When you were here over the Fall you asked me how reading groups got started here. As we were headed out for a contradance with your partner and me with my wife, I forgot until now. And when I remembered, I was, as any Librarian would be, curious. So I went reading in the Journals kept by the Librarians since, well, let’s just say a very, very long time. So long that I can’t read the language of the earliest Librarians.
Isabella Summer, the Librarian here in the 1820s, wanted to increase use of the Library among the staffers here at the Estate, so she decided that reading groups would help as it would make everyone more comfortable if a given work was read aloud so that those who couldn’t read could still hear the tale chapter by chapter. She started off with what would seem a difficult book, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility! Of course, it’s an interesting tale and would have caught the minds of those hearing them read in the Library around a roaring fire on winter’s night.
But the reading group hit its pace a generation later when Dickens serialized Oliver Twist as a monthly serial in Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837 to April 1839 over a total of twenty-four installments. She says the group grew from a comfortable gathering to nearly everyone on the Estate, so they moved it to the Pub where there was room for all.
Every Dickens serialized novel for the next thirty years would be the preoccupation of the reading group with, as she tells it, lively conversation about the chapter just read and what might happen next being the primary conversation of many on the Estate.
So that’s how they came to be. How they changed down the years is for another letter.
P.S.: Will you be headed for the Libraries Without Walls conference this Fall? If so, I’ll reserve you a room in Kinrowan Hall instead of the Yurts as you’ll want to be there as you know that there is no formal presentation, no boring speakers droning on as this simply a gather of librarians and other folk to talk about libraries in an age of tribal communities.