English 460


Victorian Spectacles

Professor Russell A. Potter


The Victorian era, much like our own, was obsessed with new technologies of vision. From the private and miniature (the microscope, the daguerreotype, the stereoscope) to the public and enormous (the Panorama-Royal, the Regent's Park Colosseum), Victorians embraced new modes of seeing in a continual quest for and celebration of spectacularity. The emergence of the illustrated press in in the 1840's and '50's, along with an enormous expansion of literacy, further fueled the demand that anything which could be experienced through 'pictorial means' must be so experienced. At the same time, literary texts took on a greater visual component, both through inserted illustrations (what we of today would call "in-line graphics") and through a new textual fascination with the visual aspects of culture. This class will look at many of the visual texts of this fascinating era, using our class website to share resources. Among the images we will look at will be illustrations from the novels of Dickens, pages of the Illustrated London News and , and a selection of images of daguerreotypes, panoramas, dioramas, and large easel paintings, along with images of public spectacles such as the Crystal Palace and Vauxhall Gardens.

We will also read literary texts which reference or embody this fascination with the visual; our principal reading will be Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, along with essays and periodical writings by Collins, Dickens, Jerrold, Thackeray, Ruskin, Eliot, and Carlyle. For a guide to London, we will have the invaluable aid of Lee Jackson's Dictionary of Victorian London, as well as his recent book on the same subject.