Economy, Empire, Extermination: The Christmas Pudding, the Crystal Palace and the Narrative of Capitalist Progress
Abstract:In December 1850, some six months before the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Charles Dickens’ Household Words published the short story ‘A Christmas Pudding.’ The tale appears to sit comfortably with the way in which many Exhibition commentators set out the meaning and outcomes of the cosmopolitan industrial display, working allegorically to confirm the exhibitionary conceit that global trade was distinguished by peace and progress. However, ‘A Christmas Pudding’ is not straightforward; the formal dialogue through which it explicates industrial capitalism and its impact upon the world is dialogical, rendering problematic the moral which is offered by the tale. Consequently, the story can be understood to problematise a mid-nineteenth century narrative of capitalist progress which was bound up with the Great Exhibition, and which fed into the conceptualisation of rational, modernising, and peaceful English mission to make sense of the way the world the worked. Seen in this light ‘A Christmas Pudding’ undercuts the Exhibition, refusing a laudatory account of international commerce, and offering instead evidence of the imperial intolerance and violence which characterised the Victorian process of globalisation.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: University of Exeter
Publication date: March 1, 2005
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