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Terms of Art: Reading the Dickensian Gallery

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In this article, I re-contextualize Dickens's reception as a commercial writer by setting it against the development of a heated commercial art market in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the worlds of both literary and visual arts, an ongoing democratization of patronage was accompanied by the evolution of new styles to meet new consumer appetites. I show how concern over the nature of Dickens's innovative fictional technique was framed in the terms of art-world anxieties about a new prominence for contemporary art; how exhaustion at how much the novel now crammed in (and how many novelistic pieces the cramming necessitated) was diagnosed through allusions to galleries so full of wares that they could hardly be processed by the eye. The new art critics tried to create a language and metric to describe and direct the shifts of their world; Dickens's first readers picked up this language as they tried to make sense of (and perhaps to make the career of) their own novel quarry.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • 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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