The Woman Reader


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Belinda Jack

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How have women read differently from men through the ages? In all manner of ways, this book asserts.

This lively story has never been told before: the complete history of women's reading and the ceaseless controversies it has inspired. Belinda Jack's groundbreaking volume travels from the Cro-Magnon cave to the digital bookstores of our time, exploring what and how women of widely differing cultures have read through the ages.

Jack traces a history marked by persistent efforts to prevent women from gaining literacy or reading what they wished. She also recounts the counter-efforts of those who have battled for girls' access to books and education. The book introduces frustrated female readers of many eras—Babylonian princesses who called for women's voices to be heard, rebellious nuns who wanted to share their writings with others, confidantes who challenged Reformation theologians' writings, nineteenth-century New England mill girls who risked their jobs to smuggle novels into the workplace, and women volunteers who taught literacy to women and children on convict ships bound for Australia.

Today, new distinctions between male and female readers have emerged, and Jack explores such contemporary topics as burgeoning women's reading groups, differences in men and women's reading tastes, censorship of women's on-line reading in countries like Iran, the continuing struggle for girls' literacy in many poorer places, and the impact of women readers in their new status as significant movers in the world of reading.

Belinda Jack is tutorial Fellow in French, Christ Church, University of Oxford. She is the author of George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large and Beatrice's Spell. She lives in Oxford, UK.

"Engaging, lively and vigorous. The Woman Reader is a landmark work that no feminist—or for that matter, general reader—should miss."—Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth

"An utterly gripping history of women and reading, brilliantly conceived and told depth and detail for the first time. Belinda Jack's remarkable book is destined to be a landmark in its field."—Claire Harman, author of Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World

"A lively and erudite history of the many and ingenious covers thrown over women's minds to keep us in the dark, Jack's absorbing story describes and deconstructs the endlessly remade cover versions that men (mostly) have told to women, and to themselves, about the reasons why books and women should be kept apart."—Jeanette Winterson, Times of London

"In her detailed history of female readers across time and place, Belinda Jack, an Oxford don, argues that anxieties about female readers are mostly a desire to control women's "freedom.""—Bee Wilson, Sunday Times

"…the enticing presentation delivers a sustainedly nourishing read. Packed with fascinating material, it holds throughout… Belinda Jack's detail is consistently rich."—Alison Baverstock, The Independent

"Jack has done an impressive job of synthesising the scholarly work on book-history that has radically changed what we know about women's reading habits through the ages. In her thorough and informative book, she steadily demonstrates that the woman reader has not been nearly such an isolated or exceptional figure, historically, as was once thought."—Hermione Lee, The Guardian

"This ambitious book maps out the relatively undeveloped field of women's reading habits across time and cultures, all in fewer than 350 pages. It is not an easy task, but Belinda Jack accomplishes it brilliantly."—Katharine Reeve, Times Higher Education Supplement

"An interesting exploration of the trend of reading by women from the earliest times to the present day… Jack puts forward much of interest on a subject that has not been widely paraded."—Bill Spence, Yorkshire Gazette & Herald

"Erudite and provocative, The Woman Reader throws new light on some old questions… Many books have attempted to unravel this Gordian knot, but Ms Jack has boldly attempted to cut right through it… The Woman Reader is a heroic attempt to uncover the convergent forces of technology, theology, economics, medicine, and human nature that thwart the quest for female enlightenment."—Susan Hertog, Standpoint

"If proof were needed that a serious book of cultural history can also be utterly delightful, then The Woman Reader is a book to convince anyone that, yes, you can, so to speak, ‘ban the bomb in a feather boa."

“A rarefied study of women’s reading over the centuries - a subject that is vast, but also intensely private, and that has left little trace for most of history.”—The Sunday Telegraph

"The very welcome publication in paperback of Belinda Jack's magisterial The Woman Reader offers an opportunity to reflect on the long history of women’s reading and writing as factors that have shaped literature.”—The Oldie 

“Jack’s excellent history begins from a position of anxiety, which she argues is caused by women’s access to the written word. What do women read and what happens to them, and the world, when they do?”—Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic 2012 Title for Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Reference category.
ISBN: 9780300197204
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
344 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
50 b/w illus.