Picturing the Reader

Reading and Representation in the Long Nineteenth Century

by Beth Palmer (Volume editor) Amelia Yeates (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection XIV, 270 Pages


«Adopting an interdisciplinary approach to a range of visual and textual material, this engaging and illuminating collection compels twenty-first-century readers to take a fresh look at the multiple ways in which readers and reading were represented in the long nineteenth century.» (Professor Julia Thomas, Cardiff University)
The long nineteenth century saw a prolific increase in the number of books being produced and read and, consequently, in the number of visual and textual discourses about reading. This collection examines a range of visual and textual iconographies of readers produced during this period and maps the ways in which such representations engaged with crucial issues of the time, including literary value, gender formation, familial relationships, the pursuit of leisure and the understanding of new technologies.
Gauging the ways in which Victorians conceptualized reading has often relied on textual sources, but here we recognize and elaborate the importance of visual culture – often in dialogue with textual evidence – in shaping the way people read and thought about reading. This book brings together historians, literary scholars and art historians using a range of methodologies and theoretical approaches to address ideas of readership found in fine art, photography, arts and craft, illustration, novels, diaries and essays. The volume shows how the field of readership studies can be enriched and furthered through an interdisciplinary approach and, in particular, through an exploration of the visual iconography of readers and reading.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Beth Palmer and Amelia Yeates)
  • Part I Framing the Reader
  • 1 Framing Reading in Mary Watts’s Diaries and Designs (Beth Palmer)
  • 2 Reading Like a Victorian: How the Book Review Illuminates Viewing as an Essential Part of Reading (Catherine J. Golden)
  • 3 Picturing the Poor: Reader Spectatorship, Sympathy and Slumming in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (Garth Wenman-James)
  • Part II Visual Representations of Readers
  • 4 Painting the ‘Woman as Reader’: From Romney to Rossetti (Colin Cruise)
  • 5 ‘No Happy Wearing of Beloved Leaves’: Women and Not Reading in Nineteenth-Century Art* (Amelia Yeates)
  • 6 In Search of ‘Some Bond of Union’: Picturing the Domestic Reading Circle in Victorian Photographs (Charlotte Boman)
  • Part III The Reader in the Text
  • 7 Interrogating the Male Reader in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (Ashton Foley-Schramm)
  • 8 Picturing the Reader in Jane Austen’s Novels (Katie Halsey)
  • Afterword (Mary Hammond)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index


Figure 1.1.Unknown Photographer, Mary and George Frederic Watts reading in the niche at Limnerslease, glass plate negative, c. 1894–1895. © Watts Gallery Trust. (Watts Gallery Archive COMWG2010.1.40).

Figure 2.1.‘Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney Taking Tea’. Illustration by George Cruikshank for Charles Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’ in Bentley’s Miscellany, February 1838. From the Norman M. Fox Collection, Scribner Library, Skidmore College.

Figure 2.2.‘Caterpillar on a Mushroom’. Illustration by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865. From the Personal Collection of Catherine J. Golden.

Figure 2.3.‘An Incubus’. Illustration by George Du Maurier for his ‘Trilby’ in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1894. From Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College.

Figure 2.4.‘Becky’s Second Appearance in the “Character of Clytemnestra”’. Illustration by William Makepeace Thackeray for Vanity Fair, 1848. From the Personal Collection of Catherine J. Golden.

Figure 3.1.George Cruikshank, ‘Oliver Asking for More’, Oliver Twist, 1837. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for The Victorian Web.

Figure 3.2.William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751. The British Museum.

Figure 3.3.George Cruikshank, ‘Oliver Introduced to the Respectable Old Gentleman’, Oliver Twist, 1837. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for The Victorian Web.

Figure 3.4.George Cruikshank, ‘Fagin in the Condemned Cell’, Oliver Twist, 1837. Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham for The Victorian Web.

Figure 4.1.Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Day Dream, 1880, V&A Museum, London. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Figure 4.2.Dominic Cunego (after Guercino), Sibylla Amalthea, 1797, Private Collection. (Author’s collection).

Figure 4.3.John Raphael Smith (after Romney), Serena Reading, 1782, V&A Museum, London. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Figure 4.4.S. W. Reynolds (after A. Allegri, il Correggio), Saint Mary Magdalen, 1829, Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.

Figure 4.5.Rogier van der Weyden, The Magdalene Reading, c. 1438, National Gallery, London. National Gallery, London, UK/Bridgeman Images.

Figure 4.6.Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Mrs William Morris (The Blue Silk Dress), 1868, Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor). © Society of Antiquaries, London (Kelmscott Manor).

Figure 5.1.W. M. Thackeray, Rebecca’s Farewell, illustration to Vanity Fair, c. 1861, wood engraving (image scanned by Gerald Ajam for The Victorian Web: <http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/thackeray/1.1.html>).

Figure 5.2.William Holman Hunt, The Awakening Conscience, 1853, Photo © Tate.

←viii | ix→Figure 5.3.William Holman Hunt, Il Dolce far Niente, 1859–1866, Private Collection, Photo © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images.

Figure 5.4.Charles Wynne Nicholls, On the Beach, 1867, Scarborough Museums Trust.

Figure 5.5.William Powell Frith, Ramsgate Sands, 1851–1854. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

Figure 5.6.John Tenniel, ‘The Railway Guard looking at Alice’, illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, wood-engraving by Dalziel (available at <http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/lookingglass/3.1.html>).

Figure 6.1.Henry Fox Talbot, ‘A Scene in a Library’, 1844, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005.

