Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd.


ISBN 9781915115522 HB    £85.00  Order

​ISBN 9781915115539 eB     £42.50  Order

​229 x 152 mm.  392pp.

Writers & Their Contexts Series No. 17

Available October 2024

Where the Victorians Got Their Reading

​Cultural change in marketing, distribution, and individual access for

'The Million' in Britain, North America, and Australia

Frederick Nesta (Ed.)

About this book

In the 19th century middle-class and elite readers were served by subscription circulating libraries, notably by Mudie’s Select library and his bookshop, by  Hatchards in Piccadilly in London and other retail bookshops. But what about the working man or woman who might have felt out of place in Mudie’s or in a bookshop, or of someone who lived in a country town without a bookshop, or in Africa, on the American frontier, or in the Australian Outback? Where did they get their reading material?

 As these new essays show, there were many options: the second-hand trade, religious societies, free and workingman’s libraries, railway booksellers, local circulating libraries, newsagents, direct mail, prize books, books distributed as premiums, street booksellers, and books sold by drapers, grocers, and other retail outlets. Books, pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines were readily available at prices that  even working people could afford, and often for free.

 The essays in this volume look at nineteenth century readers and the publishers and distributors who catered to them. Missionary societies and Sunday schools distributed tracts, Bibles, and prize books for good attendance. Subscription, and workingman’s libraries brought books and periodicals to the Forty-Niners in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Penny fiction was available in many places besides railway bookstalls. Drapers sold books, often purchased from publishers who sold cheap editions to them and to street booksellers. Country grocers also sold books and even had lending libraries. Prison libraries provided inmates with books and periodicals, and humble Canadian tinsmiths were able to improve their lot by reading. British fiction made its way from England to Australian newspapers via a variety of networks. And people loaned books and periodicals to their friends. 

An Introduction to Alternative Sources Available to Nineteenth Century Readers – Frederick Nesta.
Remarkable but Unremarked.  R.E. King, a ‘novel’ innovator in distribution and access  to cheaper fiction for ‘The Million’, 1856-1916. – John Spiers.
Booksellers vs Drapers: trade competition in Victorian Britain  –  Frederick Nesta.
‘One Of The Greatest Nuisances Of The Day’? The Canvassing of British Number Books Over The Nineteenth Century – Graham Law.
Sunday School Libraries: The Transatlantic Influences and Contrasts – Cheryl Thurber.
In the Reading Gaol – Rebecca Nesvet.
Self-Improvement in Victorian Ontario, Or How the Tinsmith Got His Books – Kathryn Carter.
Society, Mercantile, Mechanics, and Workingman’s Libraries – Frederick Nesta.
 ‘Within The Reach Of The Whole Reading Public.’ Retail, Railways, and The New Readers in Britain, 1846-1914 – John Spiers.
Penny Fiction ('Bloods' And 'Dreadfuls') – Rebecca Nesvet.
Women, Dime Novels, And Popular Culture: The American Evolution of the Penny Dreadful – Grace Adeneye.
The Emotional Economies of Book Borrowing In Victorian Britain. – Christopher Ferguson.
Notes on Contributors.

About the author

​Dr Frederick Nesta is Associate Professor in UCL Qatar’s MA in Library and Information Studies. His career before joining UCL included supervisory positions at major research libraries, including New York Public Library and Columbia University, experience in corporate and special libraries, and directorships at academic libraries in New York, London, and Hong Kong. From 2004 to 2011 he was University Librarian at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. His research interests include the history, economics and marketing of late Victorian books; the history and culture of the book in China; and the interactions between people and digital and printed texts. His earlier books in this series George Gissing, Grub Street, The Transformation of British Publishing was published in 2020, and Published This Day in 2022.