John Bunyan Conference, Dartmouth

Two papers from the International John Bunyan Conference had to do with seventeenth century reading practices. The Plenary address on Saturday, August 18, by Bob Owens, stressed the intensive reading that is widely considered "characteristic" of the seventeenth century was supplemented, in the case of John Bunyan, by much evidence for extensive reading. I am thinking that the Portuguese shipwreck material was, apparently, avidly read by Portuguese citizens as it was most often presented in the form of relacios, or cordel de literatura, short pamphlets hung from strings in the doorways of butcher (and other!) shops. In this case, Iberian sixteenth-century reading practices WERE communal, as Bob Owen and Julie Crawford both emphasized at this conference, but not intensive, as a relatively robust and wide-ranging news cycle focused on the stories of triumph and disaster associated with the Carreira da India. (Crawford's paper examined Margaret Hoby's diaries and what they indicated about reading practices).

To remind myself: Attending cross-disciplinary conferences seems to me very productive!.

The other reflection on this conference relates to the diary of Emma Rutherford, which I am reading in a excerpted version, called THE YOUNG MRS MURRAY GOES TO BLOEMFONTEIN. In this diary, as she makes her way into the southern African hinterlands in the 1880s, she reports dozens instances of reading to her husband, while riding on the wagon-, or they are stealing a quite hour to reading scripture to one another. Communal, yes. Intensive, yes.

Chartlotte Barter, in ALONE AMONG THE ZULUS (1865) spends her evenings, on a solo trading expedition to Natal, reading scripture to her driver--communal reading certainly, but still intensive, on one book. While her reading tastes were indisputably intensive, her aspirations to write a "travel" book indicated that she believed the extensive reading habits begun in the eighteenth century could be turned to both imperial and personal gain. I maintain, in other papers, that the flood of books by women about southern Africa in the last half of the nineteenth century were indispensable to furthering the colonial project--principally by making the wild African hinterlands rendered tame, safe and orderly.