Literature, Popular Culture, and Society

By Leo Lowenthal | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
(with Marjorie Fiske)
The Debate Over Art and Popular
Culture: English Eighteenth
Century as a Case Study

I
THE LITERARY MEDIA

If one takes the term "mass" media to mean marketable cultural goods produced for a substantial buying public, the eighteenth century in England is the first period in history where it can be meaningfully applied. During the first few decades of the eighteenth century, the growing industrialization and urbanization of England, together with the cheaper production of paper and improved methods for producing and distributing literary goods, made reading matter less costly and more easily accessible than it had ever been before. Those who were literate read considerably more than their counterparts in the previous century; women were proving themselves to be particularly avid readers, and literacy was becoming a professional prerequisite for the merchant and shopkeeper classes. By the last quarter of the century even remote villages hired their own schoolmasters, or at least maintained Sunday schools in which the rudiments of reading were taught.


Magazines

Despite the fact that new literary products were developing and that commercial competition became intense, each new form, or variation on an old form, found a ready market. The magazine, as distinct from pamphlets supported by religious or political groups, was the newest and most characteristic medium of the age. In the fifty-year period between 1730 and 1780, at least one new magazine a year was presented to the London public, the

The first published version of this chapter appeared in Common Frontiers of the Social Sciences, ed. Mirra Komarovsky ( Chicago: The Free Press of Glencoe, Illinois, 1957). Copyright 1957 by The Free Press; reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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