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London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aethetic

Sambudha Sen

Publication Year: 2012

Just as his great contemporary William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens found his footing as a writer in the early-nineteenth-century market for popular print entertainment. However, even though Thackeray was a skilled caricaturist and a prolific producer of political squibs, burlesques, and ballads, he thought of novel writing as a serious literary pursuit that needed to be separated from mere “magazinery.” On the other hand, Dickens did not personally produce graphic caricatures or even the sort of squibs with which Thackeray flooded the pages of Punch, but these forms had a huge influence on his fiction. In London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic, Sambudha Sen argues that the popular novelistic aesthetic that underlay Dickens’s fiction was composed of, above all, the expressive resources that it absorbed from the nineteenth-century market for print and visual entertainment. Sen’s book aims to precisely chart the series of displacements and “reactivations” by which expressive strategies of these extraliterary discourses found their way into Dickens’s novels. Sen also examines the ways in which the expressive modes that Dickens absorbed from popular print and visual culture affected his novelistic techniques. Sen draws on some of Thackeray’s novels to illustrate how Dickens’s representation of “character” within the big city and his negotiations of the ceremonial discourses of power differ from Thackeray’s more properly literary representations. London, Radical Culture, and the Making of the Dickensian Aesthetic breaks new ground in its elaboration of the symbiotic relationship between the Dickensian “popular novelistic aesthetic” and expressive resources that germinated in popular forms such as radical journalism, radical cartooning, city sketches, and panoramas. It is therefore likely to generate further research on the interanimation between canonical literature and popular forms.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 4-7


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book, which is about Charles Dickens and the popular print and visual culture of nineteenth-century Britain, has been written almost entirely in India. My location in Delhi turned out to be very helpful not because it enabled me to sustain some shopworn postcolonial perspective ...

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pp. 1-12

In 1859, many years after he had established himself as the preeminent novelist of his age, Charles Dickens launched what would, for long afterwards, be considered the definitive edition of his novels. The novels that appeared as part of the Charles Dickens Edition were designed for posterity. ...

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1. Dickens, Thackeray, and "The Language of Radicalism"

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pp. 13-35

In a letter to Mrs. Brookfield, written a few months before he resigned from Punch, Thackeray declared that he found it impossible to “pull in the same boat” with a “savage little Robespierre” like Douglas Jerrold.1 Thackeray’s outburst is significant for what it reveals not only about his overt political opinions ...

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2. The Aesthetics and Politics of Caricature: Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Vanity Fair in Relation to "Radical Expression"

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pp. 36-64

In chapter 30 of Pendennis, Archer, a pillar of the “Corporation of the Goosequill,” boasts of his encounter in the palace anteroom with the Lord Chamberlain, who walked in “holding the royal tea cup and saucer in his hand” (vol. 1, 313). This vignette is significant because in it Archer’s claim about providing an insider’s account of activities ...

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3. Re-Visioning the City: The Making of an Urban Aesthetic from Hogarth to the Stereoscope

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pp. 65-93

My focus so far has been on “radical expression” as an important presence in the print market of the early nineteenth century and on the ways in which it shaped Dickens’s fiction. One way in which radical expressive techniques affected Dickens’s fiction was in terms of moving it away from the more realistic forms of novel writing embodied in the work of Thackeray. ...

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4. Novelizing the City: Bleak House, Vanity Fair, and the Hybridizing Challenge

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pp. 94-115

Hogarth’s dream of a comprehensively mapped city that would allow access to its darkest and most criminalized corner continued to remain potent in Bleak House—a novel that appeared more than a hundred years after the publication of Industry and Idleness. Thus Bleak House makes a powerful ideological investment in Inspector Bucket as an agent of surveillance ...

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5. Radical Culture, the City, and the Problem of Selfhood: Great Expectations and Pendennis

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pp. 116-140

This book has focused throughout on the expressive resources that germinated in radical culture and in popular visual representations of the city and on the effect that these expressive resources had on some of the fundamental features of the Dickensian novel: its organization of time and space, its modes of characterization and plot construction, ...

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6. Working with Fragments: Our Mutual Friend as a Reflection on the Popular Aesthetic

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pp. 141-162

In many ways, Our Mutual Friend is the most metatexual of Dickens’s novels: it looks back on and continues to develop, in extraordinarily productive ways, the differing tropes, expressive techniques, and ways of seeing that have been associated, through the course of this book, with the urban aesthetic. ...


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pp. 163-176


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pp. 177-183


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pp. 184-188

Back Cover

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p. 204-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270271
E-ISBN-10: 0814270271
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211922
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211925

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 13 images
Publication Year: 2012