Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): an Encounter with Italy 2

Frontispiece to 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel
Frontispiece to 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel

The previous and the following blog posts were originally published as  “The origins of Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): the  combination novel, myths of the female artist and the commerce of art.” In: Anglistica Pisana. 6.1 (2009) Edizioni ETS, Pisa, Italy, pp. 77-85. ISBN 9788846725967. Please see the first post on the purely visual additions. This post mainly concerns the plot of the novel.

Pascarèl opens with a third-person description of Carnival in Verona, a place familiar to all the novel’s expected readership through Romeo and Juliet, as the narrator points out (as so many commercial novels do, this one flatters us with what we already know). The heroine and principal narrator is Speronella, usually called the “donzellina”. She is the illegitimate daughter of a male English aristocrat (who abandons her when she is a child) and a female Italian opera singer who dies when the donzellina a little later. She has as a playfellow, ’Ino, a youth with a “pretty, curly, golden, Venetian head” (p.11).The plot begins with the donzellina, now fifteen, needing money to buy bread for her and her sole remaining guardian, an old nurse. What can she do but sing? ’Ino discourages her from singing in the opera, but suggests singing in the street instead. He plays the lute and she sings to the acclamation of an assembled crowd, a shower of coins, and the gift of a ring with a mysterious stone engraved with a pictures of the Fates. Soon after she hears the crowd cry “Pascarèl!” but instead of following the cry, she tries to run back to her nurse to give her money. She finds it hard to run laden with coins and

She sank down upon a flight of steps, her skirts glided from her hands, her treasures rolled to the ground and were scattered. She sobbed as if her heart would break.

‘That is ungrateful to the people, cara mia,’ said [’Ino] softly, ‘Is it that stone with the Fates that has chilled you?

 ‘Nay she is right,’ said a voice above them. ‘Count art by gold, and it fetters the feet it once winged.’

(Pascarèl, I: 22-3)

The voice belongs to the donor of the ring, but he disappears too quickly to be questioned. She realises suddenly that donor is Pascarèl and, immediately and shockingly, in the final paragraphs of chapter 2, the narrative voice becomes first-person, spotlighting in an extreme manner the very act of the story’s narration. The heroine has, through recognising the hero, been enabled to speak in her own voice. In the following six chapters she gives us her history. Returning to the opening time frame in chapter 9 but retaining her narrative voice, the donzellina reaches home. The nurse refuses money made in a shameful way on the streets and dies of starvation in the night, whereupon the donzellina goes in search of her father.

illus from Pascarel opp p. 163
Firenze Panorama: photo from Pascerel opp.p. 163

In Florence, she is found and taken up by Pascarèl. He turns out to be a wandering actor and improvisatore. They slowly fall in love in a curious process which comprises her listening to him rhapsodising over the virtues and beauties of Italy while they tour the towns and villages with his acting troupe. They exercise their art for money – only enough to live ‑ and for their own pleasure. This structure allows for poetic vignettes of specific places and edenic descriptions of natural phenomena which gratuitously interrupt the plot in the same way as the hero’s monologues. Pascarèl is thus able to combine guidebook with improvisations on politics and aesthetics, together with novel and (for those who know) autobiography.

PIsa Panorama dalla Torre della Cittadella, photo opp. p. 310
PIsa Panorama dalla Torre della Cittadella, photo opp. p. 310

When the heroine discovers that her beloved has been having an affair with a woman he had claimed was his sister, she flees back to Florence. She is eventually found and acknowledged by her father, who is now fabulously wealthy. Pascarèl, meanwhile, in despair at losing the donzellina, learns the importance of selfless political commitment, goes to fight in the Italian war of independence and returns a hero. To narrate Pascarèl’s adventures the novel finally allows him to speak in his own voice, rather than have it relayed through the donzellina’s consciousness. He has at last, it seems, discovered his own social role and identity. In his adventures he encounters ’Ino, who has developed a talent for drawing, and becomes his patron. ’Ino meets the donzellina in Florence and brings news of her to Pascarèl, having  also informed the donzellina about Pascarèl. She now gives up her new-found wealth and goes to find him, encountering him making a political speech in favour of Italian unification. He begins with a story of how St Michael created the Italian people from a “sunbeam …a mask of velvet, a poniard of steel, the chords of a lute, the heart of a child, the sigh of a poet, the kiss of a lover, a rose out of paradise, and a silver string from an angel’s lyre”, blessed with the smile of God (Pascarèl, III, p. 341). But then Satan in envy fired a poisoned arrow into the heart of this creation:

“Some call this barbed shaft Cruelty; some Superstition; some Ignorance; some Priestcraft; maybe its poison is drawn from all four; be it how it may, it is the duty of all Italians to pluck hard at the arrow of hell, so that the smile of God alone shall remain with their children’s children.

“Yonder in the plains we have done much ; the rest will lie with you, the Freed Nation.”

(Pascarèl, vol. III, p. 342)

Pascarèl goes on to urge his audience to think of Italy as a unified nation with a glorious history. “We are Italians,” he concludes with enormous dramatic effect. “Great as the heritage is, so great the duty likewise.” (Pascarèl, vol. III, p. 347).

The donzellina, like the audience, is overcome. Whereas before she had been critical or at most delighted by Pascarel’s power of story-telling, now she “worships” it, not in the uncomprehending way Folle-Farine had adored the art of her sculptor, but because she recognises the great social purpose to which it is being put. Of course, hero and heroine end united in bliss.

It will be evident from the foregoing summary that the narrative progresses from a commercial version of art, where the donzellina is forced to sing for bread, through an enraptured erotic art which is a aesthetic celebration of beauty, to one dedicated to social utility, a view of art consonant with what Diana Maltz has called “missionary aesthetics”.[1] For all that one may decry Pascarèl’s rhetorical commonplaces and sentimental allegory, his political intention is unambiguous.

