Leah Price Recieves Honorable Mention for the 2012 James Russell Lowell Prize

Leah Price - How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
Honorable Mention for the 2012 James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association

The James Russell Lowell Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding book—a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography—written by a member of the association. “Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain disentangles the network of practices the Victorians developed for not reading their books through an innovative approach she calls rejection history. By analyzing the many uses of books aside from being read, Price provides an exhaustive and well-documented account of their material life and culture. From paperweight to garbage, she looks at the evolution of the bound book in ways that trump what can only be read between the covers. Giving welcome attention not only to familiar literary classics but also to less-studied genres, Price provides new models for reading the history of the book as object, commodity, and literary artifact. To learn more about this award, click here.

k9714How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain asks how our culture came to frown on using books for any purpose other than reading. When did the coffee-table book become an object of scorn? Why did law courts forbid witnesses to kiss the Bible? What made Victorian cartoonists mock commuters who hid behind the newspaper, ladies who matched their books’ binding to their dress, and servants who reduced newspapers to fish ‘n’ chips wrap?

Shedding new light on novels by Thackeray, Dickens, the Brontës, Trollope, and Collins, as well as the urban sociology of Henry Mayhew, Leah Price also uncovers the lives and afterlives of anonymous religious tracts and household manuals. From knickknacks to wastepaper, books mattered to the Victorians in ways that cannot be explained by their printed content alone. And whether displayed, defaced, exchanged, or discarded, printed matter participated, and still participates, in a range of transactions that stretches far beyond reading.

Supplementing close readings with a sensitive reconstruction of how Victorians thought and felt about books, Price offers a new model for integrating literary theory with cultural history. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain reshapes our understanding of the interplay between words and objects in the nineteenth century and beyond.

Leah Price is professor of English at Harvard University. She is the author of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel.