This essay, which was originally delivered at a March 1998 Dickens conference, Charles Dickens and His Work, at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, and then placed on the conference website, has been graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web by Laurence Raw, British Studies Manager, The British Council, Turkey,
his essay is part of an ongoing examination between Dickens and the emergence of film, and connects with an observation made by Philip Collins in his introduction to the Dickens Critical Heritage volume: "[By] Pre-Raphaelite times he was being compared — as indeed he compared himself — to a taker of daguerreotypes, sun-pictures, photographs ... a frequent image in Victorian novel-criticism, the aesthetic bearings of which have still (I think) to be adequately explained" (Dickens: The Critical Heritage, Routledge 1971: 6). It is these aesthetic bearings that I am seeking to explore and I shall do so through a number of overlapping and interconnected interests: the city and its streets; the role of light in the urban environment; visualisation as a key element in Dickens' imaginative life; and what I can only call for the moment movement in the urban scene. My general point will be to suggest links between these phenomena and Dickens' artistic vision as well as his creative practice. And beyond this I hope to offer some suggestions, however schematic, towards a reading of the genesis of cinema in relation to Dickens.
The connections between urban experience and Dickens' creative processes is, of course, well known, but was given a brilliant inflection as long ago as 1981 in an important article by Michael Hollington, 'Dickens the Flaneur', which has not perhaps received the attention it deserves. Hollington uses some classic passages, including the letters to orchbook, 1961, 130]
To his friend and biographer, John Forsterof 1846, complaining of the difficulty of writing Dombey and Son in Switzerland because of its absence of urban street life, although his major purpose is to place Dickens in the context of flanerie as a way of illuminating the form of the novels. In developing these ideas Hollington is, of course, drawing on the tradition of the heightened observation of the urban stroller initiated crucially by Baudelaire and developed with fascinating insight by Walter Benjamin.
If we think of Baudelaire and Benjamin as a route into Dickens, we are clearly travelling on a multi-lane highway rather than a simple path, such is the richness and complexity of the insights on offer. Of all the directions possible, we might well choose to begin with some extraordinary passages from The Painter of Modern Life which can be related to Dickens' narrative technique in fascinating ways. Baudelaire is speculating on the entry into the crowd of what he rather grandiosely calls the "lover of universal life", a process which caused Baudelaire to liken him "to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness". He is, Baudelaire suggests,
"an 'I' with an insatiable appetite for the 'non-I' at every instant rendering and explaining it in pictures more living than life itself, which is always unstable and fugitive" (Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon Press, 1964: 9-10).
These speculations seem to relate to Dickens in a whole number of ways. The hallucinatory quality of his writing has seemed to many to have precisely this quality, a heightening and exaggeration of reality which has the effect of making the books appear to be more real than reality itself. This quality is quite compatible with the notion of a Dickens text as a giant mirror capturing the panoramic variety and intensity of urban life in a process of reflection-cum-creation, providing always that we accept its essentially distorting nature and function. Dickens' appetite — for life, people, incident, every facet of city life — is quite clearly insatiable, but rooted also in another facet of the flaneur, the negative capability that enables him to observe and record with a kind of loving objectivity.
How can we explain this similarity of attitude and response? It is not, clearly, a matter of influence. Rather, it seems to relate to some pervasive moments in human consciousness that are coming into being as a direct result of urban experience. Benjamin is as helpful as Baudelaire at this point in, for example, his references to what he calls the "obsessive ideal" of the "miracle of a poetic prose". As he explains, this "ideal, which can turn into an idée fixe, will grip especially those who are at home in the giant cities and the web of their numberless interconnecting relationships" (Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Age of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn, Verso, 1997: 69, 167). To call Dickens' prose poetic is a commonplace, and there could hardly be a better description of novels such as Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend than as a web of countless interconnections integral to the giant urban scene they depict. As Michael Hollington suggests, then, Dickens too is a flaneur and he is so because the whole bias of his consciousness makes him excitedly responsive to the metropolis at the very moment when it comes into existence. This becomes evident, I think, if we return to the problems with Dombey, and to Dickens' consideration of where to live in Switzerland in 1846. He was tempted by Neufchatel, but "thought it best to come on here [to Lausanne], in case I should find when I begin to write that I want streets sometimes" (The Pilgrim edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. M.House, G. Storey and K.Tillotson, Clarendon Press, 1965, Vol. IV: 560). And he canvassed the possibility of a move to Paris once Dombey and Son was under way because it "will be just the very point in the story when the life and crowd of that extraordinary place will come vividly to my assistance in writing' (Vol. IV: 569). Dickens seems to have experienced this need almost from the very beginning of his career, and in ways that illuminate (such metaphors are hard to avoid) his use of "vividly". As early as 1841 we find him wandering the streets of London after working on Barnaby Rudge, "searching for some pictures I wanted to build upon" (Vol. II: 234).
