"There is no first reading": (re)-reading nineteenth-century realist novels and their critics

Walder, Dennis (2011). "There is no first reading": (re)-reading nineteenth-century realist novels and their critics. Synthesis, 3 pp. 55–68.

URL: http://www.enl.uoa.gr/synthesis/issue3.htm


We all read with the knowledge, or at least the memory, of what we have already read. And even the novels we read are imbued with their predecessors to such an extent that reading a novel means in effect reading its predecessors as well. Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum echoes earlier novels in the realist tradition, showing that such novels are written with other novels in mind. As Barthes put it, “there is no first reading.” According to Barthes, the common view that there is some pristine first reading of a book is as fictional as other popular cultural myths. The idea of a first, or single, reading is a pretence fostered by “the commercial and ideological habits of our society.” Every reading, even a so-called “first reading” is to some extent conditioned by other reading. Using Edward Said’s Beginnings, I look at how this is to some extent also true of critics of realist fiction, who echo and complicate each other's readings.

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