This seeming political commitment is, however, constructed along commercial lines with the tried and tested formulae of a “combination novel”. Pascarèl has clear relations to several works, including Tricotrin (1869) which prefigures it by presenting as the central characters a waif heroine and an older male wandering genius who refuses to be fettered by convention. The most flagged up source is, however, William Morris’s closet verse drama Love is Enough which provides an epigraph and quotations right at the beginning of the novel and then right at the end. It is difficult to see how Morris’s poem could have informed the whole work, however. Love is Enough appeared in November 1872, while Pascarèl was published in just the February of the following year. The donzellina and Pascarèl may be like the emperor and empress in Morris’s frame narrative in that war separates them and love conquers all, but the dating does not permit more than a superficial deployment of the poem by Ouida. She may have been inspired to quote Morris’s poem at the proof stage, recognising its fit with her novel, but she cannot have known it well enough for it to act as a palimpsest. Rather, I believe the most significant models are two picaresque female kunstlerromanen, both key documents for generating the mythology of the women artist in the early nineteenth century, Madame de Staël’s Corinne and George Sand’s Consuelo.[2]

[1] Diana Maltz, British Aestheticism and the Urban Working Classes, 1870-1900: Beauty for the People, Palgrave, 2005.

[2] A reviewer of the French version (Pascarel, roman imité de l’Anglais, avec l’autorisation de l’auteur, trans. by J. Giraudin (Coulomnier, 1878), reviewed in Polybiblion, Revue Bibliographique Universelle, January 1879, 2nd series, vol. 9, pp. 18-20) remarked en passant on Pascarèl’s connection with Consuelo, but its link with Corinne has remained unobserved to my knowledge.

John Dicks, Publisher, and “Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works”

My thanks to Louis James for the gift some time ago of six volumes (bound as 3) plus 10 monthly numbers of Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works and, in anticipation, to Anne Humpherys’ ongoing research on Dicks and reprinting, to which this post is intended as a small contribution.

To both these remarkable scholars this post is dedicated.

advert of Dicks' various reprint series from Dicks English Library March 1884
advert for Dicks various reprint series from Dicks English Library March 1884

As William St Claire has assertively reminded us on more than one occasion, the bibliophile connoisseur’s fetishisation of the “original” – the first – edition of texts has often occluded how reprints are actually more valuable in telling us about the cultural penetration of texts. The first edition is always to some extent “experimental” on the market. The publisher may have a good idea of who it will sell to and how how many copies will be shifted but the risk remains that he (for Victorian publishers were overwhelmingly male) may be wrong. Reprint editions still carry this risk of course, but to a lesser extent: the publisher already knows that the first edition or, indeed, the many previous editions, have sold and how quickly, and may even have evidence about who bought it, how the critics understood it, and so on. To that extent the risk is less. But reprints can also be aimed at radically different markets, as when Ouida is repackaged and sold in 6d form at the end of the century. The launch of a text in a new market may meet with considerable success, or it may not, so we cannot say with absolute conviction that reprinting involves less risk than first printing.

dicks standard plays
List of Dicks Standard Plays, c. 1884

Anecdotally, one of the best selling series of reprints of the latter part of the nineteenth century comprised a periodical entitled Dick’s English Library of Standard Works. This was issued from one of the most successful London publishing houses of cheap fiction, John Dicks, on which there is almost no work at all outside an excellent volume privately published in 2006 by a descendant of the founder (Guy Dicks, The John Dicks Press, Lulu.com). Nonetheless, Dicks is certainly well known as a name not only to students of Victorian popular reading, to whom Bow Bells (1862-1897), Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper (1850-1967) and Reynolds’s Miscellany (1846-1869) along with Reynolds’s Mysteries of the Court of London  (1849-1856) are all familiar, but also students of the Victorian theatre, for without the over 1,000 “Dicks Standard Plays” (published at a penny each between 1864 and 1907), many theatrical pieces would not be available to us at all.

John Thomas Dicks was born in 1818 and entered the London printing trade aged 14 or 15 “in a very humble capacity” (says the Bookseller in its obituary of Dicks, 3 March 1881). Around 1841 he became “assistant to P. T. Thomas, the Chinese scholar, who at that time was carrying on the business of publisher, printer and stereotyper to the trade on Warwick Square”. In the mid 1840s he started to be associated with  G. W. M. Reynolds and in 1863 seems to have amassed sufficient capital to set up as a printer and publisher at 313, Strand, London, where he entered into formal partnership with Reynolds.  After Reynolds died in 1879, Dicks bought his name and copyrights from his heirs for a very considerable annuity.

A major part of Dicks’ business, however,  already comprised reprinting which he organised into several  series, including “Dicks’ Complete Shakespeare,” and of course “Dicks’ Standard Plays” (see the first illustration in this post).

A measure of Dicks’s commercial acumen is suggested by  his death (in 1881) at his villa in Menton, a resort in the south of France where the European and Russian nobility kept their winter villas. Dicks also had a large house, the Lindens (which no longer survives except in the name of a post-war housing estate), in the exclusive west London suburb of Grove Park, Chiswick (the location was not accidental, for not only does the nearby railway station go to Waterloo, from where Dicks could cross the river easily to his office, but census data reveal that his wife was born in Hammersmith, the next suburb east of Chiswick). His estate, valued at “under £50,000” – a very considerable sum –  was left to his widow Maria Louisa and his sons Henry and John (see Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010).  Clearly, cheap publishing and reprinting could be a very profitable business indeed.

