Unknown Public

I read Wilkie Collins’ “Unknown Public” for the first time today–well worth it! Presenting the reading public that buys the penny journals as a mystery–in his words —“A reading public of three millions which lies right out of the pale of literary civilisation is a phenomenon worth examining—a mystery which the sharpest man among us may not find it easy to solve”–he continues to say the readers–the public–that inhabits “literary civilisation” is a well-known entity (a known public).  While his conclusions are expected (the unknown public is literate but does not really read, prefers amusement to education, and is the future of English fiction—the market will expand . . . ), I find it really helpful as a way of explaining that when we talk about “the publics” we tend to deal with the public we know.  We appeal to the public to confirm our assumptions, rather than to challenge them.