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The history of reading is a comparatively recent field. Work to date has been diverse both in period and methodology, ranging from case studies of individuals to statistical analyses of populations. This diversity means that it can be hard to discern either a broadly agreed narrative of reading practices or a clear set of debates. However, a range of scholars have emphasized contrasts between intensive and extensive reading, oral and silent reading, utilitarian and recreational reading, and public and private reading. These contrasts have been aligned with historical periods, with oral reading, for example, being associated with early modern reading in contrast to later periods. This article analyses the reading practices of Samuel Pepys and concludes that his example supports a contrast between a more intensive, oral, utilitarian, and public reading in the seventeenth century and that of later periods. Pepys's reading practices are also shown to have profound effects on his interpretation of texts. He sees texts of all genres as scripts to be performed by particular individuals, and judges them according to their suitability for this performance in a specific context.

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Department of English Studies, University of Strathclyde, Livingstone Tower, 26 Richmond Street, Glasgow G1
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Leah Price , ‘Reading: the state of the discipline’, Book History, 7 (2004), pp. 303–20

Stephen M. Colclough , ‘Procuring books and consuming texts: the reading experience of a Sheffield apprentice, 1798’, Book History, 3 (2000), pp. 4560

Kate Loveman , ‘Pepys's jests’, Notes and Queries, 50 (2003), pp. 188–9

Aaron Kunin , ‘Other hands in Pepys's diary’, Modern Language Quarterly, 65 (2004), pp. 195219

Elspeth Jajdelska , ‘Income, ideology and childhood reading in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries’, History of Education, 33 (2004), pp. 5573

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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