The indefatigable journalist, gossip and bon viveur George Sala has an amusing anecdote at Dick’s expense, however, suggestive of how despite almost all authors’ interest in money, financial and cultural capitals might be inversely proportional to one another. It’s part of a longer story about his encounter at Nice with a “Captain Cashless”  –“ middle-aged, good-looking, well-preserved…  spent most of his money before he came of age; lived for several years on the credit of his credit; is a widower and spent every penny of his wife’s fortune” (Life and Adventures of George Augustus Sala, volume 2: 293). The Captain cannot understand where Sala gets his money from, but Sala feels he might

sala life and adventures vol 2 294
Sala, Life and Adventures, Cassell, 1895, vol 2: 294

Sala lets us know that he can just toss off this profitable magic, turning the lead of his scribbling pencil into financial gold he can spend (and no doubt dispend) in Monte Carlo with his friend the glamorous rake. His methods of income generation and expenditure here seem to mirror one another in their low “real” value: both are fun, light, silly, worthless entertainments; good times, easily come by, easily left; in all Victorian senses, “fast”. In an analogue of the bibliophile connoisseur’s dismissal of the reprint as repetition, Sala dismisses his tales as the result of iterable alchemical formulae or repeated tricks of prestidigitation he has learned in the trade. Yet besides their illustration of the distance between cultural and financial capitals, such stories by their very comedy can hide from us the very serious business sense that lies behind them. It’s not that the fun is deceitful – on the contrary, without it there would be no commercial success – but that it is only one side of the coin.

dicks english novels Reynolds the seamstress

Dicks English Novels no 102: Reynolds, The Seamstress

 Turning now more specifically to the reprinting side of Dicks’s business, in the 1870s  a series of 6d volume-form reprints under the generic title “Dicks’ English Novels,” began to be published: they cost 6d and seem to have started as reset versions of novels originally serialised in Bow Bells. They also recycled the original illustrations. Many other novels were soon added, including, after the copyrights had been secured, works by G.W.M. Reynolds (see the image on the right for an example). In the end almost 200 titles were published in this series (more of which below). It was so successful a second series was begin in 1894.

After his death, Dicks’s sons developed the reprint with Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works, a periodical consisting entirely of the  serial re-issue of well-known novels. It came out in the usual 3 formats: weekly comprising 16 pages with four illustrations (costing 1/2d); monthly, consisting of the weekly numbers for the month costing 3d, in orange covers comprising mainly adverts; and in volume form of 416 pages plus title page and frontispiece costing 1/6. “Dicks’ English Library” was a quarto – the same size and format as most 1d or 1/2d periodicals such as the London JournalBow Bells or Reynolds’s Miscellany – and was first published on 27 June 1883. It ran for 38 volumes right up to 2 March 1894 whereupon (just as with Dicks’ English Novels”) a new series was started. Percy B. St. John was the editor of the first few volumes (on whom see a subsequent post).

Dicks English Standard Library no1
Dicks English Standard Library no1
dicks standard library title page 1
dicks standard library title page 1


dicks standard library vol 1 frontispiece
Dicks Standard Library vol 1 frontispiece

A typical announcement for the periodical can be seen here, justifying its publication not (of course) in commercial terms but in those of Whig public utility  that could have come from the 1830s. (The following is from the Pall Mall Gazette, but similar adverts were placed all over the press)

pall mall gazette 21 June 1881 15 (2)
The Pall Mall Gazette 21 June 1881: 15

Besides the  list of authors above and the more obvious suspects in the world of Victorian popular fiction – G.W.M. Reynolds, Bulwer Lytton, Charles Lever, G.P.R James, Captain Marryat, Paul de Kock and Dumas ‑  also included were Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (and Percy Bysshe’s Zastrozzi, both illustrated by the well-known illustrator Frederick Gilbert – Shelley’s complete “Poetical Works” are published later in the series), Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter and Godwin’s Caleb Williams. Most intriguing (not least from the point of view of copyright) is the heavy presence of Dickens, including, later on, Dombey and Son as well as numerous individual tales.

The reissue of these texts cannot be taken to be an unalloyed index of popularity amongst the readers of cheap publications. The Dicks firm is clearly aiming at respectability and the aspirational reader keen to build up that sign of cultural capital, a “library” – the page numbers of each weekly and monthly number are incremental, asking the reader to keep them so as to build up the volume. The Shelley poetry may have been suggested by the revival of interest in him amongst the literati with Rossetti’s Moxon edition in 1870: it is a mark of what the public should aspire to rather than of already extant popular demand. Publication in this form is no indication that any particular author was read unless the author’s other works are also issued, and even then business reasons other than consumer demand may have prevailed – for example, copyrights might have been bought as a job lot in advance, and accordingly had to be exploited, or there were vacant pages that had to be filled with works whose copyright had lapsed. One also has to take into account what other works were serialised with, before and after any particular text, for it may be any or all of those that carried the periodical through rather than the particular text one is looking at.

What one also has to do is try to establish the publishing history of a series. Adverts are always useful for this and one on the monthly cover of “Dicks’ English Library” (October 1888) shows that by then 197 titles had been published in the “Dicks’ English Novels” series for example. The missing titles were presumably exhausted, but they can be identified by reference to other adverts elsewhere, either in other publications or earlier in the series (cf. the following with the first image of this post).

dicks english novels advert 1 October 1888
Advert from cover of Dicks’ English Library for Dicks English Novels, 1 October 1888

The history of the Dicks reprinting series has yet to be mapped: even a basic bibliography is lacking. After that is done, one of the many questions that can be answered concerns the relations of synergy between the various publication forms: for example, how far did the English Library reprint works previously available in the volume-form English Novels series? More complex questions can also be addressed, including the implications for the history of the canon, its creation, modification and its reception – if any – of the publishing choices of  this financially rich but status-poor house. The use of a garland of portraits of authors as a frontispiece for “Dicks Standard Library” suggests the prioritisiation of some authors over others: this prioritisation needs to be charted and compared to the number and positioning of authors actually published (a front-page author is lent greater prominence than one whose work starts on a middle page, for example).

