Painting: The Novel Reading (1841)

Readers reading #4

The Novel Reading (1841) – By Josef Danhauser: 1805-1845.


A happy couple. I wonder what the armour, book on the floor and general clutter means? I suspect it must mean something because the artist (Josef Danhauser) was a man whose work was inspired by a wonderful series of engravings by the English painter, William Hogarth (1697–1764) – known as The Rakes Progress.

See two scenes from the series, above. If you don’t know anything about these engravings, you might like to look out for them, you won’t be disappointed. I suppose now we might say Hogarth was “Storyboarding” a moral tale. Pictorial commentary. So perhaps, in some way, Danhauser was doing likewise with his picture?

I also wonder what our couple are reading? Presumably a novel, as the title of the painting is ‘The Novel Reading’ – and the book looks to be in three volumes. The 3 volume novel (or “triple decker”) was a standard form of publishing for British fiction during the 1800s. It was expensive to print and bind a book, but by breaking up the story into parts and publishing an affordable volume 1, a publisher could wet peoples appetite for parts 2 and 3. Maybe a bit like Hollywood do with some movie series today.

The year of our picture (1841), Punch magazine was founded in London, famous for it’s satire and humour – and for popularising the term “cartoon” for a humorous illustration. Later in the century, Punch produced a cartoon that mocked the three volume novel which they must have felt was a bit corny/cliched (see below).

Punch magazine cartoon mocking the three volume novel

Anyway, returning to our painting. The bloke looks rather more interested in the novel than she does. Or perhaps he is reading the book aloud to his wife (I am assuming they are husband and wife – though I could be wrong). It was not uncommon for couples to read to each other at that time (heaven forbid that such a thing should happen today). That might explain why he looks so intense and she so dreamy and thoughtful.

Finally, what was going on in the book world that year (1841)?

Literary events

  • Punch magazine is founded in London by Henry Mayhew and the engraver Ebenezer Landells, edited by Mayhew and Mark Lemon.
  • London publisher Edward Moxon is convicted of blasphemous libel for issuing an edition of Shelley’s poem Queen Mab (1813) with its atheistic passages restored.
  • Anthony Panizzi and his staff at the British Museum Library in London devise the “Ninety-One Cataloguing Rules“.
  • London Library founded in Pall Mall, London on the initiative of Thomas Carlyle.
  • Tauchnitz of Leipzig (publishers) begin their Collection of British and American Authors, an authorised series of cheap paperback editions, including The Pickwick Papers, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge (Dickens).


  • Honoré de Balzac – Le Curé de village
  • Edward Bulwer – Night and Morning
  • James Fenimore Cooper – The Deerslayer
  • Catherine Crowe – Susan Hople
  • Charles Dickens –
    • Master Humphrey’s Clock (serialisation incorporating full-length novels)
    • The Old Curiosity Shop
    • Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty
  • Edgar Allan Poe – The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Some argue that it was the first significant work of detective fiction. See this review of Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James.
  • A.K. Tolstoy – The Vampire
  • Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna
    • Conformity
    • Falsehood and Truth
    • Helen Fleetwood: Tales of the Factories


  • Mikhail Lermontov – The Demon: An Eastern Tale
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Excelsior
  • Alexander Pushkin – The Bronze Horseman


  • Thomas Carlyle – On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson – Essays
  • Ludwig Feuerbach – Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity)
  • Washington Irving – Biography and Poetical Remains of the Late Margaret Miller Davidson
  • Søren Kierkegaard – On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates
  • Augustus Pugin – The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture

The ‘Readers reading’ series on this blog (this list last updated, 12th March 2017).

Readers reading #1. A Girl Reading In A Sailing Boat (1869) By Alfred Corbould.

Readers reading #2 The Bookworm (1850) Carl Spitzweg.

Readers reading #3 A Pleasant Corner (1865) – By John Callcott Horsley.

Readers reading #4 The Novel Reading (1841) – By Josef Danhauser.

Readers reading #5 The Poor Poet (1839) – By Carl Spitzweg.

Readers reading #6 The Travelling Companions (1862) – By Augustus Egg.

Readers reading #7 The Breakfast (c.1911) – By William McGregor Paxton.

Readers reading #8 Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (1850) – By James Collinson.

Readers reading #9 The Love Letter (1808) – By Willem Bartel van der Kooi.

Readers reading #10 The Day Dream (1880) – By Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

12 thoughts on “Painting: The Novel Reading (1841)

Add yours

    1. Ah, that’s another possibility! 🙂 John Kellogg (the corn flakes man) supposedly said of novel reading that it was: “one of the most pernicious habits to which a young lady can be devoted. When the habit is once thoroughly fixed, it becomes as inveterate as the use of liquor or opium.” A bit harsh, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

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