Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain

This book offers an innovative reassessment of the way Victorians thought and wrote about visual experience. It argues that new visual technologies gave expression to new ways of seeing, using these to uncover the visual discourses that facilitated, informed and shaped the way people conceptualised and articulated visual experience. In doing so, the book reconsiders literary and non-fiction works by well-known authors including George Eliot, Charles Dickens, G.H. Lewes, Max Nordau, Herbert Spencer, and Joseph Conrad, as well as shedding light on less-known works drawn from the periodical press. By revealing the discourses that formed around visual technologies, the book challenges and builds upon existing scholarship to provide a powerful new model by which to understand how the Victorians experienced, conceptualised, and wrote about vision.

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Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain Seeing, Thinking, Writing

Jonathan Potter

Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture Series Editor Joseph Bristow Department of English University of California - Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA, USA

Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture is a monograph series that aims to represent the most innovative research on literary works that were produced in the English-speaking world from the time of the Napoleonic Wars to the fin de siécle. Attentive to the historical continuities between ‘Romantic’ and ‘Victorian’, the series will feature studies that help scholarship to reassess the meaning of these terms during a century marked by diverse cultural, literary, and political movements. The main aim of the series is to look at the increasing influence of types of historicism on our understanding of literary forms and genres. It reflects the shift from critical theory to cultural history that has affected not only the period 18001900 but also every field within the discipline of English literature. All titles in the series seek to offer fresh critical perspectives and challenging readings of both canonical and non-canonical writings of this era. More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14607

Jonathan Potter

Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-­ Century Britain Seeing, Thinking, Writing

Jonathan Potter Coventry University Coventry, UK

Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture ISBN 978-3-319-89736-3    ISBN 978-3-319-89737-0 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0 Library of Congress Control Number: 2018952939 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Paul Fearn / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


This book developed from a PhD thesis that I completed at the University of Leicester in 2015. As such, a great deal of gratitude goes to my supervisors Holly Furneaux and Douglas Tallack for their indispensable insight, encouragement, and advice throughout. Warm thanks also go to the research community at Leicester for untold help and support across many discussions, seminars, reading groups, and pints of beer. I would also like to thank the series editor, Joseph Bristow, for his thorough and critical editing and advice. The post-PhD wilderness can be a difficult place, and my family and friends deserve much gratitude for patiently supporting and humouring me over the last few years. In particular, I would like to thank my parents who have always encouraged and nurtured my intellectual curiosity, even when it took me to strange places, and my wife’s parents whose many roast dinners always provide a very welcome respite. Finally, the unsung hero of all my work is my wife Claire, without whom this would never have made it to publication.



1 Introduction   1 2 The Panorama and Simultaneity: The Panoramic Desire to See Everything At Once  21 3 “Lost in Air”: The Magic Lantern and Visual Experiences of Balloons and Dreams  47 4 The Dissolving View and the Historical Imagination  69 5 Visions of Thought: Mid-century Science and Visual Knowledge 109 6 “Hocus Focus”: The Stereoscope and Photography 145 7 The Networked World: The Psychopathology of Simultaneity 183 8 The Web of Realities in H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad: A Fractal Episteme 213




9 Conclusion. The Technological Imagination II: The Start of the Twentieth Century 235 Bibliography 245 Index 265

List of Figures

Fig. 4.1 Fig. 4.2 Fig. 4.3 Fig. 4.4 Fig. 4.5 Fig. 4.6 Fig. 4.7 Fig. 4.8 Fig. 4.9 Fig. 4.10

J.M.W. Turner. War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet. 1842 J.M.W. Turner. Peace – Burial at Sea. 1842 Section from an Advertisement for Royal Adelaide Gallery. A splendid exhibition. c. 1842. (© The British Library Board. Evanion Collection) “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) Dissolving view slide #1 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) Dissolving view slide #2 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) Dissolving view slide #3 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

70 71 73 74 81 82 83 90 91 92




Fig. 4.11 Fig. 6.1 Fig. 7.1 Fig. 9.1 Fig. 9.2

Dissolving view slide #4 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter) 93 Stereoscopic card of two boys fighting. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)153 Clementina, Lady Hawarden. Stereoscopic photograph of her daughter, Clementina Maude. c. 1862–1863. (Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum) 187 Georges Méliès. La Lanterne Magique [The Magic Lantern]. 1903236 Georges Méliès. La Lanterne Magique [The Magic Lantern]. 1903236



How is vision experienced? In what ways can visual experience be articulated? What points of reference might be used to communicate what it was like? How might someone who did not share the experience be made to understand it? What roles do technologies play in these questions? This book considers these as historical questions, seeking to answer them within the historical situation of Victorian Britain. What is uncovered is a range of visual discourses that facilitated, informed, and shaped the way people conceptualised and articulated visual experience. The following pages form a detailed examination of discursive modes of expression alongside modes of perception in order to trace how sight, thought, and text converged to shape ideas and experiences in the nineteenth century. The purpose of this examination is twofold: first, to deepen our understanding of the roles played by visual technologies in imaginative cognition and perceptual experience; and, second, to move away from a paradigmatic historicising of monodynamic visual “experience” to a pluralistic understanding of polydynamic “experiences” which, while involving metaphors, figures, and discourses, often pushed back against these cultural forces in expressions of singular individuality. One of the arguments of this book is that the relationship between cultural discourse and individual subjectivity is constantly under negotiation in the nineteenth century and always open to intervention and interpretation. Paradigmatic

© The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_1




models are useful for understanding one-half of this relation, but the other half requires a sensitivity to the individual, the contingent, and the ­singular. Equally, individual vision is not isolated vision and so must be understood, in part, through its discursive relations.1 In the decades since visual theory came to cross-disciplinary prominence in the 1980s, often captured using the term “visuality,” there has been a wide range of impressively detailed work on visual culture and its wider historical relations. Yet, as Nicholas Mirzoeff reminds us, the term “visuality” is not modern at all but was first coined by the eminent Victorian social commentator and philosopher Thomas Carlyle in the 1830s.2 It is perhaps, then, unsurprising that visual theory has in particular been embraced by scholars working in nineteenth-century studies, a field which has seen a proliferation of studies, either wholly or in part, concerned with visual culture. These studies have especially been influenced by Jonathan Crary’s argument that the nineteenth century experienced a broad cultural transition from objective to subjective perception that echoes into our present day.3 Alongside this argument, other theorists such as Martin Jay and W.J.T. Mitchell have suggested theoretical models for understanding visuality through concepts like “scopic regimes” and “hypericons.”4 These theoretical perspectives have then been fleshed out by wide-ranging historical work from scholars working in Victorian studies who have given richly historicised accounts of nineteenth-century forms of visuality.5 Despite this wealth of valuable work, however, a clear picture of the interactions between the different facets of nineteenth-­ century visual culture has yet to emerge. The writing of this book was motivated by two questions: how was perceptual experience mediated by nineteenth-century British culture, and what effects did this mediation have on the way experiences were conceptualised and articulated? From these questions are derived the following hypotheses: 1. Spatio-temporal experience of the world has historically been primarily understood through visual perception and through images.6 2. In the nineteenth century, there was a significant increase in the development and accessibility of visual technologies which generated and replicated new ways of seeing.7 3. The nineteenth-century explosion in print culture radically enhanced the ability of textual and visual sources to shape individual processes of conceptualisation and articulation.8



4. This ability was practised, unconsciously and consciously, through cultural discourses formed around specific parameters of visual experience. While fluctuating across boundaries between texts and contexts, these discourses were most easily and most often expressed using visual technologies as relatively concrete commonalities. 5. These discourses were not intrinsically reductive but could be constructive. 6. This process, as a whole, constitutes an unprecedented cultural coupling of the technological with the imaginative. The first of these hypotheses was already clichéd enough in 1888 to have prompted Friedrich Nietzsche’s facetious plea for philosophers to consider their noses and the sense of smell rather than continuing to privilege visual perception.9 The last of these hypotheses has been broadly propagated, often implicitly rather than as explicit argument, over the last couple decades of scholarship.10 However, there remains much to be learned about the historically specific discursive processes through which visual experiences were shaped. It is the contention of this study that perceptual experience, and specifically visual experience, was in many instances conceptualised and articulated via identifiable discourses using visual-­ technological metaphor and reference (the discursive process iterated in hypotheses 3–5).11 This book, then, begins at the conceptual end—with the idea of the “technological imagination”—in order to untangle the discursive formations and counter-formations by which this operated and came into being. Part of the motivation for this approach is the sense that our current understanding of nineteenth-century visuality is sometimes unwittingly caught between broad cultural trajectories and highly detailed explorations of specific works and contexts. Between this breadth and depth, it can be difficult to understand how the complications of the singular inform, and are in turn informed by, their interrelations with the broader whole. This book hopes to clarify these interrelations by showing that texts, media, and technologies operated within specific and identifiable discursive formations that Victorian readers and writers were aware of and, in some cases, made conscious efforts to utilise. As will be seen, many of these discourses were organised around visual-­ technological metaphors. Terry Castle explains, for example, how discourses of “spectrerealization” were organised around the metaphor of the phantasmagoria to communicate the “absorption of ghosts into the



world of thought.”12 Such an example shows us the importance of perceptual-­technological metaphors. Without the central metaphor—the phantasmagoria—writers are left grappling with two abstract and intangible phenomena: ghosts and thoughts. The metaphor tethers the unfamiliar and the abstract to the concrete and familiar. Such discursive practices were as common as the technologies and shows they utilised, and constituted an unprecedented association between mechanical technological operation and imaginative cognition which for ease I have designated the “technological imagination.” Beginning with the end as it were, it is helpful to consider here what kinds of relations are implied by a term such as “technological imagination.” The following section will give a brief overview of the changing relations of technology (in my account, primarily visual) and the imagination during the course of the nineteenth century.13 From this overview, we can then begin the process of reverse engineering these relations to investigate the building blocks that form them—the discourses that shape and inform the many singular moments and events that, en masse, constitute what might be termed “culture.”

