The Reader in the Book
Books, Reading and Libraries in Fiction

Institute of English Studies, University of London, 19-20 March 2020

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It is not hard to find fiction within fiction. Don Quixote modelled himself on chivalric romances, and became in turn a model for other fictional characters; Lord Peter Wimsey collected incunabula; there is a Gutenberg Bible at Blandings Castle. Fictional libraries are spaces of danger and safety, both public and private: bodies are discovered in libraries, ghosts haunt them, or readers retreat into libraries to escape the outside world. Fictional readers and the domestic sphere often intersect – especially in reading women and children’s literature – and books become a home, or an escape from domesticity for characters. Catherine Morland, for example, reads her own life through gothic romances, and Jane Eyre curls up with Bewick to escape Gateshead Hall. Characters in fiction are often found with books and in libraries; we are often reading readers.

This conference, the second in a series on reading and libraries at the IES, examines the social and domestic depictions of books, reading, and libraries in fiction: what was and was not read, what this says about the context of the works in which it appears, and what it indicates about the reception of books more widely, in text and illustration. Studying such depictions enables a comparison between fact and fiction, and asks the question: how far does fiction mirror reality?
The current conference on 19-20 March 2020 proposes to expand interest in the history of books, reading and libraries by looking at them in the fictional sphere and the role they play in the works they appear, as well as the way that the portrayal or use of books, reading and libraries in fiction does or does not reflect experiences in reality. In addition, it will feature a workshop on Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool (READ-IT), a transnational, interdisciplinary project which is creating a database of European reading experiences across times and cultures. The workshop will offer an introduction to this new database, which will provide a fruitful future resource for investigating the relationship between fictional and ‘real’ readers, and will discuss some of the wider issues involved in locating, annotating and describing, and digitising reading experiences.

Draft Programme

Sean O'Brien Plenary Lecture

Sean O'Brien, ‘Caveat Lector: Passing Through ‘the swing door leading into the vestibule of a certain famous library’

This lecture is open to conference delegates and those not attending the conference. Please register below. For non-conference attendees tickets for this lecture are £5 (standard) and £3 (concession).


Standard: one day £38 | two day £70

Concession: one day £30 | two day £55

You can book for each day individually or for the whole event.

When booking conference tickets please indicate whether you would like to attend the Sean O'Brien lecture and/or the READ-IT workshop.

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Image taken from Senate House Library