The Book as Burden: Junk Mail and Religious Tracts

Leah Price

in How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

Published by Princeton University Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780691114170
Published online October 2017 | e-ISBN: 9781400842186
The Book as Burden: Junk Mail and Religious Tracts

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This chapter looks at religious tracts and junk mail. The Victorians pioneered institutions—whether secular (the post) or religious (the tract society)—that allowed printed matter to be distributed at the expense of someone other than its end user. By disjoining owning from choosing, those transactions challenged Enlightenment assumptions about the relation between reading and identity. Where the secular press trusted print to lift individuals out of their social origin, the niche marketing pioneered by Evangelical publishers and commercial advertisers alike vested it instead with the power to mark age, gender, and class. If the content of tracts interpellated new audiences by matching characters' demographic to readers', so did the different material forms that each text took—reprinted on different paper, sold at different price points, distributed in gross and in detail.

Keywords: religious tracts; junk mail; printed matter; Enlightenment; reading; identity; secular press; niche marketing; Evangelical publishers

Chapter.  15607 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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