The Technological Imagination In 1855 Lewis Carroll wrote a short story about a “recent extraordinary discovery in Photography,” which, “as applied to the operations of the mind, has reduced the art of novel-writing to the merest mechanical labour.”14 The story, written in the style of a news article, describes a machine which transcribes narrative fiction directly from the human brain. It is powerful enough that “the ideas of the feeblest intellect, when once received on properly prepared paper, could be ‘developed’ up to any required degree of intensity.”15 The narrative follows the machine’s development of a story taken from the mind of a young man of the “very weakest possible physical and mental powers.”16 The story is mechanically intensified from the “milk-and-water School of Novels” into “the strong-­minded or Matter-of-Fact School” and finally into “the Spasmodic or German School.”17 In this way, Carroll’s fictional machine, a kind of daguerreotype camera for narrative imagination, realises a fluidity between the visual and the textual, and the technological and the imaginative, that was recurrent in nineteenth-century culture. Indeed, questions about the relationship between the technological and the psychological, between artistic creation and cultural production, strike at the core of nineteenth-­century culture and echo deep into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.



Beyond this short story, Carroll exhibited a comfortable familiarity with the newly important roles technology and visuality played in creative and artistic endeavours. Examples include his well-known interest in photography but also his frequent, sometimes implicit, references to visual and scientific equipment such as telescopes, microscopes, mirrors, stereoscopes, photographs, glass prisms, and, of course, chemicals that cause one to shrink or grow. These are all interests that were widely explored in the popular periodical press and in the wealth of fiction and non-fiction books that proliferated during the nineteenth century. Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Jabberwocky” (1871) might, in this way, be considered as a literary expression of scientific discussions of the building blocks of language. Carroll would, after all, go on to invent a new linguistic form for his “Nyctograph,” a device he invented to allow him to take notes without having to light a lamp when inspiration struck late at night. Carroll’s poem, in its appearance in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), is written in mirror writing and thus viewable only through the medium of a common everyday visual instrument. The poem itself deconstructs language into nonsense words comprised of phonic elements devoid of recognisable meaning. Yet these words are not complete nonsense—readers can construct meanings based on syntax and homonymic patterns. Carroll even wrote detailed commentaries for the poem, offering definitions and etymologies that are often witty and mimic those one might find in a dictionary. Such attention to the construction of language had been a feature of popular scientific discussions of technological innovation. The American physician, Jacob Bigelow, for example, considered linguistic formation in his book Elements of Technology (1829) which explained the new technological “arts.” Here Bigelow gives an account of printing presses that offers a speculative history of the development of language (including Chinese and Ancient Egyptian languages). Bigelow writes: “History must have remained uncertain and fabulous, and science been left in perpetual infancy, had it not been for the invention of written characters.”18 Bigelow’s emphasis on the importance of language and his practical deconstruction of its elements (to explain, for instance, that the most common letter in the English language is the letter “e”) indicate how, for some, language and thought were linked as a kind of technology which might be scientifically examined or even potentially experimented upon (as perhaps is demonstrated in Carroll’s poem).19 A good example of the broad importance that the Victorians ascribed to the relations between imagination and technology is provided by the



poet Richard Horne who, in the preface to his novel The Dreamer and the Worker: A Story of the Present Time (1851), sought to explain his title: the “Dreamer and the Worker” are “synonymous with the Idealist and the Realist, the Poet and the Mechanic, Theory and Practice, Thought and Action.”20 Yet despite what readers might assume, these are not “violent antithetical contrasts,” and Horne is emphatic that “our practical friends” should not be validated by “knocking down all abstract thinkers.” Instead, abstract thinkers are essential to practical invention, and imagination, far from being an unproductive waste of time, is an instrument of invention: “What things he [the Dreamer] sees and fore sees, what practicable structures for the future, he may dream—that is the grand question for large-­ minded men.” To Horne, the dreamer is in fact “a working man” just like practical workers, mechanics, and (intriguingly) realists. But only, Horne’s qualification makes clear, “if he dream to good purpose.” That is, dreaming must have an end product. Reminiscent of John Tyndall’s famous lecture on the scientific uses of the imagination two decades later, Horne’s formulation is both a relation between technology and imagination and a relation between the world and the self. It is a teleological appropriation of imaginative abstraction for industrial or practical purpose. If, as in Bigelow’s work, technology is taken in a broad sense to mean practical arts, then making the imagination practical is a reformulation that itself mimics technological processes. The crux of the relations between technology and imagination, the very purpose of the “dreamer,” is visual: it is “what things he sees and fore sees.” In many Victorian machine narratives, it is impossible to separate out the visual from the technological. Or, taken the other way around, in Victorian discourses of vision, it is often impossible to separate out the technological. To think of imaginative acts and experiences like dreams and novel writing in terms of the mechanical or technological is, of course, a stark contrast to the attitudes of Romantic writers at the start of the century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for instance, considered similar questions about the senses, language, nature, and art but drew radically different conclusions. In his essay On Poesy or Art (1818), he writes: The primary art is writing;—primary, if we regard the purpose abstracted from the different modes of realizing it, those steps of progression of which the instances are still visible in the lower degrees of civilization. First, there is mere gesticulation; then rosaries or wampum; then picture-language; then hieroglyphics, and finally alphabetic letters. These all consist of a translation of man into nature, of a substitution of the visible for the audible.21



Like later Victorian writers, Coleridge is interested in the development of the arts as extensions or expressions of the senses and the mind. He positions poetry and art as important negotiations between external nature and internal thought so that a measure of art’s success is its ability to present nature as a way of conveying an ineffable aspect of the internal and spiritual. Coleridge advises that the artist must “master the essence, the natura naturans, which presupposes a bond between nature in the higher sense and the soul of man.”22 Coleridge’s concern is that nature must not simply be copied or reproduced (as in, for instance, waxworks) because this focusses on the external signs of nature and so does not successfully reconcile the external and internal. To this end, Romantic writers tended to distance themselves from the growth of popular visual media which, although often spectacular, they felt did not contain the spiritual or psychological elements required for true art. Such distaste resulted in the term “material sublime” to denote these new popular experiences which, although superficially sublime, did not give sufficient attention to the object’s internal qualities.23 It seems more than coincidental that aesthetic and artistic theories should, at the nascent stages of specialised disciplinary science (including, notably, psychology and sociology), turn close attention to relations of the self, the mind, and the soul, in ways that question the values of empirical vision and realist representation. Framed in this way, Romantic attention to the internal could be considered a reaction to the initial stage of a broad long-term cultural integration of technological reproducibility and the artistic or imaginative act of creation and representation. The movement of the nineteenth century, in aesthetic terms at least, can be conceptualised as a shifting from the Romantic sublime via the material sublime to what Leo Marx calls the “technological sublime”—a harmonisation between people and nature via the interceding spectacle of technological power (replacing the natural power that inspired the early Romantics).24 Such movement was not, nor could ever be, a linear progression but involved all the contradictions, meanderings, and oscillations that are symptomatic of any broad cultural change. The complexity of Romantic relations between the imagination and the material world, alongside the problematic and growing spread of commercialised and mass-produced visual media, has been the subject of a variety of recent work.25 Yet, as Sophie Thomas points out, for all the apparent dislike of popular visual media, the Romantic period may also be considered as a “transitional moment in which visibility as a construct



achieves both cultural prominence and ideological force.”26 It is important to remember that although William Wordsworth may have lamented the by-then ubiquitous prevalence of illustration in his sonnet “Illustrated Books and Newspapers” (1845), William Blake often illustrated his own work, while popular illustrated books like Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820–1821) created entire fashions. It was, as Thomas Carlyle wrote in Signs of the Times (1829), the “Age of Machinery.”27 The protests of Romantic writers at the beginning of the nineteenth century were perhaps the first serious reactions to an explosive growth in technologically produced visual culture that had begun the century before. As such, although the Romantics are not the focus of this book, their ideas and their anxieties form the backdrop to many of the issues at stake. This book begins its discussion at the start of the Victorian period, following the transition from Romantic disdain for the vulgarity of visual copies and simulations to the technological familiarity and visual dexterity that distinguishes Carroll’s writing, to finish with a discussion of the new anxieties at the end of the century that were prompted by a sometimes overwhelmingly mediated and fragmented perceptual world. In order to avoid what Leo Marx calls the “hazards” of the concept of technology, it is useful to pause here to explain how I will use the term in the ensuing chapters.28 Despite being a predominantly twentieth-century word (although it was in sporadic use in the nineteenth century), I use the term “technology” to denote nineteenth-century ideas of the mechanical arts and applied science. This is in line with Bigelow’s use in Elements of Technology and, to a large extent, is helpful in avoiding some of the ­hazardous problems suggested by Marx. While it is occasionally necessary for the scope of my argument to use “technology” as an encapsulating word for a whole swathe of mechanical devices and scientific applications, within the construction of my argument and the marshalling of my evidence, I work hard to mitigate against generalisation wherever possible by considering individual devices, instruments, and applications, on their own merits and within their own terms. As noted in the beginning of this introduction, I am ever conscious of the pluralism of nineteenth-century visual media, discourses, and experiences. I try not to conflate one visual technology with another (although it can sometimes be useful to group technologies together) or to assume one observer’s experiences were the same as another’s. As Isobel Armstrong points out, there was not only one way to use or experience a device, but rather optical toys and devices “created ways of negotiating the image.”29



The following chapters examine these negotiations to understand more fully how technology and the imagination became entwined within nineteenth-­century British culture. I do not suggest this was a single or simple process or that this represents a limitation or containment of the seemingly infinite heterogeneity of imaginative experience (although, as will be seen, such containment was sometimes posited by Victorian scientists and philosophers). Rather, my primary goal is to uncover the discursive formations that acted as tools for understanding and articulating this wealth of plurality, giving conceptual and linguistic expression to experiences that sometimes seem to defy both expression and comprehension. Whereas the broad process of the technological imagination might be misconstrued in reductive and overly generalised ways, if it is understood through the distinct discursive practices that form its textual constituents, reductive generalisation is necessarily dispelled in favour of the singular and particular.