It would be all too easy to follow this preoccupation with the urban experience of London throughout Dickens' entire career. At one level, it might be seen as a facet of what Forster calls his "profound attraction of repulsion" (John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd., 1927, Vol.1: 14), if only in relation to the diversity and richness of subject matter provided by the coming into existence of new forms of living in the urban environment. But that this subject matter came to him in a special kind of way is suggested by an insight of Charles Lamb's from his "Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis":
Among her shows, her museums, and supplies for ever-gaping curiosity (and what else but an accumulation of sights — endless sights — is a great city; for what else is it desirable?) (The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E.V.Lucas, Methuen, 1903: 106).
This focusing of the urban experience on the visual, on what Baudelaire calls the "vast picture gallery which is London or Paris" (37), is suggestive in a number of ways, especially in reinforcing a central insight of the great urban sociologist, Georg Simnel, for whom "interpersonal relationships in big cities are distinguished by a marked preponderance of the activity of the eye over the activity of the ear". This is a large claim although evidence for it might be found, for example, in the increasing importance of the static rendering of the facets of city life through the intervention of the photograph. From another angle altogether, there is a similarity with the theatrical tableaux that were such a feature of nineteenth century theatre. Once again, Benjamin brings together a number of differing, but related, phenomena in commenting on Hoffman's desire to "initiate his visitors in the principles of the arts of seeing. This consists of an ability to enjoy tableaux vivants" (130). One way of putting all this is to say that the spectacle of city life is then being pin-pointed in a series of moments which render some aspect of urban experience with representative force.
This preoccupation with a special kind of visualisation occurs in Dickens in numerous ways, light-hearted as well as serious. For example, he closes a letter to his actor friend William Charles Macready in 1841 with an appropriately theatrical finale: "Drink my health in my absence — wish well to Barnaby ... and ... do not curse me." With that cue for slow music and closing in with a picture [a tableau at fall of curtain] I ring down the envelope (Letters, Vol. VII: 825).
The visual is present much later in his career in a quite different way, in the very special range of sights that are embodied for us in The Uncommercial Traveller, in the essay 'On an Amateur Beat':
Walking faster ... I overturned a wretched little creature, who, clutching at the rags of a pair of trousers with one of its claws, and at its ragged hair with the other, pattered with bare feet over the muddy stones. I stopped to raise and succour this poor weeping wretch, and fifty like it, but of both sexes, were about me in a moment, begging, tumbling, fighting, clamouring, yelling, shivering in their nakedness and hunger. The piece of money I had put into the claw of the child I had overturned was clawed out of it, and was again clawed out of that wolfish gripe, and again out of that, and soon I had no notion in what part of the obscene scuffle in the mud, or rags and legs and arms and dirt, the money might be (All the Year Round, 27 February 1869).
Questions might be posed about the implications of the animal imagery on display here, but what is not in question is the power of the hallucinatory I/eye to render experience with overwhelming force. The letters also are rich in scenes of transcendent horror, as in the moment in 1853 when Dickens strayed into the London Borough of Southwark:
In a broken down gallery at the back of a row ... [of horribly decaying houses] there was a wan child looking over at a starved old white horse who was making a meal of oyster shells. The sun was going down and flaring out like an angry fire at the child — and the child, and I, and the pale horse, stared at one another in silence for some five minutes as if we were so many figures in a dismal allegory (Letters VII: 2).
