Literature and Agency in English Fiction Reading

A study of the Henry Williamson society

By Adam Reed

Literature and Agency in English Fiction Reading

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8454-6
  • Pages: 224
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: September 2011
  • BIC Category: Literature, Literary theory, LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / General, LITERARY CRITICISM / Semiotics & Theory, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers, Literature & literary studies / Literary theory
  • Series: New Ethnographies


This book represents the first anthropological study of fiction reading and the first ethnography of British literary culture. It is the outcome of long-term engagement with a set of solitary readers who belong to a single literary society. These men and women celebrate the works of the now often forgotten twentieth century novelist & nature writer Henry Williamson (note: this is not a biography or critical study of the works of a single author). Attention falls on the outcomes of the event of reading, on the agencies that readers identify in the vicinity of literature and on the kinds of literary artefacts (books, land & pasts) these claims reveal. Williamson readers took my inquiries as an invitation to reflect upon the nature of persons and human communication, the form and ownership of mental states, history and the causes of conflict, memory, home, familial relations, the changing state of the British environment and the uses of creativity. While the approach of the book is distinctly anthropological, it operates at the margins of several disciplines, contributing to debates in literary criticism and reception theory, in the history of the book and history of reading, in sociology of literature and cultural studies. In addition to offering an anthropological perspective on a subject traditionally dominated by other disciplines, the book aims to open and extend existing discussion about the relationship between anthropology and literature. It calls for the emergence of approaches grounded not just in textual analysis but also critically in ethnographic interventions with specific literary subjects and literary fields.


"In Adam Reed's highly original book, based on over a decade of active involvement with the Henry Williamson Society, reading clearly works as an ethnographic object, allowing him also to engage with many ongoing academic debates."

"Reed contributes to debates not only on literacy, but also on nature ontologies, social memory, sense of place and material culture among others."

Reed's capacity to identify variety and imagination where one expects merely the middlebrow will inspire interested undergraduates and advanced researchers alike.

Literature and Agency is a thought-provoking ethnography focusing on art, creativity, the mediation of agency in the context of literacy practices and British society.


Part One: Books
1. Possessions
2. Collections
Part Two: Land
3. Journeys
4. Returns
Part Three: Pasts
5. Remembrance
6. Pattern


Adam Reed is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of St. Andrews.

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