Seeing, Thinking, Writing: Experiences, Ideas, Narratives The Victorian period was marked by dramatic changes for both visual and print culture. Images became more and more ubiquitous as the processes of mechanically creating, reproducing, and printing them became ­increasingly efficient. Between 1840 and 1870, the number of books published each year increased by approximately 400 per cent, while periodical publications steadily grew in number.30 These periodicals increasingly relied on images as well as text, and the first illustrated newspaper, the Illustrated London News, was founded in 1841, as was the satirical magazine Punch which became famous for its cartoons and illustrations. Similarly, by the 1840s major exhibition spaces, such as the Egyptian Hall (opened in 1812), the Colosseum (opened in 1829), the Adelaide Gallery (opened in 1832), and the Royal Polytechnic Institution (opened in 1838), had become established centres of popular entertainment that crossed boundaries between print, object, and spectacle, as well as between education and entertainment. Richard D. Altick elegantly captures this media landscape, writing that the shows and exhibitions at these sites were “an alternative medium to print, reifying the word; through them, the vicarious became the immediate, the theoretical and general became the concrete and specific.”31 The approach taken here is to begin with the immediacy of sites and technologies, examining how they created visual spectacles that



were “concrete and specific” and then following this specificity outwards into the “theoretical and general” in popular print media. Such an approach aims to draw together image and text in a way that reflects their consumption by nineteenth-century audiences whose spatio-temporal experiences were often shaped and informed by mediated visual practices. Methodologically, this book is concerned with discursive formations that reiterate the perceptual processes of a given technology, relocating these processes from the actual into the imaginary where they guide conception and facilitate articulation of imaginative vision. In this manner, the book’s argument forms an extended examination of relations between ways of seeing, ways of writing, and ways of thinking. The aim is to draw these together to examine how what might begin as a visual experience might then be reproduced by a technological apparatus and then be textually reiterated, influencing conceptual processing along the way. This consideration of cognition is not only at the developed level of philosophical or scientific thinking but also at the more spontaneous level of the everyday experiences of daydreams and fantasies. These three types of visual expression are not, of course, mutually exclusive, and there is a great deal of overlap and reverberation backwards and forwards between them. As such, my approach often focusses on the intersections and overlaps between different kinds of perceptual performances. The principal phenomena under interrogation are the reciprocal influences of technological and empirical perception upon imaginative and psychological acts of perception. The relation is not a fixed causation but a fluid intersection of perceptual modes. Rather than necessarily dominating, controlling, or constraining, technological perception often facilitates or prompts the imaginative by offering a commonly understood framework for conceiving and articulating vision. Equally, if imaginative vision can be understood in terms of the technological, this can also be reversed so that we might think of the technological in terms of the imagination. As Richard Horne’s comparison of the “Dreamer” with the “Worker” pointed out, while imaginative cognition might be influenced by the technological, it is the imagination which gives rise to the technological in the first place. Interrelations between perceptions, ideas, and texts are inescapable, and throughout the century these were constantly open to negotiation. From the very start of the century, attempts were made (chiefly in the context of panoramas) to create a sense of totality through combination.



To this end, in the 1820s the German Idealist philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, described a psychological conception of the senses that requires all five to achieve a “totality” of experience. Hegel placed the five senses in three groups, beginning with the two “Ideal” senses: sight and hearing. According to Hegel, these two senses only present a flat externality which must be interpreted and thus is entirely abstract. Second are smell and taste, the senses of “difference,” which contain both an externalised, abstract element but also a sense of the self, of embodiment: “In hearing and seeing we do not sense ourselves, but in smelling and tasting such self-­ sensing begins.” Finally, “in feeling [touch] as such the return to self is completed. When I feel an object, I feel it offering me resistance.”32 In this configuration, the relation of self and world is renegotiated with each act of perception. Throughout the period, such renegotiations took on many different guises, but the underlying need to understand the interface between self and world remained the same.33 As will be shown, the way one perceived the world and the way one expressed that perception could have deep implications for what one felt, thought, and imagined about the world and also about one’s self. In the chapters that follow, I borrow from critical approaches that encourage thinking about temporal and spatial experience in ways that encompass psychological experience. I borrow, for instance, from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1958) which considers physical spaces of the home phenomenologically, arguing, “the sheltered being […] experiences the house in its reality and in its virtuality, by means of thought and dreams.”34 In this approach, the move from physical to psychological forms an inevitable part of spatial analysis. In particular, according to Bachelard, the spaces of daydreams attain a special value since they combine an awareness of both physical and psychological space. As a primary location for daydreaming, the home is thus conceptualised as a space of “integration” in which daydreams are the “binding principle” (6). These spaces are then reconstituted in each new daydream so that “our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams” and “remain in us for all time” (6). This idea of psychological and physical convergence or “integration” in which places might be reconstituted in future imaginings is useful in understanding nineteenth-century visual spaces. Indeed, the sites and technologies discussed in this book are often material spaces in which physical vision is integrated with mental vision in a specific manner. The experience of attending a panorama or magic lantern show, for instance, was a combination of the artful manipulation of the physical



space one occupied and the psychological processes involved in looking at the illusion. When texts outside of these spaces sought to describe or recreate the panoramic or magic lantern visual experience, then the physical space was often reconstituted in the mind of the reader as an abstract imagining. A notable part of the investigation undertaken here is the emphasis on experience alongside textual, visual, and technological representations— both experience of these representations and real-world experience articulated using these representations. In doing so, as well as keeping in mind spatio-visual considerations, I also consider various kinds of “temporality.” Like “visuality” which, following Hal Foster’s anthology in the 1980s, has been taken to mean the historical situatedness of visual perception, I use temporality to denote a historically situated conception of time.35 In the same way that a visual experience may be considered subjective, so too might an individual’s experience of time. Because an individual is necessarily in time, any image or event is therefore experienced within temporal dimensions as well as spatial, and so it becomes necessary to think of an experienced event as a spatio-temporal event. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty shows in his account of the recurrently popular Heraclitus river analogy, the terms “past,” “present,” and “future” are all comparative and only work in relation to each other and to the position of the observer (who is also moving).36 All three terms presuppose the existence of an observer who selects the events of the sequence thus named and from whom the terms can be chronologically mapped (there are always the implicit questions of whose past, whose present, whose future). An unfortunate consequence of the apparent (but complex and problematic) prioritisation of space over time in many instances of nineteenth-century visual mimesis has been that scholarly work has tended to consider the temporal dynamics of visual culture only in passing, if at all. This oversight has then led to incomplete understandings, or sometimes even misunderstandings, of visual experiences and their representations. Furthermore, in moving between textual and visual representation, as this book does, it becomes necessary to consider the role of narrative in the conception and articulation of spatio-temporal experience.37 Any consideration of the subjectivity of temporal experience requires an important distinction to be made between what we might call subjective time and objective time. That is, between the individual’s experience of time and the seemingly objective ticking of clocks and counting of days which is observed as external to the observer.38 This division is itself



contentious—Martin Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, for instance, both argued that even such a seemingly basic distinction emerges from a lower level of temporality since our knowledge of objective time is mediated through our experience and perception.39 However, in general, such philosophical (and twentieth-century) complications are beyond the realm of this book and merely form an interesting backdrop. It is sufficient for the arguments here to stick with the distinction between objective time or world time, and subjective time or the individual experience of time.40 If this distinction itself seems like over-complicating what is, at heart, a book about visual discourses, it will become clear as the argument gets underway how these issues of temporality are involved in the manner in which an event is visually experienced, conceptualised, reproduced, and articulated. In particular, Chap. 2 serves to cover preliminary concepts and to clarify the methodological approach through an account of panoramic discourses using a conceptual framework of simultaneity, fractal time, and nested temporal structures. Chapter 3 charts the introduction of magic lantern metaphors into popular discourses as a referent for ephemerality, perceptual uncertainty, and psychological modes of perception (dreams, hallucinations, etc.). In particular, three dominant modes emerge here: the balloon view, the magic lantern show, and the dream vision. Examples are drawn from a range of sources concentrated in the 1840s, including work by popular and well-known writers and thinkers such as Charles Dickens, Herbert Spencer, Henry Mayhew, and George Henry Lewes. These examples show how this discourse is reiterated and reconfigured to fit the aims of individual authors, but also more broadly, they clarify how a magic lantern discourse was used to generate counter-narratives to the perspectival realism and objectivity posited by realist and panoramic discourses. Chapter 4 furthers this argument by uncovering how the magic lantern, often aligned with ephemerality and psychological visions such as dreams and hallucinations, was not only used to articulate disruptions of perspectival space but also lineal-chronological conceptions of time. This operated on the individual level of spatio-temporal experience but also within broader historiographical practices as a counter-narrative to conventional positivist historiography. Chapter 5 then examines the teleological realignment of imaginative cognition in the wide-ranging scientific and metaphysical debates of the mid-century. Attention focusses on the scientific uses of the magic lantern and associated instruments in popular science shows, including Pepper’s



ghost illusion of the 1860s. Such shows operated ostensibly as attempts to rationalise superstitious and irrational ideas, but, as the chapter will make clear, rather than simply debunking ideas about ghosts and the supernatural, these shows altered the parameters of the debate, relocating such ideas into a border space between imagination, rationalism, and technological forms of perception. Material is drawn from scientific and philosophical texts published in the periodical press and non-fiction books, and there is an extended analysis of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel A Strange Story (1862) which, unusually for popular fiction, makes a detailed effort to combine Idealist philosophy with scientific materialism. Here I read the novel as an intervention in the construction of popular scientific ideas about the relations between imagination and objective science. Chapter 6 examines popular fiction to uncover subjective experiences of the stereoscope within the middle-class home, detailing how the device provided a technologically controlled surrogate for potentially bewildering and chaotic sensory experiences. This chapter shows how technologies, which, on the face of it, seem to be further developments towards a realist simulacrum of material reality, in some instances actually had the opposite effect and, like the magic lantern, subverted the premises of empirical rationalism. The broader implication is that the universal ­properties of optics and binocular vision, which the stereoscope was originally designed to demonstrate, are relocated into the singular subjectivity of the individual observer. That is, the major effect of the stereoscope was not a popularising of universal scientific principles but a facilitation of private, individual imaginative visions on a mass scale. However, because these kinds of imaginative cognition were directed and enacted via the principles of perspectival geometry, this can also be understood as a significant realisation of the teleological uses of the imagination posited by scientific romanticism. In this way, stereoscopic vision is best understood as a dialectical operation of and between objective (physical, empirical) vision and subjective (imaginative, emotional) forms of vision. Yet this apparent solution to the tensions between imaginative and rational thought could also be a source of anxiety. As Chap. 7 demonstrates, the ubiquity of technological stimulation was pathologically dangerous to pseudo-scientific thinkers at the end of the century. Rather than the simultaneous totality idealised by panoramic discourse, simultaneity in Max Nordau’s thought quickly disintegrates and fragments as experience becomes compartmentalised through technological mediation. Whereas in previous chapters individual texts are shown to make uncritical use of



multiple visual discourses to articulate multifaceted experiences, here attention turns to authors who deconstruct hybridity. Rather than daydreams prompted by technological visions (as in Chap. 6), the technological becomes the cause of degenerative nightmares perhaps most evocatively (and famously) described by Max Nordau. This is extended in the final chapter which explicates a fractal episteme posited in fiction by H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad. In these texts reality experience is modelled in terms of networks which disrupt and disperse meaning and knowledge must be reconstructed from subjective fragments. In the nineteenth century, ways of seeing mattered. An article in the Illustrated London News boldly proclaimed in 1851: “Our great authors are now artists. They speak to the eye, and their language is fascinating and impressive.”41 Such proclamations clearly had a hint of self-interest (this was, after all, one of the first illustrated newspapers extolling the virtues of visual images), but they also show a clear awareness about the importance of visual elements alongside and within text. The question quickly becomes how authors might “speak to the eye,” to what effect, and how might this relate to a “totality” of experience.