These, and many other questions about this most interesting publisher, still await answers, and we look forward to them in due course.

Thomas Walker’s The Original 1835

Here is the first of an irregular series describing individual Victorian periodicals.

The title of the first is The Original. A lively, unillustrated 3d weekly 16-page miscellany (though its first issue comprised 12 pages and its last just 4),  it ran 20 May 1835 – 2 December 1835 for 29 numbers, coming out every Wednesday for 3d and also monthly in a wrapper (its last number, the 4-page issue, cost only a penny). It was published by Henry Renshaw, 356 Strand, London and printed by Ibotson & Palmer, Savoy Street.

The Original was directed mainly towards the male upper middle classes “aloof from sect and party” (no.1 p.2), concerned, as its “Preliminary Address” states, with “whatever is most interesting and important in Religion and Politics, in Morals and Manners, and in our Habits and Customs”, leavened with anecdotes and autobiography, in an attempt to raise “the national tone in whatever concerns us socially or individually”.

It was written entirely by Thomas Walker, the son of a Manchester manufacturer and Whig reformer. Walker was born in 1784, gained his B.A. and M.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1808 and 1811 respectively, and was called to the bar in 1812. In 1829, he became a police magistrate in Lambeth court. Six years later, he began The Original for, he claimed, two reasons. Firstly, it would provide “a constant and interesting stimulus to my faculties of observation and reflection” – in other words, it would act as a kind of public diary – and secondly, it would provide for the reader “an alternative diet of sound and comfortable doctrines blended with innoxious amusement” (“Preliminary Address”). Walker was, however, unable to maintain a constant flow of new material and reprinted material from works he had already published, the most substantial of these being the pamphlet Suggestions for a Constitutional and Efficient Reform in Parochial Government (1834).


In social and political terms, the periodical criticises both Tories and Whigs in the interest of “Truth”, both being presented as oligarchic at bottom. True democracy, Walker opines, implies attrition of centralised government and devolution to the parish level where future men of state can be trained. Walker is staunchly against the Poor Law and indiscriminate charity of all sorts, positing bad morals on an individual level as the root of poverty in Britain, citing his experience of the courts as evidence. In this sense,  it is a typical Whig/Radical miscellany of the 1830s.

The most famous and influential section of the miscellany in the nineteenth century and beyond was, however,  “Aristology; or, The Art of Dining”. Beginning in number 13 and continuing until number 22, it received particular favour in the Quarterly Review. It was eventually published separately in 1883 with the rather unlikely suggestion it become a school textbook, edited by no less than Sir Henry Cole, founder of the Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music – and the National School of Cookery. It is possible to see the influence of Brillat-Savarin’s famous Physiologie du Goût (1825) in Walker’s mixture of charming anecdote and pseudo-science. However, recipes are conspicuously lacking: unlike Brillat-Savarin, Walker concentrated on refining the delights of consumption rather than production. His work relates to the gastronomic literature associated with gentlemen’s clubs such as George Vasey’s Illustrations of Eating (1847) and J. Timb’s Hints for the Table (1859) rather than to practical cookbooks such as Esther Copley’s Cottage Comforts (1825), Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845) or Beeton’s Household Management (1861).

To the media historian the most interesting parts of The Original comprise an irregular series of addresses to the reader in which Walker describes in detail his processes of composition in the tone of intimate letters to a friend. This ironic and stylish self-reflexivity is actually, as Walker explains, the result of the pressures of periodical publication: he can’t think of what else to write about except the problem of what to write. Typical of the romantic journalist, this, like the pieces on dining, is a variant of the “subjectified occasionalism” discussed by Carl Schmitt almost a century ago whereby  “The romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity” (Schmitt, p. 17). One may disagree with Schmitt’s condemnation that the author may “take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and incomprehensible – either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically vicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic” (p. 17) but the widespread attempt to capitalise on – even monetarise – individual bodily experience is certainly characteristic of the time. The political implications of such a valorisation will be one of the tributaries that feed into individualism (about whose elater development I have written elsewhere). 

The last issue of The Original comprises mostly an “Address to the Reader” in which Walker begs leave to resume his periodical “the first Wednesday in March”, for “London living and authorship do not go well together”. He had become a celebrity: “My writings have latterly drawn upon me more numerous and cordial invitations than usual.” He was never able to fulfill this promise: after a short illness, he died in Brussels on 20 January the following year.

Useful Bibliographical References

Waterloo V: 3647 (NB information there erroneous)

editions 2-4, 1836, 1838, all published by H. Renshaw. I have not seen the 3rd edition. American editions were published certainly from 1837 e.g. by E.L. Carry & A. Hart in Philadelphia.

Walker, Thomas, The Original, 5th edition, edited and arranged under distinct heads, with additions by William A. Guy, M.B. Cantab, FRS, Renshaw, 1875

[Hayward, Abraham], review of The Original,Quarterly Review, February 1836

[Hayward, Abraham], The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomes, Murray, 1852

Schmitt, Carl, Politische Romantik, 1st edition 1919; 2nd and revised ed. 1925;  trans. as Political Romanticism by Guy Oakes, MIT Press, 1986

[Walker, Thomas], Aristology, or The Art of Dining, with Preface and Notes by Felix Summerly (i.e. Sir Henry Cole), G. Bell & Sons: London, 1881 (subsequently, with “The Art of Attaining High Health”, ed. by Philip B. M. Allan, P. Allan & Co.1921; also with a Preface by Brooke Crutchley and illus. by Lynton Lamb, in a limited edition of 500 copies, CUP, 1965)

“Walker, Thomas, 1784-1836” in the DNB.

