The skills needed to read novels are surprisingly many and not easy to acquire. They require years of education and practice. Understanding even a simple novel needs complex skills: Following protagonists, settings, times, goals, and motives; making correct inferences and inhibiting wrong ones (however you define “correct” and “wrong”); using background knowledge to fill in what the novel leaves out; storing and retrieving information with no immediate use. Lacking any of these skills makes understanding novels impossible. In light of these barriers – and in light, too, of the many objections to novel reading expressed over the past three centuries – novels must promise a truly special experience for them to be worth the trouble. This chapter is about how readers describe that experience. It focuses on the continuities in response across different times periods, as well as on the differences.
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- Reading groups
- Working class