Reading into Things: Literature’s Material Culture

By Patricia Ard.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What is the meaning of the numerous representations in material culture of literature and its authors? What happens to literature when it is commodified into such products? Is the Jane Austen beach towel containing the brilliant opening paragraph of Pride and Prejudice a cause for celebration or should one use that very towel to cry into at the triumph of marketing over reading? Famous or brand name authors are used to sell t-shirts, mugs, action figures, and countless other literary “sideshows.” Yet recent major studies into the reading habits of Americans show an absolute diminution in the reading of literature. A focus on past and present material culture associated with American and British authors, with emphasis on the successful Ernest Hemingway furniture line, illuminates a postmodern landscape where many Americans and others are more comfortable buying objects rather than reading the literature that inspired them.

Keywords: Material Culture, Reading, Postmodernism, Literary Sidelines

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.33-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 965.808KB).

Dr. Patricia Ard

Professor, English , School of American and International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, New Jersey, USA

Patricia Ard, a former lawyer, teaches a wide range of literature courses as well as a course on American Visual Culture. She has two areas of scholarly interest: nineteenth century American and British literature and the history of the state of New Jersey. She is coauthor of The Jews of New Jersey: A Pictorial History, and wrote the entry on the Jersey Shore in the New Jersey Encyclopedia. She also edited and wrote the introduction to the reissuance of Mary Peabody Mann’s 1887 novel on African-Cuban slavery, Juanita. Her most recent publication is an article titled Garbage in the Garden State: A Trash Museum Confronts New Jersey’s Image, in The Public Historian.


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