committed...by a young married couple from Ohio, who were clearly proved to be led to ruin and death by these most pernicious books.... some of our own large cities, have given mournful evidence of the results of some of these novels when dramatized and performed on the stage, as leading to burglaries and murder."

Suicide, insanity, burglaries, and murder! As a lover of historical fiction, I may be in trouble and I certainly don’t want to be a bad influence on any of my CWT friends. So if you'd like to read more of the unnamed pastor's enlightenment, this is the link to his book. Save yourselves! :giggle:




Source: Two Nerdy History Girls
yup novel reading made the list.:bounce:

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/reasons-admission-insane-asylum-1800s/
 
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Lisa Murphy

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One very controversial novel of the time was Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a scandalous account of a destitute young woman who is abandoned by her husband, so she gives away her child and marries a very wealthy man, becoming Lady Audley. Then ... her husband comes home... In the end, the shocking events that ensue are considered all her fault, of course. Moral of the story: women must put up with whatever they are given in life. Written in 1862. Amazing the novel was considered controversial. Perhaps just the IDEA that a woman might take fate into her own hands was dangerous.

I also recently read about the first novel by an African American to ever be published: Clotel: or the President's Daughter by William W. Brown, published in 1853. The president being Thomas Jefferson, the daughter being born of a slave. The moral being: slavery corrupts. I'm sure that was a disputed idea at the time. Looking forward to reading this.

Novels allow us to walk in another's shoes, to imagine novel (pun intended) solutions to controversial problems, to envision the world as different than it currently is. All mind-expanding--and potentially corrupting--activities. What novel will corrupt YOU today?
 

Deleted User CS

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Ellie. I don't see anything wrong with reading such novels that describe events of the Victorian Era in a graphic manner. I believe the Victorian Era invented murder and new ways of crime detection with the advent of the Jack The Ripper slayings in London in the fall of 1888. Several years ago, a very good book was written by a woman author describing how forensic science was invented and used by the New York City police department in new criminal detection methods as well as the use of other scientific methods. Very interesting. David.
 

Zella

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One very controversial novel of the time was Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a scandalous account of a destitute young woman who is abandoned by her husband, so she gives away her child and marries a very wealthy man, becoming Lady Audley. Then ... her husband comes home... In the end, the shocking events that ensue are considered all her fault, of course. Moral of the story: women must put up with whatever they are given in life. Written in 1862. Amazing the novel was considered controversial. Perhaps just the IDEA that a woman might take fate into her own hands was dangerous.
Lady Audley's Secret is a great underrated gothic classic! One of my favorites. It also was one of the first books to subvert the innocent blonde heroine trope. :smile:
 
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Zella

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That was great--thanks for sharing, Ellie! I always find the 19th century shrieking about novels hilarious--and sad.

That was one of the big fears about gothic novels, reading all this "trash" might give proper, respectable young ladies ideas about things. Guess it's no different than people complaining about what passes for pop culture now. . . .
 
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Eleanor Rose

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I couldn't agree more @Caleb E. W. !

Welcome aboard from the Mid-19th Century Life forum. This forum covers everything Victorian, from how our 19th century friends celebrated holidays to how they lived their daily lives. Hope you'll stop by for a visit and join in the conversation!

 

John S. Carter

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Lady Audley's Secret is a great underrated gothic classic! One of my favorites. It also was one of the first books to subvert the innocent blonde heroine trope. :smile:
That was great--thanks for sharing, Ellie! I always find the 19th century shrieking about novels hilarious--and sad.

That was one of the big fears about gothic novels, reading all this "trash" might give proper, respectable young ladies ideas about things. Guess it's no different than people complaining about what passes for pop culture now. . . .
This why one should read bios or history so to avoid such time on the wishful or dream of life .By reading bios one reads of lives of those whose experiences will serve to mentor the reader during their own trials and experiences that will ,though not the same , bring encouragement and knowledge .Can not remember the man who wrote this "There are two ways people learn,one by ones own experience ,which is that is the difficult and the other is from other people experience ,personal and by the written experience{history/bios}".He went on to state that the latter is the prefered.There is a book which I am reading 'CIVIL WARS,women and the crisis of Southern Nationalism" George C.Rable.Interesting history of the different classes of women prior to the war during the war,and after.Has interesting facts of the Southern woman and her position in these times.You will not prehabs gain more insight into Southern womanhood than though reading a NOVEL.not to say that reading a novel is wasted but history and bios are like novels just with the facts.
 
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Zella

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This why one should read bios or history so to avoid such time on the wishful or dream of life .By reading bios one reads of lives of those whose experiences will serve to mentor the reader during their own trials and experiences that will ,though not the same , bring encouragement and knowledge .Can not remember the man who wrote this "There are two ways people learn,one by ones own experience ,which is that is the difficult and the other is from other people experience ,personal and by the written experience{history/bios}".He went on to state that the latter is the prefered.There is a book which I am reading 'CIVIL WARS,women and the crisis of Southern Nationalism" George C.Rable.Interesting history of the different classes of women prior to the war during the war,and after.Has interesting facts of the Southern woman and her position in these times.You will not prehabs gain more insight into Southern womanhood than though reading a NOVEL.not to say that reading a novel is wasted but history and bios are like novels just with the facts.
I read biographies and history, as well as novels, and think fiction can be just as educational.
 

John S. Carter

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View attachment 310891
"Young Woman Reading" by Alfred Stevens, 1856.​

Do you enjoy reading a novel every now and then? Perhaps one set in the 19th century that represents people and events with some degree of realism. If so, beware!