Lynette Hunter, “Proliferating Publications: The Progress of Victorian Cookery Literature”, in Luncheon, Nuncheon and Other meals: Eating with the Victorians, ed. C. Anne Wilson, Alan Sutton, 1994, 51-70.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: a Study Guide. Before Reading the text

Introductory Remarks

before reading Camera Lucida

What follows in this and the following 2 posts comprises material I’ve found helpful to students to whom I’ve taught this text. The posts consists of a brief introduction to remind students of the context within which Camera Lucida needs to be read, followed by two posts of annotations that explain the references and highlight terms important to remember. Were Camera Lucida out of copyright, it would be a wonderful project to generate a proper intertext with students along these lines.
Note that this is not at all a summary such as can be found on the relevant Wikipedia page or by Kasia Houlihan. It is rather a guide to reading what can seem an opaque text.
There are fewer images than usual in this and the following posts for the very reason that Camera Lucida concerns images and how we react to them.

Camera Lucida is Barthes’ last work and is in many ways a summa of poststructuralist theory. It is a summa of Barthes’s life and work too. It was written after the death of his mother and before he died (perhaps committed suicide) in a traffic accident. It is Barthes at his most stylistically virtuosic and moving, a marriage of extreme aesthetic sensibility and emotion. Much concerned with “image”, a key concept in analyses of postmodernism, it also combines theory and fiction, “science” with autobiography.

Here are a few of the tenets of post-structuralism relevant to Camera Lucida. What’s important is that Camera Lucida identifies them, plays along with them so as to make them seem like “rules” — and then breaks those rules and shows their inadequacy in the very act of applying them so as almost to come up the other side and return to what looks at times like a sentimental humanism.

Þ      Images, like symbols in general, always mark the absence of the object they refer to. This idea derives from Lacanian psychoanalysis (which has influenced a great deal of French post-structuralism). We only need a symbol or image for something when we don’t have it itself (why look at a photo of your beloved when s/he is standing before you?)

Þ The effect that the object is present when we see an image of it is therefore illusory. The effect is found not only in emotional thought (when we look with delight at the photograph of an absent beloved and imagine that he or she is here with us now or that we are there with them) but also in what is supposedly pure rationality, philosophy. This is the fallacious “metaphysics of presence” that according to Derrida has bedevilled Western thought since Plato.

Þ The “full meaning” of something is the effect that we really and completely know what symbols or words (or a series of words) mean. This is the verbal equivalent of imagining that our beloved is present when we see a photograph of him or her. Since this is an illusion, according to post-structuralism, we cannot know what anything means completely. For that reason we cannot talk of the “essences” of anything or anyone (“The essence of Man is to….” “The essence of Woman is to…” “The essence of Photography is….”) or talk in vast generalised statements without qualifying them very specifically.

Þ Assuming that full meaning always eludes us can also lead to a kind of giggly naughtiness with words that is supposed to make the reader aware that the same set of symbols can mean many different things simultaneously. Thus we find lots of puns, and other kinds of word play that are not representable in sound but only graphically.

You’ll soon find that Camera Lucida is no ordinary theoretical text. For a start the word “I” appears on the very first page. It tells a story indirectly like some kind of experimental novel. If you treat it as a fictional text, the following questions become relevant.

  • Who is the “hero”?
  • What is he trying to do?
  • What is his quest?
  • How self-aware is he?
  • What does “working through” mean (in psychoanalytic terms)? What is the hero “working through”? Does he succeed?

Camera Lucida refers to many other texts (as all texts do) but it seems to me that one of its most obvious palimpsests [1] is the classical Roman poet Vergil’s epic poem the Aeneid.

To judge the truth of this

  1. compare the number of books in the Aeneid with the number of sections in the Barthes
  2. consider the position and meaning of the word “palinode” in Camera Lucida (see the notes in the next posts for where this occurs)
  3. above all, compare the story-line of Camera Lucida with Book VI of the Aeneid

The Aeneid is both an epic and a poem. Try bringing the techniques you have learnt for reading poetry (extreme attention to detail, style and structure) to reading Camera Lucida.

NB another classical text you may like to read in conjunction with Camera Lucida is Plato’s Phaedrus – available online at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html.

The comments and observations in the following posts are my own (though of course derived from a variety of sources). They do not claim in any way to be authoritative or complete. All I have done is to supply indications regarding some texts to which Camera Lucida refers more or less explicitly, together with suggestions about how the work may be read (drawing attention to word-plays, recurrent terms, themes, etc.).

There is no reason for there to be only one answer to any of the questions: many are there to help you by pointing out terms whose meaning readers of Camera Lucida will need to remember to read the rest fluently.

The next post will explain references, suggest certain terms be noted and remembered so as to help with following the argument, and offer questions to reflect on.

[1] A palimpsest was in medieval times a manuscript that had been cleaned of writing so that new writing could be placed upon it. In modern literary terminology it refers to a kind of sub-text that lies underneath a text and to which it makes reference, usually covert and indirect.