Notes 1. Some scholars have remained sceptical about paradigms and models for vision. In 1997, for instance, Kevin Z. Moore reviewed the literature on Victorian visual culture to argue: “there was no coherent politics of vision in the nineteenth century; there was only an explosion of visual devices and their uses by whoever had the wherewithal to put them to use”  (374). More recently, Martin Willis has taken a similar stance, emphasising the plurality of visual experience: “acts of seeing were performances of extraordinary variation that occurred at each individual site of visual exchange” (2). However, it is my contention that conceptualising Victorian visuality as a pluralism of discourses allows for such variation as discourses fluctuate and shift from one text to another (in the way that a shared metaphor shifts slightly in transitions) whilst still retaining the usefulness of models and paradigms. See Kevin Z. Moore, “Viewing the Victorians: Recent Research on Victorian Visuality,” Victorian Literature and Culture 25, no. 2 (1997); Martin Willis, Vision, Science and Literature, 1870–1920: Ocular Horizons (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011). 2. Nicholas Mirzoeff, “On Visuality,” Journal of Visual Culture, 5, no. 1 (2006): 53–79. 3. See Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).



4. W.J.T.  Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). Mitchell’s exploration of “hypericons” that express ideation itself also relates to the role of metaphors in temporal experience which will be discussed in Chap. 2. Jay explains his approach earlier in his essay “Scopic Regimes of Modernity,” in Vision and Visuality, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988), 3–29. 5. Examples include Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830–1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Media, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Colette Colligan and Margaret Linley (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011); The Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader, ed. Vanessa R.  Schwartz and Jeannene Przyblyski (London: Routledge, 2004); William A.  Cohen, Embodied: Victorian Literature and the Senses (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009). 6. See, for instance, Mitchell’s “hypericons”—visual figures for thought such as Plato’s cave, Aristotle’s wax tablet, Locke’s dark room, Wittgenstein’s hieroglyph—in Iconology. Jay gives an impressive history of vision in European cultures from Plato to the twentieth century in Downcast Eyes. 7. In The Victorians and the Visual Imagination and Victorian Glassworlds, Kate Flint and Isobel Armstrong, respectively, provide valuable and persuasive insights into these new nineteenth-century ways of seeing. In particular, their emphasis on the shifting pluralisms involved in visual and imaginative acts and ideas throughout the century has influenced my approach. Discourses of Vision is not a work “for” or “against” Flint and Armstrong’s books but a corollary that aims to more fully open up the different meanings involved in visuality and imagination in the nineteenth century. 8. Patricia Anderson conducted an extensive study of the development of nineteenth-century print culture and the concomitant proliferation of images in The Printed Image and the Transformation of Popular Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). 9. In Twilight of the Idols (1888), Nietzsche writes “This nose, for example, of which no philosopher has yet spoken with reverence and gratitude, is actually the most delicate instrument so far at our disposal” (36). 10. One might think here of Isobel Armstrong’s work on glass culture or Marina Warner’s broad study of “spirit” as emblematic of this generalised sense that technology became inextricable from imaginative cultural forms sometime after the eighteenth century. This has been implied elsewhere by



attention to various forms of media as well as explicit claims about technology as a whole. For those new to the wealth of work on technology and literature in the period, Clare Pettitt provides a useful introduction in “‘The annihilation of space and time’: literature and technology,” in The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature, ed. Kate Flint (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 550–572. See also the edited collection Minds, Bodies, Machines, 1770–1930, ed. Deirdre Coleman and Hilary Fraser (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). 11. There have been preliminary explorations conducted by scholars concerned with nineteenth-century panoramas. In particular, see Erkki Huhtamo’s explication of “discursive panoramas” in Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 331–361; and Shelly Jarenski’s exploration of visual-literary relations in American literature in Immersive Words: Mass Media, Visuality, and American Literature, 1839–1893 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015). 12. Terry Castle, The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 142. Stefan Andriopoulos builds on Castle’s analysis to consider the magic lantern in relation to German Idealism in Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media (New York: Zone Books, 2013). 13. This builds on, and owes a debt to, the work of Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J.  Silverman who consider visual technologies in relation to the imagination, Jonathan Crary’s work on nineteenth-century vision and culture, and Erkki Huhtamo’s explication of “discursive panoramas.” There is also a body of work on technology and literature, most notably Herbert L. Sussman’s Victorians and the Machine (1968) which, despite being an excellent resource, is limited by a tendency to conflate all machines under the term “technology,” and the wide body of work on technologies and shows of the nineteenth century, which are too many to list in full here. Examples include Modernity and Technology, ed. Thomas J.  Misa, Philip Brey, Andrew Feenberg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (London: Harvard University Press, 1978); Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak, Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen (Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 2001); Minds, Bodies, Machines, 1770–1930, ed. Deirdre Coleman and Hilary Fraser (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). 14. Lewis Carroll, “Photography Extraordinary,” in The Lewis Carroll Picture Book, ed. Stuart Dodgson Collingwood (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1899), 28. The story was originally published in Carroll’s periodical Misch-Masch (1855–1862) which he circulated among his family and friends.



15. Carroll, “Photography Extraordinary,” 29. 16. Carroll, “Photography Extraordinary,” 29. 17. Carroll, “Photography Extraordinary,” 30–31. 18. Jacob Bigelow, Elements of Technology, 2nd ed. (Boston: Hillard, Cray, Little and Wilkins, 1831), 54. 19. Interestingly, language also fits with more modern conceptions of “technology” since, like a computer, it can be adapted and manipulated for different applications. Similarly, the shifting applications of a computer often rely on the coded instructions (“software”) rather than on the material construct itself (the “hardware”). Timothy Morton draws similar parallels with a number of adaptable Victorian technologies in “Victorian Hyperobjects,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 36, no. 5 (2014): 489–500, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/08905495.2014.974940. 20. Richard Henry Horne, The Dreamer and the Worker: A Story of the Present Time, vol. 1 (London: Henry Colburn, 1851), ix. 21. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “On Poesy or Art” (1818), in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. 1, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge (London: W. Pickering, 1836), 216. 22. Coleridge, “On Poesy or Art,” 222. 23. Onita Vaz-Hooper uses the example of Thomas De Quincey and the magic lantern to argue that even writers who decried popular visual entertainment might use the same technologies to conceptualise perceptual experience. It was thus not the technology per se that was the problem but usages which did not pay proper attention to the spiritual or internal. See Onita VazHooper, “Dream Technology: The Mechanization of the De Quinceyan Imagination,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 36, no. 2 (2014): 165–177. 24. Leo Marx, Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964, repr. 2000), 195. The concept was further developed by David E.  Nye  in American Technological Sublime (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994). 25. For some useful examples, see William H. Galperin, The Return of the Visible in British Romanticism (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1993); Sophie Thomas, Romanticism and Visuality: Fragments, History, Spectacle (London: Routledge, 2008); Gillen D’Arcy Wood, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760–1860 (New York: Palgrave, 2001). 26. Thomas, Romanticism and Visuality, 5. 27. Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” Edinburgh Review, vol. 49, ed. Francis Jeffrey, June 1829, 442. 28. Leo Marx, “‘Technology’: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept,” Social Research, 64, no. 3 (1997): 968. 29. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, 331. 30. John Plunkett and Andrew King, “Introduction,” Victorian Print Media: A Reader, ed. John Plunkett and Andrew King (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2.



31. Altick, The Shows of London, 1. 32. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit, 1827– 8, trans. Robert R.  Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 116. 33. Interestingly, a remarkably similar account of sensory perception is given by Herbert Spencer in the mid-century. See Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology [online] (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855), 394–395. Available from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1394# Spencer_0625_396. 34. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969 repr. 1994), 5. Subsequent in-text page citations refer to this edition. 35. David Couzens Hoy provides a helpful discussion of temporality and the various philosophical approaches to time that it might encompass or involve in The Time of Our Lives: A Critical History of Temporality (Boston: MIT Press, 2012). 36. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. by Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1963 repr. 2002), 477–478. 37. As will be seen in the discussion of dissolving views and historiography in Chap. 4, the spatio-temporal dynamics in narrativising visual experience have some correlations with the “metahistorical” theory of historiography suggested by Hayden White. See Chap. 4 for more on this. 38. Albert Einstein, of course, predicted the fallacy of this apparent objectivity in his theories of general and special relativity, and various later experiments, such as the famous Hafele-Keating experiment in 1971, have appeared to confirm this. 39. See Hoy, The Time of Our Lives, xiv. 40. Edward T. Hall’s anthropological work on time remains instructive in its categorisations of time and its explanation of the role of culture in constructing these. It is of particular interest that the sense of time as a concrete thing (implicated by the noun forms of “past,” “present,” “summer,” “winter,” “yesterday,” “today,” etc.) is a conceptual apparatus that is not shared by all cultures—Hall examines some of the consequences of this in reference to relations between Native American cultures and the Anglo-European US government. For my own purposes, these distinctions are peripheral, but, as this book discusses time in relation to visual media, it is interesting to consider how viewing the past through, say, a photograph further solidifies a sense of past as concrete thing. See Edward T.  Hall, The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (New York: Doubleday, 1983). 41. Anon. “Speaking to the Eye (from the Economist),” Illustrated London News, 24 May 1851.