In 1864 the warnings below were published in a New York religious tract entitled, “A Pastor's Jottings; or, Striking Scenes during a Ministry of Thirty-Five Years.” It was printed anonymously according to the introduction because the author "could thus write with more freedom." That same introduction assures readers that "the statements of this volume are all literally true." According to the anonymous pastor, reading novels was dangerous not only for women, but for men too! Who knew?

In fact, novels are at the top of the list of the many things (this religious tract is nearly 350 pages long) that distress this unknown pastor. He writes, "The minds of novel readers are intoxicated, their rest is broken, their health shattered, and their prospect of usefulness blighted." Yikes folks! I’m in trouble. :O o:

View attachment 310892
“Little Bookworm” by Josef Geyling Eduard Swoboda.​

But he doesn't want us simply to take his word for it. Apparently even novels by Charles Dickens are suspect, and he quotes the 19th century educator Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School fame to prove it:

"Childishness in boys even of good ability seems to be a growing fault; and I do not know what to ascribe it, except to the great number of exciting books of amusement, like Pickwick, Nickleby, Bentley's Magazine, etc...that leave [a boy] totally palled, not only for his regular work, but for literature of all sorts."

Naturally women are the most susceptible to the terrible influences of novel-reading. In fact (and keep in mind ladies, "the statements of this volume are all literally true."), the pastor says women suffer even more than children or men:

"Listen to the evidence given by a physician in Massachusetts: 'I have seen a young lady with her table loaded with volumes of fictitious trash, poring day after day and night after night over highly wrought scenes and skillfully portrayed pictures of romance, until her cheeks grew pale, her eyes became wild and restless, and her mind wandered and was lost – the light of intelligence passed behind a cloud, and her soul was forever benighted. She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels."


Of course insanity is only the beginning:

"Not very long since, a double suicide was committed...by a young married couple from Ohio, who were clearly proved to be led to ruin and death by these most pernicious books.... some of our own large cities, have given mournful evidence of the results of some of these novels when dramatized and performed on the stage, as leading to burglaries and murder."

Suicide, insanity, burglaries, and murder! As a lover of historical fiction, I may be in trouble and I certainly don’t want to be a bad influence on any of my CWT friends. So if you'd like to read more of the unnamed pastor's enlightenment, this is the link to his book. Save yourselves! :giggle:




Source: Two Nerdy History Girls
Reading Charles Dickens did cause serve headaches and depression at times.Then I read Mark Twain and discovered sarcasm .Then the socal correct movement came along.So the best reading and if one like novels is history,its a novel but with real events and the experiences of real people,just cover the front and preface.
 

Eleanor Rose

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You will not prehabs gain more insight into Southern womanhood than though reading a NOVEL.
I guess I've got this covered with my personal life experiences. I am a Southern woman.

So the best reading and if one like novels is history,its a novel but with real events and the experiences of real people,just cover the front and preface.
I enjoy fiction and nonfiction. I'm not worried about the anonymous pastor's jottings. I have never suffered any ill effects from reading historical nonfiction. :smile: I think his jottings are a bunch of malarkey.
 
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DBF

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It’s unfortunate that the Pastor who penned this requested anonymity. I’m not surprised that women would be prominent in the article. What the physician reported was outrageous - “She was insane, incurably insane from reading novels.” I find it curious the publication date is 1864. It seems the Pastor’s time would have been better spent on his knees praying for the soldiers, the government leaders, and broken hearts from mothers’, wives, children, and sweethearts of the wounded, missing and dead.
 
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Well I freely admit that I may become a victim of insanity, because I always loved to read... and I know that state of mind very well when you have to reluctantly lay down your book, but your mind just stays on topic... that pastor called it insanity, our modern shrinks call it "Flow" and praise it!

But on a more somber side, in the 18th century our iconic poet, author and universal genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a novel titled " The sorrows of young Werther" (<-- link to the Wikipedia article about the novel). It is a very tragic love story, but not a shallow one, but really touching, and in the end the young man, Werther, takes his own life to end the torture of an impossible love. That novel indeed caused a wave of suicides among young readers and really was considered dangerous.

Have you become curious? If you think you can manage, you can download the English version here:
https://www.fulltextarchive.com/page/The-Sorrows-of-Young-Werther/
 
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I think his anonymity is telling... preachers like that are unfortunately quite common but usually don’t really represent the views of anybody but themselves. One of the many, many reasons I am not religious.

Yeah I love the 19th century but I would hate all the “Great Awakening” types.

Anyone who constantly says “believe me” should under no circumstances be believed!
 
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Eleanor Rose

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"Little Women"

This thread has taken a turn that I didn’t expect. I thought people would just laugh at the pastor’s jottings. Now I’m beginning to think some folks may agree with them. So, let’s look at some research on how reading fiction affects the reader.

In 2005 psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York found that reading fiction can actually enhance ‘theory of mind’ – the skill of understanding other people’s mental states and navigating complex social relationships. Research at the University of Liverpool found that fiction readers are 21% less likely to report feelings of depression and 10% more likely to report good self-esteem. Researchers at the University of Sussex found that after six minutes of reading, stress was reduced by up to 68%. A 2013 survey by the Book Trust said, “People who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel the things they do in life are worthwhile.” The latter study did not make a distinction between reading fiction and nonfiction.

I think when it comes to reading preferences, people are open books (pardon the pun). That's why I have always liked this quote:

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it."
- Oscar Wilde​
 
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