What Novels Do to Our Minds

“NOVELS have ever met with a ready reception into the Libraries of the Ladies, but this species of writing hath not been received with universal approbation: Futility is not the only charge brought against it — Any attempt, therefore, to make these studies more advantageous, has at least a claim upon the patience and candour of the publick. IN NOVELS which expose no particular VICE, and which recommend no particular Virtue, the fair Reader, though she may find amusement, must finish them without being impressed with any particular idea : So that if they are harmless, they are not beneficial. OF the Letters before US, it is necessary to remark, that this errour on each side has been avoided—the dangerous consequences of SEDUCTION are exposed, and the Advantages of FEMALE EDUCATION set forth and recommended.” — From the preface to “Mrs. Perez Morton” (pseudonym of either Sarah Wentworth Apthorp or William Hill Brown)’s The power of sympathy, or, The triumph of nature founded in truth, considered the first American novel and published today in 1789.

“Novel reading tends to destroy a relish for history, philosophy, and other useful knowledge. Novels give false notions of life, which are dangerous and injurious.” — James Beattie

“It cannot but be injurious to the human mind never to be called into effort; the habit of receiving pleasure without any exertion of thought, by the mere excitement of curiosity and sensibility, may be justly ranked among the worst effects of habitual novel reading. Like idle morning visitors, the brisk and breathless periods hurry in and hurry off in quick and profitless succession—each, indeed, for the moment of its stay preventing the pain of vacancy, while it indulges the love of sloth; but, altogether, they leave the mistress of the house—the soul—flat and exhausted, incapable of attending to her own concerns, and unfitted for the conversation of more rational guests.” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“The task [of the novelist] is to teach lessons of virtue and at the same time make himself a delight to his readers.” — Anthony Trollope

 

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