I Made My Friends Test the 19th Century’s Hottest Dating Tactic: Reading Aloud

There are perfectly good reasons to read aloud that don’t involve skirting Victorian restrictions on the stoking of passions, but I was somewhat amused by this assessment of the place of reading in today’s culture. It reminds me of the story of the local officials who, upon learning that the number of books in a family’s home is a good predictor of a student’s academic success, handed out free books to the kids. It’s a nice gesture, but if books aren’t already part of a person’s social network, then the insertion of a book won’t magically make that person’s culture literate. (Which is pretty much what this Atlas Obscura author discovered.)

imageStuck indoors one evening, I read about how young Victorian couples managed to skirt their own considerable restrictions and stoke passions by reading out loud to each other. I was intrigued. | Though I want nothing less than to be a Hipster Victorian, further research only made me more convinced that a period-appropriate read-aloud session might alleviate certain of my friends’ and my problems. As Godey’s Lady’s Book put it back in 1863, “reading aloud is one of those exercises which combine mental and muscular effort, and hence has a double advantage”—perfect for those boring, cold days when your mind and your muscles both feel frozen. | Girded only by my wits and some willing co-experimenters, I set out to learn more about what makes reading aloud so racy. —Atlas Obscura