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The Dangers of Reading in Bed by Nika Mavrody

In his history of masturbation, Solitary Sex, the historian Thomas Laqueur draws a direct link between 18th-century distress over solitary, silent novel reading and masturbation’s new status as a public menace: “Novels, like masturbation, created for women alternative ‘companions of their pillow.’” These “solitary vices,” as Laqueur calls them, were condemned for fear that individual autonomy would lead to a breakdown in the collective moral order.

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People feared that solitary reading and sleeping fostered a private, fantasy life that would threaten the collective—especially among women. The solitary sleeper falls asleep at night absorbed in fantasies of another world, a place she only knows from books. During the day, the lure of imaginative fiction might draw a woman under the covers to read, compromising her social obligations.

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