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

18, 19, 25, 26 March 2021


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 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.

*Unfortunately Sean O'Brien, the plenary speaker for Friday 26 March, can no longer attend due to ill-health.





There are six sessions spread out over four days. You can book for an individual session, or all six.

One session: £5 standard | £3 student

All six sessions: £15 standard | £10 student


Image taken from Senate House Library