This is a sight with a vengeance, a moment of Blakean, visionary horror in which the random ingredients of the cityscape are held in a temporary, and potentially meaningful, stasis by the eye of the observer. This is the kind of moment Deborah Epstein Nord has in mind, perhaps, in her reference to the "panoramic view and the sudden, instructive encounter with a solitary figure" (Walking the Streets: women, representation and the city, Cornell University Press, 1995: 21), although this meeting is less directly instructive than Wordsworth's encounter with the blind beggar on the streets of London in Book VII of The Prelude. The power of this passage, in its writing as well as in its vision of the world, is rooted in an intensity of perception which was an essential part of Dickens' make-up but which was also related, by onlookers and by Dickens himself, to nineteenth-century technology. Close friends testified to what Macready, in a well-known phrase, called his "clutching eye", and this is reinforced by Forster's tribute to Dickens' unrivalled quickness of observation: "the rate faculty of seizing out of a multitude of things the thing that is essential" (Letters III: 1, ix). But this clutching eye was more than a psychological or physiological tic; Dickens himself suggests its connection with his creativity in fascinating moments from the beginning and end of his career. Writing of his pain at the death of Mary Hogarth to Forster in 1841, the link is made unmistakably clear:
Of my distress I will say no more than that it has borne a terrible, frightful horrible proportion to the quickness & the gifts you remind me of. But may I not be forgiven for thinking it a wonderful testimony to my being made for my art, that then, in the midst of this trouble and pain, I sit down to my book [Oliver Twist], some beneficent power shows it all to me, and tempts me to be interested, and I don't invent it — really do not — but see it, and write it down ... It is only when it all fades and away and is gone, that I begin to suspect that this momentary relief has cost me something (Letters II: 410-11).
Nearly twenty five years later, the same processes are at work as he struggles with his last completed novel:
Tired with Our Mutual Friend, I sat down to cast about for an idea, with a depressing notion that I was, for the moment, overworked. Suddenly, the little character that you will see and all belonging to it, came flashing up in the most cheerful manner and I had only to look on and leisurely describe it (The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Walter Dexter, The Nonesuch Press, 1938, Vol. III: 438; hereafter referred to as Nonesuch Letters).
If we turn at this point from the personal to the technological, a number of apparently disparate threads — the city and its streets, walking, and the looking which is an inseparable part of walking — begin to seem as if they might be pulled into some kind of pattern, as in the remarks of John Hollingshead:
His walks were always walks of observation, through parts of London that he wanted to study. His brain must have been like a photographic lens, and fully studded with 'snapshots' [of] ... the whole kaleidoscope of Metropolitan existence (cit. Philip Collins, Interviews and Recollections, Macmillan, 1981, Vol. II: 222).
It is clear that Dickens' own response to photography was by no means unambiguous, as in his dislike, in 1856, of "the multiplication of my countenance in the shop windows" (Nonesuch Letters II: 819). But this did not prevent his displaying a sympathetic understanding of and respect for the daguerreotype in a letter of 1852 to Miss Coutts:
The Artist who operated [John E.Meynall], is quite a genius in that way, and has acquired a large stock of very singular knowledge of all the little eccentricities of the light and the instrument ... Some of the peculiarities inseparable from the process — as a slight rigidity and desperate grimness — are in it [his portrait], but greatly modified. I sat five times (Letters VI: 834).
It may be this sympathy that leads him to describe his own observational powers in terms remarkably similar to those of Hollingshead:
I walked from Durham to Sunderland and made a little fanciful photograph in my mind of Pit country, which will come well into Household Words one day. I couldn't help looking upon my mind as I was doing it, as a sort of capitally prepared and highly sensitive plate. And I said without the least conceit (as Watkins might have said of a plate of his) "it really is a pleasure to work with you, you receive the impression so nicely" (Nonesuch Letters III: 58).
There are a number of different kinds of nonsense being talked about Dickens at the moment — especially of the "if he were alive today" variety. One of the most pernicious of these is his transmutation into a writer of serials for television. It is no part of my intention to contribute to this, and I don't wish to suggest that Dickens was anything other than deeply and profoundly a writer. But the previous quotations, from Dickens himself as well as others, permit the suggestion that he was a writer of a rather special kind. His remarks on the death of Mary Hogarth are again relevant here with their stress on seeing and then writing down. It seems impossible to say what came first here — Dickens' innate, if that is what it is, capacity to 'see' imagined experience, which he then translated into written language; or a prompting towards this kind of visualisation from the urban sights by which he was surrounded from such an early age, and which marked his inner life so indelibly. What we do know is that although Dickens fastened hungrily on the streets of London from the beginning, there came a moment when he began to turn against the city which had nurtured him as a writer so deeply:
London is a vile place, I sincerely believe. I have never taken kindly to it since I lived abroad. Whenever I come back from the Country, now, and see that great heavy canopy lowering over the housetops, I wonder what on earth I do there, except on obligation (Letters VI: 287).
