The Novel

by Pessimists Archive

Novels are to entertainment what orange juice is to Coca Cola – a wholesome alternative to modern vices. Or at least, that’s how we think of them now. But long before television and videogames, or before comic books and D&D, novels were the new and scary form of entertainment. They were accused of corrupting the youth, of planting dangerous ideas into the heads of housewives, and of distracting everyone from more serious, important books. In this episode, we explore the roots of anti-novel hysteria, and explore what impact it really did have on us.


• Host Jason Feifer’s new novel, which he wrote with his wife Jen: Mr. Nice Guy

• Experts this episode: Catherine Golden (Skidmore College), Thomas Pavel (University of Chicago), Susan Sauvé Meyer (University of Pennsylvania), Leslie Butler (Dartmouth College)

• “Too Much Reading is Harmful” by Angelo Patri (1938)

• Plato’s Phaedrus, containing the much-misunderstood passage on writing

Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to N. Burwell, 1818

Novel Reading: A Cause of Female Depravity, The Monthly Mirror 1797

Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, 1790

• John Harvey Kellogg and Florence Nightinggale comparing novels to liquor and opium

• Novel reading, a Cause of Female Depravity (1797) 

• Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family (1790)

• Thomas Jefferson worries about children reading novels

• Music: Rafael KruxRhodesmasMonplaisir’s Action, Frankum & Frankumjay, Tri-Tachyon.

• Theme music by Caspar Babypants.

• And thanks to our sponsor, Element AI, and its AI Element podcast.

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