The Panorama and Simultaneity: The Panoramic Desire to See Everything At Once

The panorama, invented by the painter Robert Barker in the late eighteenth century and finally declining in popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century, belonged more or less exclusively to the nineteenth century. The word “panorama,” coined by Barker for these huge painted pictures, originated from the Greek words pan (meaning “all”) and horama (“see”); the name itself attests to their attempt at a totalising view. The popular form of the static panorama (moving panoramas would soon follow) was a large, 360-degree canvas wrapped around a central viewing platform in a specially designed circular room, typically lit by a central skylight. By immersing their audiences in a virtual space, panoramas aimed (and often explicitly claimed) to offer a complete illusion of reality and an unrivalled field of vision—the paintings usually combined a vast scope with minute attention to detail, to the extent that, at the Colosseum panorama, for instance, spyglasses were provided to allow visitors to more closely view the details as one might when looking at a real view.1 The panoramas of the early decades of the nineteenth century proved hugely popular, showcasing a range of subjects but most commonly battles or cities. One of the most popular panoramic subjects was the city view and especially views of the city in which the panorama was exhibited. For example, Barker’s first panorama was of Edinburgh from Calton Hill. His second was of London from the roof of Albion Steam Flour Mills near Blackfriars Bridge2—this panorama of London, incidentally, toured the © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_2




Continent and was the first panorama to be seen in Germany and Austria.3 After its exhibition, Austria’s next panorama was of Vienna.4 The first panorama in France was of Paris from Tuileries Palace.5 Of London’s two main headline-grabbing rotundas, Robert Barker’s Leicester Square rotunda presented regularly changing panoramas from its opening in 1793 until it closed in 1863 (two years after the death of its main painter, Robert Burford), but the Colosseum at Regent’s Park continued to show a large-scale panorama of London from its opening in 1829 until its eventual closure in 1868. Clearly, the city view had a big appeal for nineteenth-­ century European audiences, and it is static city panoramas which this chapter will primarily discuss.6 The virtual space created in static panoramas was not purely pictorial but often made clever use of physical space too. Architectural design was not merely important in making room to house and showcase the painting but was also integral to the illusion. Viewers at Leicester Square, for example, had to walk along a long, dimly lit corridor which allowed their eyes to adjust to the low level of light (too much light meant that the surface of the painting became too obvious) before ascending to the viewing platform. Here, an umbrella-shaped roof was “designed to block out two things from the visitor’s view: the upper edge of the unframed canvas stretched in a full circle around the room, and the ring of skylights in the ceiling.”7 The lower edge of the canvas was hidden by either the platform itself or by an inaccessible false terrain containing three-dimensional objects and cutouts designed to “disguise the transition from the three-­ dimensional world to the two-dimensional painting.”8 The long-running panorama of London at the Colosseum in Regent’s Park featured a viewing platform designed to imitate the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, which had been the original viewpoint of the artist.9 In general terms, panoramas have usually been conceived of as presenting a visual representation of the individual’s relation to the world. Scholarly criticism has broadly understood them as a “visual conquest of the subject,”10 a way in which an entire landscape could be “comprehended and consume[d]”11 or a way of “‘getting a grip’ on things, a grip that leaves what is observed undamaged, but surrounds and seizes the whole.”12 Panoramas were not simple exhibitions or spectacles but functioned as the material sites of a specific process of representation and of looking which, as Altick noted in his study of the shows of London, fulfilled a certain cultural need, demonstrated by the speed with which the word entered popular vocabulary to describe the view rather than the



specific entertainment.13 The success of Robert Barker’s invention, then, was to transform a visual concept into a material reality by creating an illusion of comprehensive totality: the virtual space of the panorama, in its fully circular mimesis of reality, excludes all other modes of vision. Literature that adapted the panoramic mode often tried to retain this sense of comprehensive totality. For instance, in 1829 an advertisement for a written “Panorama of London and Visitor’s Pocket Companion” promised to exhibit London “in every form” in a “complete picture.”14 Both visual and literary panoramas promised an illusion of a complete reality.

Simultaneity: Panoramas and Temporal Experience There is no single better embodiment of the desire to see everything at once than “Wyld’s Globe,” a giant globe of the Earth which was exhibited at Leicester Square in 1851. Unlike conventional globes, in Wyld’s Globe, the Earth’s surface was depicted on the interior rather than the exterior. Visitors climbed a staircase to an internal viewing platform where, theoretically at least, the entirety could be seen at once from a single vantage point. Wyld’s Globe caused quite a sensation with many praising it for its educational value—stewards attended the viewing platform to answer questions and point out places of interest. There could perhaps be no greater praise than when the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Roderick Murchison, visited the Globe and was reported to have praised it as “well worthy of the projector and the spirit of the age.”15 Like a panorama, the real achievement of the Globe was not just that that it presented a comprehensive view (unremarkable in this case since any globe depicts the entire Earth) but also that viewers could see the entire Earth, as Murchison put it, “at one view.” A similar desire for simultaneity, for the entire view at once, was a key feature of large static panoramas where a single temporal moment was decompressed so that an impossibly detailed and comprehensive spatial field might be viewed, consumed, and experienced, at the viewer’s leisure. Yet while a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the panoramic widening of the visual field and its spatial dynamics (these were, after all, uniquely encompassing, large-scale perspectival paintings), there has been relatively little consideration of the temporal dynamics involved in panoramic representation. Like Wyld’s Globe, panoramas were not simply attempts to “see all”; they were attempts to see all simultaneously.



There were two fundamental reasons for the popularity of static panoramas of cities: first, the difficulty in attaining a comprehensive view of the metropolis, and, second, the difficulty in comprehending the chaos of such a view, were one to actually attain it. The first difficulty is made clear in the conception and reception of the long-running panorama of London that was exhibited at the Colosseum in Regent’s Park from 1829 until 1868. The artist, Thomas Horner, spent long hours on top of a scaffold on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral to make the initial sketches for the panorama, noting “at no one time is it possible, however clear the atmosphere, to command […] a distinct view of the entire circle of the metropolis.”16 His sketches, however, allowed “all the component parts” to be “taken respectively at the most favourable moment” in order to “form collectively a whole freed from all those disadvantages of smoke or shade by which the real scene is ever greatly obscured.” This was obviously an idealisation of the real view, but Horner contended that his aim was, “without in any degree infringing the fidelity of delineation[,]” to present London “under an atmosphere as pure and cloudless as that of Paris or Rome.” As a composite of all the best views at the “most favourable” moments, Horner’s panorama was intended as a solution to the problem of atmospheric obfuscation. The resulting painting was praised for this effect with the Morning Chronicle, for example, stating: “they who have not seen the picture covering an acre of canvas, have not seen London, though they may often have peeped over it through winter fogs and haze of summer, from Primrose-hill, or from the general central observatory, St. Paul’s itself.”17 The idea that the panorama provided a clear, unobstructed view of the city was evidently important. This was a way (or so it was claimed) to enhance the visual fields available in reality. Horner claimed that his view did not infringe “the fidelity of delineation” because he was (for the most part at least) faithful to the spatial reality of the view; it was only the temporal reality that he manipulated for his image (compiling multiple moments to create a fictional moment in which all parts are clearly visible). However, visual enhancement from reality to panoramic painting also responded to the overwhelming chaos of the city through a process of order and containment. We can see a well-known fictional example of this chaos in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843), where Dickens gives a powerful account of looking at London. The scene begins with the narrator seeking out the view from the roof of Todgers’, a “commercial boarding establishment” with a view “worthy of notice.”18 But the chaotic urban environment



is such that Todgers’ is difficult even to locate in the “labyrinth” of “devious mazes” which make up the city streets. Such is the degree of obfuscation that, rather than navigating visually as one normally would, these were streets through which “one groped”—vision is thus overcome by the bewildering city. In such a context, no wonder a clear overview might be considered “worthy of notice.” But the elevated view, once attained, does not appear as a glorious panorama of a clearly ordered city. Instead, it turns out to be an overpowering and chaotic view of too much all at once: [..] you observed upon the house-tops, stretching far away, a long dark path: the shadow of the Monument: and turning round, the tall original was close beside you, with every hair erect upon his golden head, as if the doings of the city frightened him. […] Gables, housetops, garret-windows, wilderness upon wilderness. Smoke and noise enough for all the world at once. After the first glance, there were slight features in the midst of this crowd of objects, which sprung out from the mass without any reason […] The gambols of a piece of cloth upon the dyer’s pole had far more interest for the moment than all the changing motion of the crowd. Yet even while the looker-on felt angry with himself for this, and wondered how it was, the tumult swelled into a roar; the hosts of objects seemed to thicken and expand a hundredfold, and after gazing round him, quite scared, he turned into Todgers’ again, much more rapidly than he came out […].19

