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Season of Light and Darkness: A Tale of Two Cities and the Daguerrean Imagination

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Abstract:

Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities reveals a Daguerrean imagination, a photographic subtext like that of Bleak House or Little Dorrit, but one that facilitates a reconsideration of the relationship between photography and history, as well as experimentation in realism more generally. At its very inception, photographic technology destabilized categories of light and dark, past and present, and realism and representation. The image we see in a daguerreotype is, more explicitly than in any other photograph, an image created in both the past of its capture and the present of its viewing. The daguerreotype shares this dialectical negotiation between past and present with the nineteenth-century historical novel. In particular, the high-contrast illustrations and recurrent use and critique of Enlightenment imagery in A Tale of Two Cities reveal a simultaneous reworking of Enlightenment “truth” and Victorian realism. In its persistent focus on light, darkness, and the troubling and subjective distinction between the two, the novel sustains an explicit critique of Enlightenment discourse as well as an implicit engagement with a more experimental, more Daguerrean photographic technology.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7756/dsa.042.011.237-260

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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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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