Literature in Transit: Histories of the Book in the Twentieth Century Book. Part 1 – Definitions

This month’s series of blogs will concern how we can think of changes in book publishing in the UK over the course of the twentieth century.
It’s really a set of pedagogical blogs, offering a framework to students for how to think through long term changes in the media industries. The eight categories I’ll propose I’ve used successfully as a checklist for students to write their own histories of specific media. I’ve treated publishing as a model case study so that students in groups can produce something on their own chosen medium by following the same set of headings.
It’s worked pretty well: students like the prescriptive structure and group work.
One possible heading that isn’t here is the changing nature of how publishing (or any other media industry) is financed. I tried to include it once but students didn’t get it: it’s just too complicated at this level when taught with other headings. I left financing models out of subsequent frameworks and, perhaps wrongly, it will be omitted from this set of blogs too.
First of all, though, I wanted to explain the importance of paying careful attention to the title of the question, which is why I start with a few basic definitions from which the rest of the “essay” should depend.

This series of four blogs will be almost entirely concerned to think through the terms of the title Literature in Transit: Histories of the Book in the Twentieth Century.

For what can we mean by “Literature” in a century that saw Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and Barbara Cartland? Why should it be “in transit?” Why are we concerned to look again at the idea of the “book” in this electronic age when “books” are dying out? Perhaps most bizarre of all, I also want to query what we mean by “Twentieth Century“.

Defining the terms of my title will, perhaps curiously, enable me to sketch a history of book publishing mainly in Britain in the twentieth century, up to and including the internet revolution. It will also enable me to reflect on what we need to study in any large-scale historical analysis of a communications medium.

First of all then, we need to consider what a book might be.
I’m taking it to be a specific kind of information storage and transmission technology, and in that sense comparable to music recording or film. Of course it’s very different from them as well: it’s a material thing that has a specific and material history. Yet we mustn’t forget that it is fundamentally an earthly avatar with a traceable biography – a life indeed – of a much more intangible and abstract concept. If today we don’t often think of the book as a storage and transmission technology – while we do think of computers in that way – it’s because the book has become naturalised, simply part of our everyday lives, so old it doesn’t need to be thought about except in rare instances like Craig Raine’s famous 1979 poem “A Martian sends a Postcard Home”:

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings —
they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.
I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

In the 1990s the new technologies of information storage and transmission woke us up to the fact that the book is just one manifestation of a more abstract concept. Today these technologies enable a text such as this where the history of the the book avatar is discussed. It’s only when lay people outside the book production industry are compelled to compare the book with other avatars of the same concept that we begin to reflect on the specific technologies of the book, its form, its history and its effects.

Literature I take to be the subset of information that comprises combinations of letters of the alphabet. This is what the original term letteraturameant in Latin – a writing formed of letters of the alphabet. The term applied to Greek or Latin as opposed to the Egyptian hieroglyphic mode of information storage or, as the philosopher Cicero suggests (following Plato), human memory. Literature may be encoded in books that appear on the market all at once or in other avatars of information storage and transmission such as periodicals, newspapers and pamphlets, and indeed now on the internet and in our computers. In defining literature by taking shelter in the etymological, I want to avoid for the moment the difference between high- and low-status information, Literature with a capital L and with a lowercase l. Again I think that it’s the new developments in information technologies that bring that distinction between high and low to the fore and lend it a particular urgency, especially for those of us involved in education.

Transit derives, of course, from the Latin verb “transire”, to go across, to pass from one state to another. In using it in my title I’m also thinking of the crossing that comprises the notion of the medium through which an author communicates with a reader. But of course “in transit” also suggests that the technology that enables literature is changing, passing from one state to another. At least since Marshall MacLuhan in the early 1960s we’ve thought about how the medium might be related to the message, how not only the medium itself alters but how this has an effect both on how the message is conceptualised by the author and by the reader – the message changes as the medium does. I won’t be writing about this much, but I will give a simple example – the novel as we commonly think of it depends for its existence upon technologies in paper production, cutting and binding as well as printing, not to mention technologies of distribution that allow publishers to get their wares to the consumer. They also depend upon a set of conventions about what certain kinds of information physically comprise. For most of the nineteenth century most novels published in book form were in 3 volumes and hardback.

Novels for us have become one volume – and not only that but paperbacks. I’ll be describing that particular technological transition from hardback to paperback in a later post. I just want to signal it here as probably the most important development in the twentieth-century material book as far as the reader is concerned.
A second association of “transit” that I want to foreground is the increasing perception of the motility of the written word. Once the dominant notion was “In scripta manent” – things remain through being written down – one thinks of the Ten Commandments carved in stone, immobile, resistant to the gnawing of time and the creativity of memory. The orthodoxy in the early twenty-first century is, however, that the printed word is always and everywhere in a transitional state. Texts are no longer considered self-contained units of meaning; rather we think of that each word as in a constant state of moving towards other words and states. Stasis, like fullness and completeness of meaning, are only illusions.

It may seem rather  absurd to query what an apparently simple term like the “Twentieth Century” means. The terms refers to a simple period of 100 years from 1900-1999. Yet my question derives from a consideration of periodisation in history, a question that anyone familiar with the defintion of, say, “Romanticism” and “Victorian” will know well. What does an arbitrarily defined chronological period mean in relation to events that actually occur? In this case, is the history of the book really to be bound by a hundred cycles of a planet around a star? George Eliot began Daniel Deronda with comments on the “make-believe of a beginning”; so here I began to query the notion that the twentieth century, in book publishing terms at least, lasted the 100 years between 1900 and 1999. As I will be suggesting, it can be argued that the twentieth century in publishing terms began in the late nineteenth, in the 1880s or even the 1850s. Alternatively, we might say that it began as late as the 1950s. It may have ended in 1992 – in which case it might be very short indeed, less than 40 years.

