Transnationalism, Woman Reader, Translation, Victorian Francophobia, New Woman
The Heinemann International Library was a transnational publishing venture of the 1890s. This ‘library’ comprised twenty translated novels, representing the cultures of eleven countries, the work of fifteen writers and nineteen translators, and was targeted at English-speaking readers in Britain, Europe, Australia, and India. In the context of Benedict Anderson’s theory of the nineteenth-century rise of nationalism, Heinemann’s ‘library’ represents a counter impulse that unites diverse literary cultures and forges new relationships between them. One commonality is the presence of the fictional woman-reader who appears in ten of the HIL novels. In each case, she is depicted reading a French novel, the impropriety of which was a cultural commonplace in Victorian public rhetoric. This figure is constructed either as a passive symbol absorbing the text to demonstrate a nation’s vulnerability to the influence of the Other, or as an active force interrogating and creatively recreating narratives. She functions as mise en abyme for the actual reader, modelling alternative ways of reading. In this way, Heinemann’s ‘library’ extends the debate not only about attitudes to the French novel, but also about the status and agency of women.
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