Living abroad meant a number of different things and places for Dickens; but one crucial strand of his foreign experience was, of course, Paris; and it is to this city that I shall now turn. As with his rather mixed reactions to photography, or, at least, being photographed, Dickens' first impressions of Paris were by no means unambiguous. Forster tells us that he was "almost frightened" by "the brilliancy and brightness" of the city on his first visit in 1846 (Life I: 442). There is something of the awed provincial in this response, as there is in the moralising — of the kind he came to chastise in Angela Burdett Coutts' companion, Mrs. Brown — in his judgement that Paris was "a wicked and detestable place, though wonderfully attractive" (Life I: 445). And it is interesting that the liberal exponent of Sunday Under Three Heads should, at least initially, have found "painful" the "toil and sweat on what one would like to see, apart from religious observances, [as] a sensible holiday" (Life I: 442). Even the excitement generated by his stay on the Champs Elysées in 1855-6 is tempered in a number of ways. The astonishing quality of mud in the streets, for example, seems more reminiscent of the London of Bleak House than the City of Light. As late as 1863 he tells Wilkie Collins, although with a possibly knowing inflection, that the city is "immeasurably more wicked than ever". And this sense of pleasurable complicity is reinforced by the claim that the "time of the Regency seems restored", and if "'Long Live the Devil' is the social motto", this may be no bad thing for the Dickens whose own roots did, after all, lie in the Regency (The Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins, ed. Lawrence Hutton, New York: Harper Brothers, 1892: 127). On the other hand, he seems genuinely "aghast" at "the ordinary people on the steps of the Bourse at about 4 in the afternoon", and the fact that "Concierges and people like that regularly blow their brains out" — a concern which adds piquancy to the domination of the London of Little Dorrit by a swindler (Merdle) whose name evokes excremental corruption (Nonesuch Letters II: 760).
But, despite these reservations, the general impression of Dickens' involvement with Paris during his six-month stay in 1855-6 is overwhelmingly positive, of a city which is "extraordinarily gay, and wonderfully improving" (Letters VI: 163). And there could hardly be a stronger testimony to Dickens' love of Paris than his association of it with his adored Arabian Nights in that "the Genius of the Lamp is always building Palaces in the night" in it (Nonesuch Letters III: 55). It is, of course, impossible to disentangle these impressions of the city from the pleasure Dickens took in his apartment on the Champs Elysées — above all in the view from its windows, which he told Wills that he "must picture ... with a moving panorama always outside, which is Paris itself" (Letters VIII: 724). This association of Paris with the panorama began as early as 1847:
I have been seeing Paris — wandering into Hospitals, Prisons, Dead-Houses, Operas, Theatres, Concert Rooms, Burial-grounds, Palaces, and Wine Shops. In my unoccupied fortnight of each month, every description of gaudy and ghastly sight [sic] has been passing before me in a rapid Panorama (Letters V: 19).
This preoccupation may throw some light on an interesting claim of Peter Ackroyd (although one that demands qualification), about the closeness of Paris to "Dickens's own vision of the world" (Peter Ackroyd, Dickens, Guild Publishing, 1990: 434). It may well be that Paris fulfilled what Ackroyd calls "Dickens's own need for light and brilliancy (433); but the centrality of London to his vision and experience suggests that he had other needs, equally as strong.
This bringing together of London and Paris might be seen as yet another example of one of the inveterate tendencies of Dickens' imagination, that of reading the world in terms of dualities which, although contrasting, are not necessarily oppositional in the binary sense. For example, it would not seem sensible to claim either that London and Paris are in conflict in Dickens' imagination, or that one is privileged over the other. But, to risk an exaggeration, it might be possible to suggest that the City of Darkness and the City of Light occupy positions roughly similar to the oppositions introduced in the first chapter of Little Dorrit:
There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed (Book the First, Ch.1: 1).