Now there are an enormous number of ways the twentieth can be related to the other terms in my title. I’ll be looking at just eight of the most important over the next three blogs.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 3

There is no sustained recent work on either Harriet or Leon Lewis, although there is a brief post on the both at http://www.ulib.niu.edu/badndp/lewis_leon.html and another on Leon (whose real name was Julius Warren Lewis) at John Adcock’s Yesterday’s Papers site.  Harriet has not benefited from the recent revival of Southworth and other American women writers. Most of the information about her in my London Journal book therefore came from the letters in the Bonner file in the New York Public Library. Brief obituaries of Harriet appear on 21 May 1878 in The New York Times (p.1), and The New York Herald (p.5) and a particularly affectionate one in the New York Ledger itself (4 June 1878, p. 4), largely devoted to reproducing extracts from Harriet’s last letter to her editor Robert Bonner, with whom she entertained a very good relationship.

Leon and Harriet had married in 1856 when she was 15 and he 23 with already a very colourful career behind him. Leon was to run off with another 15 year old soon after Harriet died, aged 37, of a botched gynaecological operation). The copious letters from Harriet and Leon suggest that Leon blusteringly carried on the business and squandered their money while she laboured over the novels – including some under his name.

Yet it is a letter from Leon to Bonner that is particularly interesting for its revelations of how American writers dealt with the transatlantic market.

9 April 1873

Dear Mr Bonner

We hasten to return by first mail the London letter and to reply to the question with which you accompany it.

You refused us the proofs 4 years ago, saying (in substance) to Mrs L. that if she were to have them she would be likely to give undue prominence to the thought as to how the stories would suit over there, etc. (which, by the way, was a mistaken estimate of her character).

We or you or all of us have consequently had some $1500 or $2000 yearly less income during the period named than we might have had. Mr Johnson, of the London Journal, and others have repeatedly written to us to this effect, but we never replied to more than one in ten, and then only to say (you having refused us proofs) that they were not at our disposal, etc.

The next thing in order of course were offers for original stories – i.e. for manuscripts – but a like answer was returned, although the offers made exceeded any sums that had ever been paid anywhere by anybody for anything in the line of stories.

And under this state of things it became a question with Sunday English publishers as to which of them would derive the most benefit from republishing from the regular Monday Ledger Mrs L.’s stories.

That is a race of printers of which we do not propose to constitute ourselves the time-keepers. We can do no less, however, than except Mr. Johnson, of the Journal, from the general condemnation. True, he reprinted the stories without authority and without paying for them – (since he could’nt [sic] have them for pay) – but he has done so under certain conditions which command attention from their rarity:

1st – He has given the name of Mrs L. and even given her a standing qualification of “celebrated American authoress”

2nd – The London Journal is of ten times more literary importance and pecuniary value than all the rest of the story papers of the British Empire kingdom [sic] put together. The sum of $3,750,000 (£750,000) has been vainly offered for it to our own certain knowledge. [Here an unidentified extract from a book or magazine is pasted into the letter claiming the excellence of The London Journal. The sum Leon quotes is absurd]

3rd – During our stay in London in ’71, (as we must have told you upon our return) Mr Johnson called upon us at Morley’s [Hotel], offered us every civility, private boxes at theatres, invitations and introductions, etc. and upon the last day of our stay pressed upon Mrs. L a roll of bank [sic] of England notes, as an acknowledgement of the good he had derived from the stories, even in the face of sharing them with everybody else and under all the adverse circumstances – at which time he renewed his offers for proofs, as also for stories written expressly for him.

And now is this Mr Fiske [Amos Kidder Fiske (1842-1921), editor of the American fiction paper, The Boston Globe] more to you than we are that you should “aid and abet” him with the proofs you have so expressly refused to us, and so drag our names into a wretched squawk of a paper that could not possibly last three months, and during this period exist only in obscene contempt? After all you have been to us and we to you – after all we know of your heart and brain – we shall require your written declaration of preference in favour of Mr. F. before we will believe it!

Excuse scratches. We write in haste to catch the mail.

Ever yours,

Leon and Harriet Lewis

For all Leon’s protestations, The London Journal must have been supplied with advance copy of Harriet’s novels since 1869 (when Leon had first asked Bonner for proofs of her novels). Even more consistently than Southworth novels, Harriet’s appear in the New York Ledger and The London Journal at the distance of only a few weeks at most – anyone could work out that for that to happen advance sheets must have been sent across the ocean. No wonder Leon doesn’t want to be a timekeeper in what he calls the “race of printers” – Bonner no doubt had already made his calculations and come to the logical conclusions.

Leon’s also anxious to redefine the tag he claims The London Journal gave to Harriet. This was – he’s right – placed under her name in all of her novels  until Edda’s Birthright, published in The London Journal and the Ledger 3 months after Leon wrote the letter transcribed above. But the tag of “celebrated American authoress” was only part of a longer notice. What the notice actually said was that The London Journal’s was “[t]he only edition in this country sanctioned by this celebrated American authoress”. The full tag was less a celebration of Harriet than an assertion of right.

The tag had been prompted in the first instance by the appearance of Lewis novels in The London Reader, a magazine run by no less than George Stiff, the former owner of The London Journal, from right next door. While almost all London Reader serials are anonymous and with altered titles and sometimes names of principal characters changed, it’s hard to trace the originals, yet it had carried novels with Leon’s signature in 1866-7 (The House of Secrets, 4 August 1866 – 12 January 1867) and in mid-1867, followed by one with Harriet’s, The Golden Hope. More recently, the Reader had somehow published The Hampton Mystery, a version of Harriet’s first novel in The London Journal, The Double Life; Or, The Hampton Mystery a fortnight earlier than the magazine which was published literally next door, The London Journal – which was, it seems, now forced into declaring that it alone had the only sanctioned edition. Since the original had been published in America at exactly the same date as in Reader, it was impossible for Stiff to obtain a copy and put it into print by anything other than advance sheets. Later, Harriet’s Tressilian Court (1871) will likewise appear in The London Reader a week before The London Journal’s version, and Lady Chetwynd’s Spectre (1873) at exactly the same time.