Figure 6.2.Henry Peach Robinson, ‘When the Day’s Work is Done’, 1877, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Figure 6.3.J. J. E. Mayall, Group taken at Windsor Castle, 1863, Royal Collection Trust, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Figure 6.4.J. J. E. Mayall, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1860, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Figure 6.5.J. J. E. Mayall, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1860, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Figure 6.6.R. H. Mason, ‘Charles Dickens’, 1865, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Figure 7.1.‘Light Reading with a Vengeance’, Punch, 72 (27 January 1877). <https://archive.org/details/punch72a73lemouoft/page/30> [accessed 14 March 2019].

←ix | x→Figure 7.2.‘Talboys Gazing at Lady Audley’s Picture’, London Journal, 37.948 (11 April 1863). Images published with permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Figure 7.3.‘Robert Audley Removes the Label from Miss Graham’s Box’, London Journal, 37.955 (30 May 1863). Images published with permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Figure 8.1.Frontispiece to Bentley’s 1833 Standard Novels Pride and Prejudice. By kind permission of Chawton House Library. Photograph by the author.

Figure 8.2.Illustration by Hugh Thomson in George Allan’s 1894 ‘Peacock’ Pride and Prejudice. By kind permission of Chawton House Library. Photograph by the author.


The editors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the British Association for Victorian Studies for funding the symposium from which this collection grew. We would also like to thank the School of Literature and Languages, University of Surrey and the School of Creative and Performing Arts at Liverpool Hope University for their support of this project. Funding for image rights and reproductions has also come from the School of Literature and Languages at the University of Surrey. We are grateful to the individuals and institutions who have granted permissions for use of the images featured in this book.

Each contributor will have their own colleagues and networks who have offered support and advice along the way. The editors particularly wish to thank Lucy Ella Rose and Tessa Kilgariff for fruitful conversations, feedback and guidance along the way. We wish, most of all though, to thank our contributors for their hard work, insight and patience during the time it has taken this book to come together.

Beth Palmer and Amelia Yeates


In 1896 Henri Matisse exhibited his painting Woman Reading (1894) at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars. The subject of the painting is seated with her back to us, apparently engrossed in her book, the world around her unheeded. Readers, especially female readers, have frequently been used as painterly subjects from the medieval period onwards. Matisse’s early painting seems to offer us the same provocations that many such paintings do: the inaccessibility of the subject’s thoughts, the seeming contrast between the still image and the depicted mental activity, the complex relationship between the single moment in time captured in the painting, and the ongoing narrative time symbolized by the open book. Here, however, Matisse does something else too. The reading woman is turned away from the viewer, facing the corner of the room, not orientating herself towards the window but towards a range of art objects placed on a chest or small cupboard. The surface of this chest she faces is cluttered with statuettes and the sculptural and decorative forms of vases, while the walls are hung with framed paintings or prints. A seemingly unfinished painting is propped against the chest, suggesting the subject herself is a painter. Here, the act of reading and the acts of art appreciation (and production) rub comfortably against one another. Reading is not solipsistic but oriented – at interesting angles – towards the visual and decorative arts. The textual is not privileged over the visual; how can it be when to decipher black forms on a white page is an inherently visual act? Matisse would go on to render women reading in numerous paintings throughout his career, but this early work provides one way into some of the issues and questions this collection attempts to address. Why and how is reading and readership represented in visual and literary arts? And how do texts of all kinds ←1 | 2→understand and explore the role of the visual in activating readerships? This collection poses questions around the type of ‘reading’ or visual apprehension involved in looking at paintings and illustrations and also the ways in which texts might employ strategies borrowed from the visual arts. We consider what happens when illustration and text share the page. And we move away from the printed text itself to consider other forms in which reading appears visually, such as fine art and photography, asking what is the significance of the reader as subject across various art forms. We think too about the situatedness of the reading experience, both in time and in space. What role do the aesthetics of the reading space play in enhancing or detracting from the text being read? These, and further, interconnected questions are elaborated by our contributors in the following chapters. This book, however, does not attempt to provide definitive answers to these questions. Rather, we seek, through these studies ranging across textual and visual arts and throughout the nineteenth century, to provoke further thought and research around reading and its many engagements with a broadly conceived understanding of the visual.


XIV, 270
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (May)
Reading and readership Long nineteenth century Interdisciplinary and archival Beth Palmer Amelia Yeates Picturing the Reader
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 270 pp., 8 fig. col., 24 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Beth Palmer (Volume editor) Amelia Yeates (Volume editor)

Beth Palmer is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Surrey. She has published widely on numerous aspects of Victorian popular culture and her work includes a monograph, Women’s Authorship and Editorship in Victorian Culture: Sensational Strategies (2011), an edited collection on readership, print culture and the novel (2011), and an anthology of Victorian sensation plays, Sensation Drama: An Anthology (2019). She is currently working on a project titled Sensational Genres that examines the relationship between the sensation novel, the press and the theatre in Victorian Britain, in which the relationships between Victorian readers and theatre-goers is a central concern. Amelia Yeates is Associate Professor in Art History at Liverpool Hope University. She has published on a range of topics relating to nineteenth-century visual and literary culture, including representations of women reading, Pre-Raphaelitism and the figure of Pygmalion in nineteenth-century art and literature. Publications include a co-edited collection on Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities (2014) and a guest-edited special issue of Visual Culture in Britain on Visualising Identities: The Male Artist in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2015). In 2019–2020, she was the host of a British Art Network subgroup on «British Genre and Narrative Painting: 1750–1870».


Title: Picturing the Reader