Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914

Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914

Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914

Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914

Synopsis

Over the past two decades, the process of cultural development and, in particular, the role of reading has been of growing interest, but recent research has been episodic and idiosyncratic. In this biographical dictionary, research devoted specifically to the reading habits of 19th century individuals who shaped Western culture is brought together for the first time. While giving prominent coverage to literary and political figures, the volume's 270 entries also include musicians, painters, educators, and explorers. Each entry includes brief biographical information, a concise summary of literary influences on the subject, and clear direction for further research. The book provides a practical tool for scholars wishing to trace the reading experience of important Western cultural figures.

Subjects were selected from the people most responsible for the cultural development of Europe, Britain and the British Empire, and the Americas between 1800 and 1914. Although selective, the sample of 270 figures is substantial enough to suggest broad, cross-cultural habits and effects, enabling scholars to better understand the relationship between reading and culture. In an introductory essay, Powell explores the patterns and relationships that can be discerned from the entries. The first of three anticipated volumes, the book is an important step forward in researching the role of reading in cultural development.

Excerpt

During the past two decades there has been growing interest in the process of cultural development and, more specifically, in the role of reading as a part of that process. Unlike earlier and largely unsuccessful attempts to systematically define a sociology of knowledge, recent efforts have been episodic, diverse, and idiosyncratic, and thus have followed the humanistic vision of a unique mental development in each person. in keeping with Edmund Burke's dictum, recent writers implicitly have accepted that “circumstance gives to every situation its distinctive characteristic.” However true this may be, the evidence suggests that some ideas in print have had more influence, and influence of a different kind, than others. It is also true that identifying certain patterns about the relationship between reading, achievement, and culture will enlarge our understanding regarding the pivotal role of reading in the creation of the social, economic, and political institutions that continue to characterize the Western worldview.

It is our purpose in this work to bring together for the first time research devoted specifically to the reading habits of individual men and women who shaped Western culture in the nineteenth century. the 271 subjects of these inquiries provide a limited sample but one substantial enough to suggest broad, cross-cultural habits and effects that will help us better understand the relationship between reading and culture.

In some cases, contributors have principally gathered materials already published in biographies, memoirs, or monographs. in other cases, scholars have undertaken for the first time significant research about the relationship between cultural development and the achievement of a single individual. From an examination of the combined results, I have made a few observations in the Introduction about why we read, and what that reading eventually means to our culture.

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