Yesterday we looked at women during the ‘mania for reading’ engendered by the birth of the novel in the 18th Century. They are shown in both portrait and genre paintings, when the act of reading ideally reflects learning and status. Yet it’s also a radical and transgressive action. There is a gendered anti-novel argument about ‘the danger of reading illicit material’; and about control and the requirement that women should read and ‘cultivate their minds’ but only enough to please their husbands. That reading romantic and racy books would arouse women sexually – see The Reader below – was viewed by men with a poorly disguised mixture of fear and envy.
The young woman from Take a Seat is at no risk of being corrupted by the technical handbook she reads – only the windows are steamy.