A quote from O.S. Fowler's Sexual Science (1875):
Novel reading redoubles this nervous drain begun by excessive study. What is or can be as ruinous to the nerves as that silly girl, snivelling and laughing by turns over a 'love story'? Of course it awakens her Amativeness...It is doubtful whether fiction writers are public benefactors, or their publishers philanthropists. The amount of nervous excitement and consequent prostration, exhaustion, and disorder they cause is fearful. Girls already have ten times too much excitability for their strength. Yet every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness...Love-stories, therefore, in common with all other forms of amatory exctiement, thrill. In this consists their chief fascination. Yet all amatory action with one's self induces sexual ailments. It should always be with the opposite sex only; yet novel reading girls exhaust their female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism, which of necessity deranges the entire sexual system. The whole world is challenged to invalidate either this premise or inference. Self-abuse is worse, because more animal; but those who really must have amatory excitement will find it 'better to marry,' and expend on real lovers those sexual feelings now worse than wasted on its 'solitary' form. Those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels.
I was unaware that girls have ten times too much excitability for their strength, but I am glad to have solidly based scientific data on that point. Alas, the author fails to reveal the amount of excitability boys have for their strength, but he seems to be suggesting that we have considerably less excitability relative to our strength. Assuming that girls have, say, four times as much excitabilility relative their strength, I guess that gives us boys an average excitability-to-strength ratio of 2.5 or so.
So, Girls, read if you like; but keep in mind the risks of exhausting your female magnetism without obtaining any compensating male magnetism...though I suspect the latter can be obtained by settling onto the couch with a case of beer and watching sports for a weekend or so. So if you must read a novel, set aside some beer-and-sports time to suck up some male magnetism.
The dangers of novel reading are made starkly clear by his statement that "every page of every novel redoubles both their nervousness and weakness." Redouble? Every page? Even in a Large-Print Edition?
My copy of Anna Karenina runs 961 pages. If in fact nervousness and weakness is increased by a factor of two (the meaning of redoubled) by every page, then by the end of that book, a Girl's nervousness and weakness would have been been increased by 2 to the 961st power, which is (rounding after five digits) an increase of 19,491,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000 times, which is a whole lot more nervous and weak.
If you are more sensible and avoid the Russians, selecting instead, say, Jane Eyre at 284 pages, a Girl will still end up 2 to the 284th power worse off--that is, 31,083,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more nervous and weak. Still quite a bit, though.
It is good that the Creator in His wisdom made Girls weaker as they become more nervous. If a Girl could read a novel and become a million times more nervous but also a million times stronger, we would have a problem of horror-movie proportions on our hands.
As to his last assertion, I can easily believe that those perfectly happy in their affections never read novels, as I have never met anyone perfectly happy in anything. Perhaps I just run with the wrong crowd.
But I am sad he doubts I am a public benefactor.