I just came across this astonishing passage, quoted by John Fiske in Understanding Popular Culture. It’s from the Ladies Guide in Health and Disease by John Harvey Kellogg (yes, of Corn Flakes fame), published in 1882. There are also chapters on ‘marriage’, ‘personal beauty’, ‘diet’, clothing’, and, ah, ‘criminal abortion’. He says:
‘The reading of works of fiction is one of the most pernicious habits to which a young lady can become devoted. When the habit is once thoroughly fixed, it becomes as inveterate as the use of liquor or opium. The novel-devotee is as much a slave as the opium-eater or the inebriate. The reading of fictitious literature destroys the taste for sober, wholesome reading and imparts an unhealthy stimulus to the mind, the effect of which is in the highest degree damaging.
[A bit further on…]
‘We wish… to put ourself upon record as believing firmly that the practice of novel reading is one of the greatest causes of uterine disease in young women. There is no doubt that the influence of the mind upon the sexual organs and functions is such that disease may be produced in this way… Reading of a character to stimulate the emotions and rouse the passions may produce or increase a tendency to uterine congestion, which may in turn give rise to a great variety of maladies…’
I must have uterine disease in spades. Indulge yourself and read the rest of this (somewhat terrifying) chapter, here.