- The Printed Image in Early Modern London: Urban Space, Visual Representation, and Social Exchange
Joseph Monteyne situates his book, The Printed Image in Early Modern London: Urban Space, Visual Representation, and Social Exchange, as part of a growing list of works interested in the social and spatial aspects of print. Anchoring his discussion in the Restoration, he examines representations of a rapidly changing urban landscape and how they affected the early modern subject’s experience of it. His is a metropolis in crisis, a volatile city dramatically remade through catastrophe: plague, fire, and ice. Monteyne’s main contention is that new forms of print—in particular, ones that include prominent, often elaborate images—emerged at this time that did not simply record and represent the effects of these disasters, but appropriated them and figured forth new conceptions of urban space and social relations in it. These printed images of London offer an important means to examine the production of and disputations over urban space. “[T]he intention of this book,” he concludes his introduction, “is to open up the complex dialectic between uses of space and representations of space in early modern London, that is, between constantly shifting urban identities and allegiances, and the social tensions indicated by the competing images of the city” (22).
Monteyne’s first chapter revisits the coffee-house, the Restoration’s quintessential public space and hub for print culture. He first complicates those critical readings that view the coffee-house as the cradle of a bourgeois public sphere; rather, Monteyne views it as a heterogeneous and potentially threatening site for the government, a “liminal” site which deconstructed traditional boundaries and hierarchies and fostered the free exchange of conversation and print. He also argues convincingly for the need to reconnect discussions of the coffee-house to local contexts. “What the majority of coffee-house histories lack,” he argues, “is a sense of this fundamental ambivalence towards the increasingly broad access to printed discourse and imagery [End Page 61] that the marketplace generated, and how this became tied to a specific urban site” (40). After a discussion of various representations of the coffee-house as a threshold space, Monteyne focuses on the local context. The area around the Royal Exchange held the greatest concentration of coffee-houses in Restoration London, and he provocatively argues that they slowly replaced the Exchange as a market for discourse and news. Instead of a single public sphere, a variety of publics shaped by discourse and print culture emerged from the coffee-house.
Subsequent chapters provide case studies of “printed space,” a term that refers “to images in which a more direct connection between visual representations of the city and spatial practices can be explored” (20). Chapter two, “Anatomizing the Social Body: Visualizing the Plague,” examines how print culture represented the plague and its social and spatial effect. Monteyne begins with a broadside by John Dunstall (1665), which played down any tension or conflict caused by death and disease, in order to examine the representation of urban movement during this period of crisis. “[P]rint culture intervened,” he contends, “to alter the manner in which flight could be articulated, and in the process helped construct a series of representations of centre and circumference, or urban and rural, that impinged directly upon social practice in London” (85).
From plague, Monteyne moves to another crisis, the London fire of 1666. Using recent work on trauma theory, he argues that visual representations of the conflagration and its aftermath offer a “process of disconnecting from a traumatic loss in the past and moving towards the production of public, narrative, and historical memory” (125). In addition to working through the trauma of the catastrophe, he argues, the maps and prints produced during this period offered new conceptions of urban space, but in so doing, presaged the vanishing of the older metropolis.
The last two chapters of The Printed Image in Early Modern London focus on less grievous events, but ones, Monteyne argues, that raised the specter of crisis and unpredictability. Chapter...