Whereas a painted panorama with its stillness allows the observer to view the entirety at leisure, Dickens’ view from Todgers’ is active and changing, filled with “changing motion” and able to “thicken and expand.”20 Here, then, is another panoramic effect: the subject is contained and controlled, even while it appears to exceed its frame (or lack thereof), because it is unmoving and unchanging, appearing to exist outside of time. The overwhelming effect of the view from Todgers’ is not a literary curiosity but is recurrent in descriptions of high-up elevated views. In a slightly more understated non-fiction account of ballooning for Dickens’ journal Household Words, for instance, Richard Horne writes “everything below is seen in so new a form, so flat, compressed, and simultaneously— so much too-much-at-a-time—that the first look is hardly so satisfactory as could be desired.”21 Similarly, early responses to panoramas themselves included reports of seasickness or nausea upon first viewing of the painting.22 Such accounts may have been exaggerated, but they do convey both the sense of newness and the feeling of overwhelming visual stimulation,



of “so much too-much-at-a-time” as Horne put it, that both motivated and threatened attempts for simultaneity in visual experience. The problem, of course, for conceptualising panoramas as attempts at simultaneity is that regardless of the motionlessness of the image, of its frozen capture of a single moment, the viewer continued to exist in an inexorable temporal progression. Time obviously continued to pass regardless of painterly intention. In one sense, this is less of an issue than it might appear because this is how any observer experiences any event. The psychological narrativisation of the image—of the observer walking as he or she chose around the viewing platform, focussing on whichever details he or she so wished—is analogous to the psychological narrativisation that takes place in any sensory experience. Any given set of perceptions might be experienced partially at once and partially in sequence depending on their relative temporal positions and durations; the natural role of the observing mind is to form these sensory impressions into some order or sequence (i.e. first w happened, then x, and then y and z happened at the same time, but z finished last). But in the case of a static panorama, this is a second-order experience which can only occur after the various perceptions available have already been selected by the composing artist. Walter Benjamin’s portrayal of historical materialism as a kind of “messianic time” in which events and moments are “blasted” out of the continuum of sequential chronology is useful here since we might also think of panoramas—especially those portraying battles and so forth—as being moments exploded from the temporal continuum.23 Although the observer is placed in the scene, the scene itself is extracted out of historical chronology. It can still be interpreted within historical narratives, but it is endowed with greater weight than those events or subjects which had chronologically existed around it. Such a move has the potential to endow its subjects with the weight of myth so that, for instance, London as spectacle becomes comparable to Rome as spectacle; a new timeline is established in which one great empire foreshadows the next. In panoramas, this extraction from simple chronological sequencing (which would, for example, place nineteenth-century London chronologically in relation to eighteenth-­century London rather than in relation to Rome) tended to further reinforce conservative, imperialist values although, as will be seen in Chap. 4, other kinds of temporal movements might have the opposite effect. The second-order nature of the panorama illusion comprises part of its appeal and part of its setback—in composing the image, the spontaneity of



real life is removed from the experience so that the observer is unlikely to become distracted by some minor detail as happens to Dickens’ observer.24 This might be advantageous—Dickens’ observer is angry at himself for having been diverted by “a piece of cloth” rather than paying attention to the crowd—but it is also limiting in that one can only see what the artist has deemed worthy of presentation. The actual spontaneity of real life, the actual chaos of simultaneity, is thus muted and controlled. There were, however, a few instances of movement and temporal change in pictorial panoramas, some more overtly staged than others. In the big static panoramas, for example, the painting was generally lit by a central overhead skylight. The shadows of clouds might therefore move across the surface, and the angles and intensity of light would change over the course of the day, lending a degree of incidental contingency to the viewing experience. More explicitly, in order to try and revive the waning popularity of the Colosseum panorama, the owners commissioned a night-­ time version of the panorama of London which could be folded away during the day and then be assembled at the end of the afternoon, backlit with candles, to present a view of London by night viewed at night. To increase the sense of time passing, they then used a magic lantern to project moving clouds onto the sky.25 The narrativisation of the panoramic visual field was often impelled along specific trajectories by the handbooks and guides that frequently accompanied static panoramas. These guides would often contain a prose text about the subject in view, and they might give a diagram of the painting with key features described and explained. It would be tempting to consider the roles of painter and writer as controlling and dictating how the image should be viewed to a passively receptive observer. Indeed, one version of panoramic vision compares the panorama with its contemporary, the panopticon, which Jeremy Bentham was campaigning to build around the time Robert Barker designed his first panorama.26 Oliver Grau, for example, argues that the comprehensiveness and impact of the view gave the panorama a totalising ideological control.27 However, Grau mitigates this idea of control, pointing out that to equate “the configuration of the panorama with a specific intellectual position is, in view of the differing forms of political system that employed and still employ it, untenable.”28 A good place to begin examining the complex of hermeneutic processes involved in static panoramas is its perspectival characteristics. Whereas European perspectival painting had, since Leon Battista Alberti’s



treatise in the fifteenth century, implied a single observation point from which perspectival lines converge, the circular structure of panoramas forced what Oettermann calls a “democratization of perspective.”29 Because of their shape and size, panoramas typically used a perspectival structure that did not present a single vanishing point and so did not suggest a single viewing point but contained a multitude of vanishing points around the length of the painting. How, then, to balance these competing interests—the apparent panoptic control and discipline of the observer, on the one hand, and the democratising perspective and the individual observer’s agency, on the other hand? The relation is not dissimilar to the innate correlations of some spatio-temporal events—the changing of the seasons, for instance, seems to contain its own innate logic, though this is not to say that the individual observer cannot supplement or even replace this with their own meanings. Likewise, we might try to balance the innate, constructed meanings of the panorama with the singular meanings derived by the individual observer. Clearly, the accompanying guides were not absolute dictators but were merely supplementary to the image which itself complicated the authoritative positioning of conventional perspectival painting. Along with the artistic techniques employed that generated multiple perspectives, some observers were less credulous than others and brought a healthy scepticism that disrupted the illusion. Even Wyld’s Globe which was widely praised for its educational and visual realism was subject to criticism. A letter to The Era, for example, denigrated the Globe as “rough sketches,” complaining that it “perplexes the ignorant and gives nothing new to the well informed,” even going so far as to claim that the physical features pointed out by the attendants were so hard to discern that they were purely “imaginary.”30 Henry Morley, too, was humorously sceptical of the claims: “I do not get so much of the Earth’s surface at a glance as I had been led to expect. The heavy wooden scaffolding is greatly in the way of our eyes.”31 These responses are useful in reminding us that these kinds of shows were, as Byerly suggests, experiences rather than exhibitions.32 The variety of experiences was as wide ranging as observers were numerous, and it would be reductive to imagine that a single observer could not experience the illusion in a multitude of different ways, often in parallel. It therefore makes sense to consider the panoramic experience as a complex of nested meanings. Viewers might simultaneously follow the narrative structure of the guide while, for instance, forming their own personal narrative comprising of a range of near-simultaneous visual



interactions with the painting, a set of memory responses prompted by this, and perhaps even an imaginative daydream about the painted subject. The panoramic experience thereby forms a layered narrative sequence of past, present, future that involves non-chronological personal narratives alongside the formal textual narrative presented by the printed guide that itself runs parallel to the visual narrative constructed by the artist. This nested structure of embedded temporal experiences is an implicit part of the drive towards simultaneity. We can see, for example, a correspondingly fractal temporal structure is suggested by Herbert Spencer in The Principles of Psychology (1855), where he notes that different sensory perceptions (say, sound and vision) generate connate and interdependent senses of temporality that are “variously modified by circumstances” with no “constant ratio.”33 These perceptions create a general idea of temporal positions but, operating at changing ratios and different rates, are themselves positioned within a nested structure of relations. If the motionless panoramic image decompresses a temporal moment for intensified scrutiny and consumption (choosing, for instance, a key moment of a battle or a city at its busiest moment or in its most beautiful aspect [at midday, at sunset, at night, etc.]), then it would be tempting to consider this as a prioritisation of spatial interests over temporal interests. After all, the focus on a single motionless moment appears, on the face of it, to be contained, removed from the organising temporal structures of chronology and history. Yet temporality is reinstated in two ways. First, the chosen moment is only meaningful because of its situation within a sequence— sunset is chosen for its beauty, but it cannot be semantically separated from the temporal rhythms of night and day; similarly, a key moment in a battle is even more obviously linked to the sequence that forms the history of the battle and, beyond this, of the war. Second, such containment of a moment is actually a decompression of the embedded structures of the experience of that moment. Where observers are able to process, investigate, and conceptualise a single moment over an extended period, they are able to engage fully in all of the nested structures usually experienced all at once or in rapid succession and often at a subconscious or unthinking level. So, for instance, an observer, who experiences a panorama as a memory-visualimaginative sequence as well as the socio-­ political empiricism of the printed guide and the visual materialism of the painting itself, is able to disentangle these differing responses at leisure. A similar array of embedded structures might form an experience of any given reality event, but within the inexorable framework of objective time, these may not be



reflected upon, disentangled, or completely understood by an individual busy experiencing the next temporal event.

Panorama As Text: Morley’s Ghost Ship There have been numerous attempts to delineate the origins of the panorama,34 but the point is clear: when Robert Barker invented it in the mid-1780s, there had been, for some time, a growing need to conceptualise a visual mode that not only strove for an omniscient field of vision but also for a symbolic system to represent it. Panoramas acted as a site (both literally and culturally) for this visual mode, thereby consolidating and affirming its cultural importance. The panorama as a media technology provided a symbolic system to represent an all-encompassing vision by offering a way to form an illusion of limitless vision. In doing so, panoramas facilitated a specific kind of vision which was both richly complex and easily assimilated. As a visual term, the name “panorama” articulated and conceptualised the need for—and experience of—an all-embracing field of vision. Having such a representational system that could go some way to depicting an all-seeing vision meant that the various cultural strands of pre-panorama history were all homogenised into one central concept of “panoramic” vision—what had previously been described in a variety of ways might now be simply called “panoramic.” The panorama gave nineteenth-­century observers a shared vocabulary with which to discuss this historicised way of looking, a fact given greater importance by the many textual keys and guides written to accompany the visual panoramas. A shared lexicon allowed various and multifaceted cultural strands to engage with, debate, interpret, question, consolidate, and discuss a single basic premise of all-seeing vision. Because the panorama acted so ­prominently to conceptualise and articulate this cultural movement towards greater and more far-reaching vision, its influence extended into other media. A range of techniques formed a panoramic discourse: the linguistic style of panorama guidebooks, for example, could be mimicked in other kinds of texts, the multiple-perspective and totalising view of the panoramas could be textually replicated through corresponding literary techniques, and the word “panorama” itself entered the popular vocabulary as a signifier for a specific kind of vision. Authors were able to manipulate the panoramic mode as a part of a larger set of visual techniques at their disposal, utilising it alongside other visual modes and in ways which differed



from those of its origins in the large, static rotundas. The transition from pictorial panorama to textual panorama brought its own set of complications, not least in how the embedded structure of observer experience might be replicated in a written text. A series of six articles written by Henry Morley for Household Words in 1851—the same year Wyld’s Globe was erected in Leicester Square—provides a good example of the popular appropriation of the painted panorama for printed narrative. Morley’s articles bring the reader on board a “phantom ship” which, travelling across the world (and then, in the final voyage, into the past), is the basis for a series of imaginative journeys that correspond to the imaginary travel often suggested in promotional material for painted panoramas.35 Borrowing their structure from the guides that accompanied panoramas, these articles offered the reader factual information about places such as Africa and Central America, while also using a range of literary techniques to place the reader imaginatively within the scene. For instance, an ethnographic description of Freetown in Sierra Leone which closely resembles the kind of writing used in panorama guides is followed by a direction to “[t]ake notice and prepare. There is a foam track flying to us on the water,” and then followed by a geographical description of Cape Nun.36 This is not a conventional travelogue reproducing a past journey but is an attempt to take the reader on a present-­ tense imaginative journey, placing them within the scene in a similar manner to the way that painted panoramas enclosed viewers within their virtual space. Morley adapts the panoramic technique of placing the reader directly within the virtual space, but he also follows the textual structural pattern established by the narrative guides that accompanied the popular Leicester Square panoramas. These guides typically comprise three parts: beginning with a brief introduction to the subject, then describing the situation of the panorama and the view itself with explanations of specific details, before moving on to discuss the history of the location and provide statistical facts and general information.37 Morley’s articles follow the same pattern. The Central America instalment, for example, begins by introducing the subject—Central America—in the opening paragraph before using the second paragraph to situate the reader within the scene with the third-­ person plural: “Already we have traversed the Atlantic in our Phantom Ship, and have been drenched by a good sheet of rain.”38 Acting as tour guide, Morley directs readers on their intended journey: “We will begin our travels at Belize and ramble southward, until we take ship again in



