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CONSTRUCTING A READERSHIP: SURVEILLANCE AND INTERIORITY IN THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS PETER W. SINNEMA Toronto, Ontario When the first thirty-four numbers of the Illustrated London News (May-December 1842) were bound together into an imposing hardcover volume, they were prefaced with a bold claim: the ILN' s proprietors had, according to the anonymous writer, "discovered and opened up the world of Illustration as connected with News." In the pages of the world's only regularly illustrated weekly, the "soundjudging British public" was presented with a new, scripto-visual form, "clasping Literature and Art together in the firm embrace of Mind" (Vol. l:iii). Present-day readers of the ILN, although aware of the paper's phenomenal success — it was selling 130,000 copies a week in 1855, 300,000 by 1863 — would likely approach this selfcongratulatory preface with some guardedness. Certainly, the ILN contributed significantly to the rapid expansion of the press in mid nineteenth-century England; in terms of mass dissemination of popular imagery, the ILN was broadly representative of what Richard Altick calls "the most influential novelty during [the] period," the print media's "growing emphasis upon illustrations" (343).1 But I would suggest that the smooth exchange between "Art" and "Literature" celebrated in the florid prose of the ILN's preface is a relationship which demands sustained investigation. This essay, by interrogating the word-image collaboration in the ILN as an ideologically naturalized relationship between different modes of representation, also theorizes some of the ways in which a readership may be constructed and gradually solidified into a loyal audience. J. Hillis Miller has recently argued that it is more discriminating to speak of the "interference of picture and text with one another, their dialogical relation" (95), than to maintain the notion of an untroubled coVictorian Review 20.2 (Winter 1994) PETER W. SINNEMA143 operation between words and pictures — a monological production of meaning — governed by the rubric of the "News." In the ILN, the unprecedented mobilization of type and engraving compels twentiethcentury readers to consider the formation of a mass audience as a direct effect of the ILN's introduction of a pictorial element into the conventional format of the early Victorian newspaper. Taking the binary "interior/exterior" as my problematic, I would like to consider visual and verbal representations of inside and outside spaces as some of the //JV"s most potent interpellative mechanisms. My discussion will be developed thorough a close engagement with two "moments" from the first decade of the ILN. These examples are themselves rooted in, and constitutive of, certain binary pairs, metonymically related to the primary opposition, inside/outside: freedom/confinement (a description and accompanying illustrations of the newly-built Pentonville Prison); and picturesque/unsightly (Dorsetshire's peasantry and the living conditions of the poor). In both cases, disparities between interior and exterior promote the formation of a continuous readership by affiliating the reader with the most reassuring or auspicious location: being "on the outside" is established as the exempting franchise of the spectator. By providing the reader a route of escape away from the isolation or impoverishment of the interior, representations of the exterior in these two examples are axiomatic in the organizing and preservation of a gratified reading audience.2 It will become evident upon approaching some of the fixed simulacra3 which elaborate a visual rhetoric of interiority in the ILN that every word-picture combination has meaning only within a determined milieu and setting. A semiosis interested in the critique of ideology always asks, as does Marc Angenot, "What 'knowledge', what 'intentionality', what collective experience existed before" the semiotic moment (57)? With specific reference to the ILN, what are the social and cultural predicates upon which a drawing of an interior or exterior can signal certain comprehensible messages to the reader of the 1840s or the 1990s? "The semiotic operation," Angenot notes, sets up its subject, it appoints a receiver, it designates the world as a locus from which signification emanates and as a locus in which it is validated and to which it refers. (60) The task of a critical reading is therefore to engage, as interactive components, both the "world" as it is known by the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 142-161
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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