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Men Reading Women Reading: Interpreting Images of Women Readers

Men Reading Women Reading: Interpreting Images of Women Readers 03-N3494 7/12/05 6:26 AM Page 37 Men Reading Women Reading Interpreting Images of Women Readers james conlon In his History of Reading, Alberto Manguel notes that from the very beginnings of this remarkable activity readers have met with a fundamental ambiguity. While they are revered for possessing a special power, they are also condemned as escapists and suspected for harboring a depth of privacy that threatens the very basis of the communal order. “The popular fear of what a reader might do among the pages of a book is like the ageless fear men have of what women might do in the secret places of their body, and of what witches and alchemists might do in the dark behind locked doors.” Given the complex ambiguity that the reader presents, it is not at all surprising that the image of the reader is a recurring one in Western art and that most figurative artists have felt com- pelled to tackle this theme in some form or other. What is surprising, especially considering the limited access women have had to literacy throughout history, is the number of images of women reading. Male artists have been drawn to this image out of http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies University of Nebraska Press

Men Reading Women Reading: Interpreting Images of Women Readers

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies , Volume 26 (2) – Aug 23, 2005

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Publisher
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2005 Frontiers Editorial Collective.
ISSN
1536-0334

Abstract

03-N3494 7/12/05 6:26 AM Page 37 Men Reading Women Reading Interpreting Images of Women Readers james conlon In his History of Reading, Alberto Manguel notes that from the very beginnings of this remarkable activity readers have met with a fundamental ambiguity. While they are revered for possessing a special power, they are also condemned as escapists and suspected for harboring a depth of privacy that threatens the very basis of the communal order. “The popular fear of what a reader might do among the pages of a book is like the ageless fear men have of what women might do in the secret places of their body, and of what witches and alchemists might do in the dark behind locked doors.” Given the complex ambiguity that the reader presents, it is not at all surprising that the image of the reader is a recurring one in Western art and that most figurative artists have felt com- pelled to tackle this theme in some form or other. What is surprising, especially considering the limited access women have had to literacy throughout history, is the number of images of women reading. Male artists have been drawn to this image out of

Journal

Frontiers: A Journal of Women StudiesUniversity of Nebraska Press

Published: Aug 23, 2005

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