Costa Rica at Punta Arenas on the Pacific side.” Having used this second paragraph to situate the reader bodily within the scene (“drenched” but looking forward to the “ramble southward”), Morley then uses the third paragraph to begin describing the view they would see were they physically in Belize: Belize appears to rise out of the sea as we approach; a range of white houses running for a mile along the shore—government house at one end, barracks at the other; a picturesque bridge, somewhere about the middle, crosses a river which divides the settlement.39

This visual description continues as Morley takes the reader through the “phantom” journey, adding general facts and information including the price of bread (“three times dearer than it is in England”) and the history of Guatemala City.40 These articles distinctly borrow the format and style of panorama guides in this way to create an entirely imaginative journey without the aid of pictorial representation. They are a clear attempt to textually replicate the pictorial panorama. But how, then, does the experience of the text relate to the experience of the exhibit? First, because this journey is literary rather than pictorial, it relies more on the mind’s eye than the physical eye—an important distinction which marks a fault line between subjectivity and objectivity. Painted panoramas were sometimes criticised for their dogged attempts to present an objective view. While the literary panorama could provide accurate information, it was limited in its ability to disguise the use of the imagination constructing its view or in its illusion of placing the reader within the scene. Beyond a realist desire to suspend his reader’s disbelief, primarily through his attention to empirical facts, Morley does not seem overly interested in a materialist kind of objective reality—his articles are formed around the conceit of a ghost ship, for instance, and in his last instalment, he takes his reader on a journey through time rather than space. The articles are upfront about the fact that these are fictional journeys but are equally explicit in claiming to visit factual places. This relation between fact and fiction relates to the second issue: in using a narrative structure to create his fictional journeys, Morley exerts far greater control over his reader than a panorama artist might over his audience. The individual will of the reader seems contained by the guiding authorial control that impels the narrative onwards. We might, of course, consider the innate intertextuality of any text as a part of its



embeddedness within a nested structure of meanings. This certainly cannot be discounted, and a reader may well consider Morley’s articles alongside other panoramic literature, the panoramas themselves which they self-consciously mimic, and, of course, the other articles within that edition of Household Words and indeed anything else the reader might call to mind. But the experience of reading these seems to have diverged from the experience of visiting a panorama in that the relation to actual spatiotemporal event has changed. Whereas the panorama staged (or attempted to stage) a single moment of space-time to be experienced by the viewer at leisure, Morley’s panoramic articles, in presenting an ongoing temporal progression—a narrative chronology—create the illusion of staging the experience itself. The reading experience, therefore, is less open-ended, less available for individual interpretation, and more directed by authorial control as the reader is swept along from one moment to the next. The contextualising narrative of the spatio-temporal event is explicitly provided by the narrator, and the reader is obliged to follow where the narrative leads, focussing on whatever details the narrator provides (the price of bread, the ocean spray, etc.) which are necessarily more focussed and selective than the multitude of details included in a pictorial panorama. These features are all there in the painted panorama, but they are less exclusionary, presented as one way of experiencing the painting, not as the only way. Morley, however, finds a way to turn this narrative domination of the viewer-reader into an advantage that a static panorama could not match: the articles end with a journey through time rather than space. It makes sense to abandon the contemporary world since, after all, “we can visit any portion of the globe by taking a cab or an omnibus to Leicester Square.”41 But although the contemporary world had “taken a house in London” as Morley put it, the worlds of the past and future had not. Nothing remained for the phantom ship, Morley writes, but to “sail into the world, as it was, or as it will be.” The transition from geographical travel to time travel, a clear break from the previous articles in the series, relies more heavily on the imagination than the earlier articles which tried to replicate the spatial realism of the panorama. More specifically, this temporal journey makes greater use of the natural temporal movements of textual narrative to generate its effect. The static panorama could clearly not achieve temporal movement (though this was attempted through moving panoramas), and, indeed, this is a complete divergence from any realist notion of spatio-­ temporal experience. Rather than staging an event or experience from



reality, Morley uses the imaginative freedom of textual narrative to reverse temporal flow and convey the reader backwards through time. Morley’s literary retreat from the spatial into the temporal also gives a sense of the limitations of the panoramic emphasis on material reality. Morley suggests that Leicester Square had surpassed literature’s ability to present a realist illusion of factual reality, and so the literary voyage must offer something else.42 The tension between external and internal visibilities—what can be presented as physically visible and what can only be imagined through the mind’s eye—is part of the problematic relationship literature held with the panorama. On the face of it, literature could not compete with the panorama’s ability for virtual travel, but Morley identifies a weakness in the panorama’s limited ability to portray temporal change. The panorama contained the observer in a single moment: while one could seemingly see a spatial entirety, it was an entirety without change (aside from the minor temporal changes mentioned above). In this sense, the comprehensiveness of the panorama could actually be rather restrictive. This restrictive materialist perspectivalism was subject to regular comment throughout the century. In the 1860s, a genre of melodrama, which presented panoramic urban views on stage, provides an amusing example. These plays had titles such as The Streets of London (1864), Lost in London (1867), The Great City (1867), among others along similar lines, and three of William Powell Frith’s paintings were even adapted for the theatre.43 One of these, The Great City, was parodied by Punch with particular attention to the crowds rushing across the stage. The opening stage direction in Punch’s parody describes the “Exterior of Charing Cross Railway Station about 8:30pm”: “Life-like picture; no one about, except at intervals sudden rushes of people from left to right, or for variety from right to left, then everything in the Great City perfectly quiet […].”44 After a short monologue from the principal character, this is followed by another stage direction: “People rush in vaguely, go by no train, and disappear into some other part of the Great City.” Again, after another brief monologue by another character, the stage directions return attention to the crowd: Rush of the same people as have appeared before. Probably they’ve all missed their trains, or are spending a happy day in the Great City, rushing about from one terminus to another, until they come to Frith’s picture at the finish. Exeunt all of these people for no apparent reason […].

Punch’s amusement at the same crowd of people rushing about for “no apparent reason” and its application of its own narrative to this visual



display turns an intended background spectacle into an absurdity. It is a striking oddity that the movements of the crowd attract far more interest from Punch than the actual plot of the drama which would naturally seem to warrant greater notice. In fact, the backdrop of the play is one of its main features—the titular “Great City” is represented more by the crowded backdrop than by any of the foreground action or dialogue. Yet the presentation of a crowd without any deeper signification beyond that of the multitudinous metropolis is unsatisfactory and garners Punch’s satirical ire. Worse, it threatens the sublimation of the individual into the mass (an issue explored more fully in Chaps. 7 and 8). The Punch parody seems to beckon for a more comprehensive view of the city than that offered by panoramic visuality—it asks for a view which gives more than merely a surface-level externality but offers a totalising cohesive set of values to underpin the visual surface. Such a view would, in effect, more fully confirm the observer’s position as a singular and autonomous individual, defined in contrast to an observable and comprehensible mass of senselessly rushing people. Whereas in a static panorama a viewer is free to build his or her own narrative around the sensory event created by the painting, in a stage play, as in a text, the dominance of plot reduces the experience to a single narrative. In this instance, the presented plot seems superficial to Punch’s critic who sets about creating their own to satirically highlight the emptiness of the background action. This is not, however, to say that all panoramic narrative must fall into the same trap. As we saw in Morley’s phantom journeys, writers were able to innovate and adapt panoramic discourse to their own ends, but it does demonstrate the problems in moving from predominantly pictorial representations to narrative forms of representation. The next section will scrutinise the kind of adaptability writers displayed in panoramic texts in the context of Dickens’ Sketches by Boz and urban sketch writing. I first, however, turn to Thomas Carlyle collating sketches sent to him by his friend.

