Accepted Paper:

The role of books in the middle-class home: owning books in nineteenth-century American domestic fiction  


Johanna McElwee (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

In nineteenth-century American domestic fiction, books are necessary in the middle-class home. In a country plagued by economic depressions, books offer stability to the class system as the ownership of books, rather than monetary assets, became synonymous with middle-class affiliation.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will explore the function of books in American domestic fiction of the nineteenth century. Written primarily for middle-class readers, domestic fiction offers advice on how to create an ideal home and in these ideal homes the presence of books is necessary. In a time period characterized by a volatile national economy, with repeated depressions, economic means provided a fickle basis for class affiliation. In domestic fiction, however, books are offered as an alternative foundation for class status. As a result, rather than being based on monetary assets, which might lose value overnight and cause a plunge on the social ladder, in these tales, middle-class status transcends economic status as it becomes synonymous with the ownership and appreciation of books and the moral qualities books were expected to foster.

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Books create a home: exploring books and reading practices as domestic symbols and rituals