One way of suggesting an analogy between this passage and the cities of Dickens' mind is through the images of labyrinth and panorama. Dickens' fictional London is figured continually as a maze, a Piranesi-like confusion of alleys, steps and courts which mirror the mysteries of social and personal life suggested by, say, Bleak House and Little Dorrit. The panorama that Dickens discovered in Paris reinforces Ackroyd's suggestion that, in it "the world is turned into a spectacle" (Ackroyd: 434); but so it is also, surely, in London, although a spectacle of a different kind. If Ackroyd is right in claiming that Paris fulfilled Dickens' "own needs for light and brilliancy", we could argue that London fulfilled his equally strong need for darkness and confusion. This contrast between home and abroad might, then, be epitomised in the London Sunday evening of the third chapter of Little Dorrit — "gloomy, close and stale" (Book the First, Ch. III: 26) — with an image of Paris especially illuminated to celebrate the return of troops from the Crimean War which brings into play the brilliance of Dickens' favourite Italian cities: "It looked in the dark like Venice and Genoa rolled into one, and split up through the middle by the Corso at Rome in the carnival time" (Letters VIII: 2). Tentatively, one might suggest another way of putting this opposition in terms of the contrasting uses of the concept of spectacle in urban theory. London is, perhaps, more akin to spectacle as used by Situationists such as Guy Debord; that is, a process in which all human life, leisure as much as work-time, is consumed by the relentless saturation of the city in all its aspects in commodities and commodification. Parisian spectacle, on the other hand, is the word used in its less ideological sense, connoting the varied theatrical richness and display of the urban parade. In this sense, a whiff of the carnivalesque at its most positive is never very far off.
In any event, Dickens' constant identification of Paris with panoramas equates it with the popular visual entertainments he refers to so frequently, and which were applied to him by others. We might remember here that a section of Pictures from Italy is entitled A Rapid Diorama. Again, Kate Field evokes the transitions from one passage to another in Dickens' readings in America as "one turn of the kaleidoscope" (Collins, Interviews and Recollections, Vol. II: 255), which moves the audience from the horrible creatures hovering over Scrooge's corpse to something quite different. While for Sala the city itself became a kaleidoscope under Dickens' walking gaze:
[L]ooking seemingly neither to the right nor the left, but of a surety looking at and into everything — now at the myriad aspects of London life, the ever-changing raree-show, the endless round-about, the infinite kaleidoscope of wealth and pauperism, of happiness and misery, of good and evil in this Babylon (Collins, Interviews, Vol. II: 197-8).
And as early as the Sketches the experience of riding in an omnibus was rendered as one of kaleidoscopic changeability, in contrast to coach travel:
Now, you meet with none of these afflictions in an omnibus; sameness there never can be. The passengers change as often in the course as the figures in a kaleidoscope, and though not so glittering, are far more amusing (Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, ed. Thea Holme, Oxford University Press, 1957: 139).
It is clear, then, that Dickens was profoundly affected by light and that it was one of the phenomena through which he experienced life most deeply. This responsiveness can be followed in a number of varied, but interconnected, ways; in his feeling for stage lighting, in his own productions, as well as those of others. For example, a production of Gounod's Faust in Paris was remarkable for some admirable, and really poetical, effects of light:
In the more striking situations, Mephistopheles surrounded by an infernal red atmosphere of his own, Marguerite by a pale blue mournful light. The two never blending (Nonesuch Letters III: 342-3).
And it wasn't the vanity of a Sir Thomas Bertram that led Dickens to bathe his garden chalet in Rochester, Kent, in light:
I have put five mirrors in the Swiss chalet (where I write) and they reflect and refract in all kinds of ways the leaves that are quivering at the windows, and the great fields of waving corn, and the sail-dotted river [Medway] (Nonesuch Letters III: 650).
One senses here an explicit echo of one of Dickens' favourite writers, the Tennyson of The Lady of Shalott, and the temptation to succumb to allegory is strong, in reading these reflections and refractions as a metaphor for the relationship between art and reality. Such speculations can only be reinforced by Dickens' comment on the writing of A Tale of Two Cities: "I am at work, and see the story in a wonderful glass" (Ackroyd: 867).
But it is, finally, Paris as panorama to which I wish to return. We remember the comment to Wills, that he must "picture" the apartment on the Champs Elysées "with a moving panorama always outside, which is Paris in itself"; and it is this combination of light and movement I want to stress. Walter Benjamin has again something extraordinarily pertinent to say here, concerning connections between urban life and seeing as a new kind of experience:
Once the eyes had mastered this task [of dealing with the spectacle of a lively crowd] they welcomed opportunities to test their newly acquired faculties. This would mean that the technique of Impressionist painting, whereby the picture is garnered in a riot of dabs of colour, would be a reflection of experiences with which the eyes of a big-city dweller have become familiar (Benjamin: 199).
