Story of this Library

Hide Behind Them

Reading or pretending to read: what’s the difference between the two?

Leah Price

Nowadays we worry about phone addiction. The Victorians worried about getting hooked on novels. John Ruskin complained that people reading on trains were like automatons. Glued to their French novels, they were blind to the beauties of the world around them. Walter Bagehot felt that sensation novels were creating inattentive minds. The Victorians, he felt, read books like they ‘ate sandwiches’. Literature had become the cultural equivalent of a junk food.

In the painting we see here, George Henry Boughton’s ‘The Waning Honeymoon’ (1878), a book becomes a kind of shield for someone whose honeymoon hasn’t lived up to expectationsOne of the great mysteries of reading is that we can never really guess whether it is really happening. Picking up a book can be a very good way of hiding ourselves, or our feelings. One of the most famous instances of this is in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Sitting on a train, Anna conceals her feelings of illicit love behind the covers of an English novel. Books, as Anna knows, can take us out of this world.

Boughton Victorian Honeymoon
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