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New book publication by AIAS Fellow Dorothee Birke

In 'Writing the Reader', Birke investigates the practice of novel reading with the help of a multi-dimensional model by using a selection of English novels as her test cases.

Is reading novels a respectable way of spending one’s time? While in the eighteenth century, many commentators worried about the dangers of novel reading, today most people would probably answer 'yes'.

This is the point of departure in AIAS Fellow Dorothee Birke’s new book Writing the Reader: Configurations of a Cultural Practice in the English Novel (Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, August 2016). In her book, Birke explores how novels themselves participate in defining the shifting cultural value of literary reading by ‘writing the reader’ as a concrete fictional character as well as by projecting particular reading stances for their own audiences. 

Reassessing the status of novels

Dorothee Birke argues that in the era which saw the consolidation of the novel as a genre, the eighteenth century, narratives about characters who read excessively were used to represent the novel as a considerable influence on European cultural life. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the same motif is used to reassess the status of novel reading in the age of digital media. Focussing on the history of the English novel, Birke takes works by Charlotte Lennox, Jane Austen, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ian McEwan and Alan Bennett as test cases. She demonstrates that the cultural status of reading reflected in these works can only be adequately understood by means of a multi-dimensional model of reading as a cognitive process, a physical act, social behaviour and an institutionalized practice. 

Helene Richter Award

The book is based on Birke’s ‘Habilitationsschrift’ that was awarded the Helene Richter Preis last September 2015. Read more about the book at: https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/204248


Dorothee Birke, AIAS Fellow

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