This leads into what I believe is an observation of particular interest — an insight that pulls together all the threads I have been trying to disentangle and clarify into a moment of coherence. Writing in 1851, Dickens refers to some sad and shocking aspects of London life as "shadows of the great moving picture" (Letters VI: 327). The significance of this phrase is made clearer some six years later when he is musing to Macready on the kind of entertainment he thinks is most suitable for ordinary people: "But they want amusement, and particularly (as it strikes me, something in motion, though it were only a twisting fountain). The thing [looking at paintings] is too still after their lives of machinery (Nonesuch Letters II: 867)."
I don't wish to claim this as a prophetic insight, a direct foreshadowing of the form of entertainment, and art, that would ease the leisure of millions enduring lives of machinery in the twentieth century. For one thing, Dickens had been anticipated in his image of the city as a moving picture by a writer whom he immensely admired and by whom he was influenced — Charles Lamb, whose words seem to indicate that some general shift in consciousness was under way from the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards:
Often, when I have felt a weariness or distaste at home, have I rushed out into her crowded Strand, and fed my humour, till tears have whetted my cheek for unutterable sympathy with the multitudinous moving picture, which she never fails to present at all hours, like the scenes of a shifting pantomime (cit. Max Byrd, London: Transformed Images of the City in the Eighteenth Century, Yale University Press, 1978: 134).
This sense of a general movement of mind can only be strengthened by Benjamin's observation that in one of the earliest, and great essays on photography Wiertz revealed himself as the first person "who, although he did not foresee, at least demanded, montage as the agitational utilization of photography" (Benjamin: 163).
At the very least, the letter to Macready reveals Dickens' awareness of some of the pressures, and opportunities, leading towards the advent of cinema, an outcome to which it can be demonstrated that he made a significant contribution. This contribution is multi-faceted, but what I have concentrated on here are the insights made possible to Dickens by his being, like Baudelaire, "a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness" ; or, in the rather more extended formulation of a gifted contemporary, George Henry Lewes, that he was an artist
gifted with an imagination of marvellous vividness, and an emotional, sympathetic nature capable of furnishing that imagination with elements of universal power ... He was a seer of visions; and his visions were of objects at once familiar and potent ... in no other sane mind ... have I observed vividness of imagination approaching so closely to hallucination ... What seems preposterous, impossible of observation, to us, seemed to him simple fact (cit. Dickens: The Critical Heritage: 571).
If cinema is to be understood as the culmination of a series of steps, at least some of which are rooted in technology, it then becomes yet another child of the Industrial Revolution, and some words of Benjamin can thus take on a new resonance:
To the form of the new means of production, which to begin with is still dominated by the old [ie. Marx], there correspond images in the collective consciousness in which the new and the old are intermingled (Benjamin: 159).
This is how the point is made by a scholar of advertising and spectacle:
The surveyors of spectacle were astonishingly inventive about astonishing the early Victorian public. Over the years they cooked up various combinations of lighting, sound, scene painting, transparencies, cutout scenery, models, lanterns, projections, dioramas ... The primary result ... was to institute a continual escalation of representation (Thomas Richards, Advertising and Spectacle 1851-1914: The Commodity Culture of Victorian England, Verso, 1991: 56).
Where this escalation was leading is put succinctly by Benjamin:
Tireless efforts had been made to render the dioramas, by means of technical artifice, the locus of a perfect imitation of nature ... they foreshadowed, via photography, the moving-picture and the talking-picture (Benjamin: 161).
However, it is one thing for cultural critics, brilliant as they may be, to make these connections after the event. It is quite another for this to be done by contemporaries in hinting at that which had not yet come into existence. Of these, Dickens was amongst the most profoundly perceptive, I would suggest, with a perception all the more remarkable because he would help to actualise the shadow which still lacked substance at the time of his death in 1870.
Other materials from the March 1998 6th METU British Novelists Seminar
- Grahame Smith, "Dickens and Critical Theory"
- Nursel Icoz, "Evil Intentions are the Evil Person's Own Undoing"
- Meltem Kiran Raw, "The French Revolution in the Popular Imagination: A Tale of Two Cities"
- Deniz Ceylan, "Intimidation and Embarrassment in Conversations of Dickens's Novels"
- Valrie Kennedy, "Three of Dickens' Marginal Women"
- Anthony Lake, "Ghosts, bodies, selves and others in David Copperfield"
Last modified 2000