Published in 1849, The Ladies’ Vase, or a Polite Manual for Young Ladies is a typical 19th century guide for young American women. Authored anonymously, it offered advice on everything from manners to deportment, to friendship and courting. Like other books of its ilk, The Ladies’ Vase was particularly adamant that its readers should avoid novels. Not only was novel-reading “a great waste of time”, it was as addictive and morally debilitating as “intoxicating liquors”:
“If you wish to become weak-headed, nervous and good for nothing, read novels… Novel-reading strengthens the passions, weakens the virtues and diminishes the power of self control. Multitudes may date their ruin from the commencement of this kind of reading.”
Reading novels has even proved fatal, claimed The Ladies’ Vase, citing the case of:
“…A young lady [who became] so nervous and excitable in consequence of reading novels that her head would be turned by the least appearance of danger, real or imaginary. As she was riding in a carriage over a bridge, in company with her mother and sister, she became frightened at some fancied danger, caught hold of the reins, and backed the carriage off the bridge and down a precipice, dashing them to pieces.”
Source: Anon., The Ladies’ Vase, or a Polite Manual for Young Ladies, Hartford, 1849.