What’s happening here? One possibility is that Stiff was raiding the mail intended for his former magazine and now rival next door. While he’d certainly done this sort of thing before, there are other possibilities too.

It is clear from the Bonner letters that Leon was a spendthrift and a gambler. After Harriet had procured fame and a good deal of money for them both since first appearing in the Ledger in 1862 (aged 15 and already married to Leon), he had sunk very deeply into debt. Bonner, who was clearly very fond of Harriet, kept lending the Lewises money which she would pay back by writing several serials simultaneously for him under both her and Leon’s name (romances under hers, adventure stories under his): eighty-one numbers spread over five novels managed to pay off $6075 at half rates. It seems to me very likely that the Lewises sent The London Journal AND The London Reader – and quite possibly other magazines that I have yet to discover –  advance copies of Harriet’s works to increase their already huge but always insufficient income.

What I’ve hoped to show in this and the previous blog posts is that in the cases of these three women – May Agnes Fleming, E.D.E.N. Southworth and Harriet Lewis – one cannot talk of “piracy” in the sense of a foreign publisher robbing an author. Two of the women had “exclusive” contracts with their American publishers which they broke quite legally by dealing also with publishers in Britain. Even when apparently straight piracy occurred, as with some novels by Southworth and Fleming, the writers still benefited from this in the end.

As we have come to realise more and more, nineteenth-century women writers were by no means all victims of a male publishing establishment. These three indeed, through translation, achieved a global circulation far beyond the transatlantic anglophone axis that I have focussed on here. In that sense they prefigure Hollywood by a good two generations – they are Hollywood’s grandmas indeed. The implications of that must await another set of posts.

G.W.M. Reynolds’s Mysterious London

It’s hardly surprising that cities demand technology to make sense of them: after all, they are products of technology. Even the most ancient ones (which to us would have been no more than small towns) depended on technology for their creation and maintenance. A former director of the Archaeological Institute in London, Vere Gordon Childe,  listed the technology of writing as the 6th of 10 essential ingredients in an ancient  city (you can see the whole article dating from 1950 here: http://faculty.washington.edu/plape/citiesaut11/readings/Childe-urban%20revolution%201950.pdf). Writing was necessary to record the division of labour – for in cities not everyone works in the fields or hunts to support themselves. Rather we share resources. Tasks are divided amongst us as some people are better than others at certain things. Some plan or dig irrigation canals (or Victorian sewers) and get given food by the people who grow more and better crops as a result of the irrigation (or money to buy food in Victorian times). Others again specialise in regulating this division of labour and the sharing of resources.  The scribes who wrote down who had done what, who owned what, who exchanged what for something else in what proportion (labour, cattle, wheat) are amongst these regulators of society. Does the same go for *fiction* writers?

A hard, an impossible, question perhaps. But I’m intrigued that I felt compelled to start thinking about cities and technology by going back to the past – exactly as G.W.M. Reynolds does at the opening of The Mysteries of London.

I’m never sure of how to take those opening paragraphs though. They talk about the move of “Civilisation” from the East to the West. Straight away London is put into a huge historical time frame, exactly as I’ve done above. Are we to understand that history halts in London, that “Civilisation” has come home to stay? Well, no. That’s one of the many interesting things about Reynolds’s mammoth serial – it and almost everything it describes is always on the move. No sooner do we hit “Civilisation” than we find its necessary counterpart “Vice”, then Wealth – and Poverty. These binary oppositions don’t seem to fix each other in their places though. Rather such oppositions seem to enter into a dialogue with one another. We see the virtuous, effeminate young man in Smithfield but it doesn’t require much careful reading to realise that that he is is a she. Eliza travels across gender binaries – but how easily? Gender is a major concern of the text. While the  The Mysteries are very explicit about the nature of “WOMAN”, the nature of masculinity is vexed too: already in chapter 2 we find the two brothers, the elder descending into the city below the hill, the younger remaining on its height.

What other binaries does Reynolds present us with in this text? Sometimes it seems to me that the whole text is very strictly organised on a series of binaries. But the binaries don’t  comprise fixed pairs of opposites. Rather they are in constant dialogue with one another, and keep transforming as a result of that dialogue – dialectic indeed.  However, I do wonder if there are less obvious but more fixed binaries that this text is organised upon.

I’m thinking of a binary that I set up in the first Mysteries of London blog: technology and the body. I claimed we needed tech to understand the city as a whole. The Mysteries can, of course, only exist as a result of the technologies of writing and printing, but it’s a very curious and uncomfortable – perhaps ungainly – use of  that technology. It came out as a serial in weekly parts of 8 pages, with an illustration that headed each weekly part.

You might expect each issue to follow a pattern of, first, reprise to remind readers who the characters were and what the plot was, followed by further plot developments, and then a cliff-hanger at the end. But it’s obvious from looking at where the pages end that this was not the case. It was quite normal for each weekly number to end in the middle of a sentence! The above image, the first page of a weekly part, shows very clearly, even if you can’t read the words very clearly, that the 1st sentence is a run-on of a sentence begun the previous week. The issue number is printed at the bottom of the page (the above is number 42).

What can we make of these very technologically determined methods of story telling? Are we to understand that the serial is to be understood not as a serial such as we understand it but rather as a book issues in pieces — as a kind of book paid for in instalments that will only be complete when the title page is issued?

Is London like this book – graspable only in parts, in fragments that by themselves don’t make sense – that don’t even pretend to make sense?

Technology here promises wholeness, complete understanding — but does it really deliver? Do we really understand the city by circling the air on the London Eye?