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Purloined Pleasures: Dickens, Currency, and Copyright

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Stung by the hostile response to his comments on the issue of international copyright during his speaking tour of America in 1842, Charles Dickens fulminated in his letters about the losses he incurred due to the widespread piracy of his work in the United States. In these letters, and subsequently in American Notes for General Circulation, Dickens represents America as a land of counterfeits and confidence tricksters, and crafts an analogy between pirated texts and forged banknotes. I argue that Dickenss distrust of American paper can be understood by way of Slavoj Žižek's suggestion that nationalism rests on the resentment of the other's enjoyment. For Dickens, the American reader of pirated texts was a thief in many senses. Piracy deprived authors of a livelihood, but its shadow economy also undermined efforts to nurture and sustain a national literature, both English and American. Dickens marshaled these arguments in public, but in his private letters he is consumed by the image of the American reader deriving excess, even perverse, pleasure in reading illegally reproduced material. This paper focuses on Dickens's fascination with these purloined pleasures, and the way in which, for him, they compromised the wholesome enjoyment of those readers who purchased the work legitimately.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-06-01

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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