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"The Great Fiction Bore": Free Libraries and the Construction of a Reading Public in England, 1880-1914

Mary Hammond
Libraries & Culture
Vol. 37, No. 2 (Spring, 2002), pp. 83-108
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25548986
Page Count: 26
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"The Great Fiction Bore": Free Libraries and the Construction of a Reading Public in England, 1880-1914
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Abstract

The Public Libraries Act (England and Wales) was passed in 1850 at a time when democracy was being hotly debated but only one person in forty was eligible to vote, and compulsory elementary education for all was still twenty years in the future. This essay explores how the public library came to act as a legitimating body for the performance of class and gender through reading practices. It argues that the social and political history surrounding the library movement in England is crucial to an understanding of how, though founded on the Arnoldian principle of culture as social panacea, it had come by the First World War to function on the principle of cultural capital as social signifier.

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