Discursive Hybridity: Panoramic Writing and Sketches by Boz In 1842, Carlyle wrote to the poet Edward Fitzgerald to thank him for his sketches of the site of the civil war Battle of Naseby, regretting that two of the sketches were on opposite sides of the same piece of paper. Otherwise, “one might spread out the whole on the table at once, and construct for oneself a perfect panorama of the ground from them.”45 Despite this



limitation, Carlyle reported that the sketches allowed him to recall “perfectly the physiognomy of the ground.”46 The sketch, as a pictorial genre, holds a particular efficacy for communicating topographical detail, allowing Carlyle to closely follow Fitzgerald’s investigation of the battlefield. However, Carlyle’s regret at the impossibility of laying them out in a “panorama of the ground” highlights the limitations of the sketch genre: its inability to give both close detail and an extended overview, both of which would be made possible were the sketches integrated into a larger panoramic image in the same process with which Thomas Horner created the Colosseum’s famous panorama of London. Carlyle’s panorama, unfortunately, could only be imagined as a reconstruction of the parts into a whole, an imaginative process that also had correlations in archaeological, geological, and palaeontological practices.47 In fact, Fitzgerald lived in a farmhouse near the battlefield and had excavated a grave, sending Carlyle some of the bones as well as sketches and details of his finds. All of these were parts to be imaginatively reconstructed into a historical picture. Carlyle’s comments to Fitzgerald emphasise the importance of hybridity in visual practice. A single image could be understood in multiple ways: in this instance, a sketch of part of the battlefield could be viewed as an independent image or as a part of a larger panoramic whole.48 By viewing a subject through these different frameworks, one could understand or interpret them differently, granting access to different kinds of information. This hybridity and versatility are important in our understanding of the ways in which visual sites and technologies entered into textual discourses as perceptual modes of thinking, seeing, and writing. Much of the urban sketch literature which was so popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, for example, shared this kind of hybridity, utilising multiple visual modes to depict the chaotic and constantly changing city. This is not to say that a single visual mode could not provide a coherent view of the city—the panoramas themselves were paragons of ordered consistency and coherency, providing illusions of completeness and totality. However, this presentation of totality contained its own limitations in the depiction of a metropolis that did not naturally conform to a single totalising view. By combining different visual modes and genres, authors could more effectively represent the contradictions and inconsistencies of the city. Furthermore, visual hybridity enabled authors to adapt the ideological and political messages of the panorama to their own interests. In the same way, writers in any medium, genre, or context might utilise multiple visual



modes to express a singular, unique experience, argument, or conceptual formulation. Dickens’ Sketches by Boz (1836) provides a good example of this kind of hybridity in panoramic sketch literature.49 In the 1820s, sketch literature had surged in popularity with the publication of Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820–1821) which spawned many imitations, and in the 1830s Sketches by Boz refined and repopularised the genre for a growing ­middle-­class audience. The sketch genre, linked to the static panorama, compiled a series of “views” (usually urban) into a comprehensive (i.e. “panoramic”) picture of the subject.50 This formal structure enabled an overall order to be imposed on an otherwise chaotic world of simultaneously occurring sensory perceptions and events—narratives, events, and scenes which run alongside each other become composed into an overarching (if only loosely contained) narrative order. The looseness of the containment is a key feature that seems to diverge from the painted order of static panoramas but, in a way, more closely mimics the nested structure of the panoramic experience. Such looseness was a gradual development of the genre—one of the main differences between Egan and Dickens’ works is that whereas Egan uses the story of two characters, Tom and Jerry, to order his scenes more cohesively into a narrative framework, Dickens allows his sketches to converge or diverge according to the views and themes they present. While Egan presents the city as “a complete CYCLOPAEDIA,”51 Dickens’ city is never intended to be “complete.” Instead, Dickens (in the book publication) presents his sketches in thematic sets which combine to create a view of the city that gestures beyond its own boundaries, at one point informing the reader: “Scenes like these are continued […] But as description of all of them, however slight, would require a volume […] we make our bow, and drop the curtain.”52 Dickens’ sketches are not in a clear chronological order nor are they complete but “are continued” as a perpetuating array of simultaneously overlapping narratives. In this way, Dickens’ sketches more closely operate as a nested structure of embedded narratives rather than as a closely contained single narrative as in Egan’s sketches.53 The linear structures of perspectival ­realism, integral to Egan’s sketches, are abandoned in favour of a totality characterised by plurality and hybridity. This is temporal and spatial experience represented as fractal, as a set of parallel and simultaneous narratives that, as a whole, might comprise a single-reality experience in all its heterogonous variance.



In one sense, Dickens’ writing does reflect the social and perceptual ordering of the painted panorama. The language of Sketches by Boz—particularly in the “Scenes” section—is frequently employed to depict ordered social groupings. Scotland Yard, for example, is described as having been “found to contain a race of strong and bulky men” (65). Likewise, “the inhabitants of Monmouth Street are a distinct class; a peaceable and retiring race” (76), and Newgate Prison is built on a series of synecdochical replications: just as through one gate you see “another gate, the image of its predecessor,” so too there are “two or three turnkeys, who look like multiplications of the first one” (195). These are groups of characters identified as different, separated from the narrator and character-reader (who are implicitly linked in the same social grouping). The viewpoint of the reader, then, is from a particular social class and grouping looking out upon London society—a society which can be stratified and catalogued into discrete groups. These groups are also generated based almost entirely on the surface-­ level visibility that characterised painted panoramas. There is an implicit material realism at work in which Dickens concentrates on visual detail and the description is almost exclusively confined to what the narrator, Boz, can physically see as he wanders the fictional city. People are commonly represented exclusively by outward appearance, with an extraordinary attention to their clothing. For example, Dickens describes a “young fellow” in a “faded brown coat, and very full light green trousers” (110). The man’s only action is sartorial: he “pulls down the wristbands of his check shirt, as ostentatiously as if it were of the finest linen, and cocks the white hat of the summer-before-last as knowingly over his right eye, as if it were a purchase of yesterday.” Dickens even instructs his readers in this mode of clothing-based looking: “Look,” we are told, “at the dirty white Berlin gloves, and the cheap silk handkerchief stuck in the bosom of his threadbare coat” (110). We are then instructed in how to decipher these visual data: “Is it possible to see him for an instant, and not come to the conclusion that he is the walking gentleman who wears a blue surtout, clean collar, and white trousers, for half an hour, and then shrinks into his worn-out scanty clothes […]?” (110). Dickens goes beyond the mere representation of visual data by instructing his readers in how to decode the data. He focusses on the visible surface of physical reality, but he cannot resist constructing imaginative narratives around it. In constructing these narratives, Dickens is not simply performing the conventional role of a literary or novelistic author. On the contrary, he is



not overly interested in the novelistic concerns of character and plot. Instead, he is invested in using fiction to recreate real, primarily visual, experiences of London. Whereas the painted panorama sought to create a realistic illusion of visual reality—of London or Paris and so on—Dickens’ literary counterpart surpasses this in ambition, instead seeking to textually render the experiential process by which such reality is understood. This literary technique begins, like the panorama, with visual detail, but it develops into interpretive narratives that run simultaneously alongside one another. In the sketch “Meditations in Monmouth Street,” for example, Boz dispenses with characters altogether and simply animates the clothing he finds there: We love to walk among these extensive groves of the illustrious dead [outdated fashions], and to indulge in the speculations to which they give rise; now fitting a deceased coat, then a dead pair of trousers, and anon the mortal remains of a gaudy waistcoat, upon some being of our own conjuring up, and endeavouring, from the shape and fashion of the garment itself, to bring its former owner before our mind’s eye. (78)

Here we find Boz’s prevailing attitude to character explained: “There was a whole man’s life written as legibly on those clothes, as if we had his autobiography engrossed on parchment before us” (78). External visual appearance, principally in its statement of social status, is the stimulus to speculation, and the narrator interprets what he sees as a way of exploring the history and stories behind the characters. On seeing a woman and child descend the steps outside Newgate, for example, Boz says, “Their little history was obvious” (195). In Boz’s London, speculation takes the place of knowledge, and the narrator makes no distinction between the two: “we saw, or fancied we saw—it makes no difference which” (79). Again, in his visit to Newgate, Boz actively shuns factual knowledge: “We took no notes, made no memoranda […] are unable even to report of how many apartments the gaol is composed. We saw the prison, and saw the prisoners; and what we did see, and what we thought, we will tell at once in our own way” (200). The view, in this sense, is an embodied experience of the visual field supplied by the descriptive detail. The emphasis on experiential processing of sensory data and the disregard for factual knowledge indicates another mode at work—the imaginative or, as Boz calls it, the “romantic” mode. The narrator describes his occasional inability to animate the inanimate and thus conjure a story:



“But, by some means or other, we were not in a romantic humour; and although we tried very hard to invest the furniture with vitality, it remains perfectly unmoved, obstinate, and sullen” (234–235). The transition from “sullen” physical reality to imaginative “vitality” is a movement from an alienated, incommunicative physical reality (though, still, of course personified with human attributes) into a personal experience mediated by psychological processes that include memory and fantasy. Part of the effect of this is that the hegemony of externalised physical visibility is undermined and, it is suggested, other visual modes become useful. The imaginary is subsumed into the panoramic representation of the city, but by going beyond the physical details of the visible, Sketches by Boz suggests that there are limitations to the knowledge offered even by the panorama, that a truly comprehensive view requires an understanding of the way physical reality is subjectively experienced. An interesting instance of subjective and objective vision relating to panoramic views of London is given in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Villette (1853). Here the main character, Lucy Snowe, wanders the streets of London in “an adventure,” living a “prodigious” amount of life.54 She climbs the dome of St Paul’s where she “saw thence London, with its river, and its bridges, and its churches” before descending and getting “into the heart of city life” (65–66). Such a tangible, real vision of a busy metropolis gives Lucy a particular kind of excitement which stems from a sense of productivity. Compared to the West End, she writes, “the city seems so much more in earnest: its business, its rush, its roar, are such serious things, sights, and sounds. The city is getting its living—the West-end but enjoying its pleasure” (66). The city is involved in more serious pursuits than the frivolous West End, but, unexpectedly, this gives it a greater appeal even to a tourist. “At the West-end,” she concludes, “you may be amused, but in the city you are deeply excited” (66). Lucy’s experience of London—primarily seen from St Paul’s—is a predominantly visual experience which delights in the solid tangibility of buildings and objects, in the teleological principles of purpose and productivity, and which discerns a moral purpose in keeping up with the requirements of an industrial society. But Lucy’s real view of London is presaged by an imaginative one. Earlier in the novel, she “mentally saw within reach what I had never yet beheld with my bodily eyes: I saw London” (58). The imagination—the mind’s eye—is thus used to guide the physical eye. The actual realisation of a previously imagined view appears in other similar descriptions of looking at London. A writer in Macmillan’s



Magazine, for example, told readers in the 1860s that they could imagine the view from St Paul’s “pretty much as it is without the trouble of going up to see it.”55 The article advises that in order to get your money’s worth from the view, “you must carry up some a priori idea of London with you, which you may mix with the vast vision of underlying and away-stretching leagues of brick and mortar.” The full experience of the elevated city view appears to require a mix of imaginative pre-conception and physical vision—each informs the other to create a more complete experience. This is exactly what the writer describes: “I carried up an a priori idea of London with me, and I did not come down till I had worked the actual vision and the idea into complete union.” Such accounts are as interested in the interpretation of the vision—in the way it is experienced—as in its physical reality. In Villette this imaginative foreshadowing is a recurrent trope— Lucy’s trip to France is, for example, prefigured by a dream vision of Europe. Reality is thus shaped by the a priori conceptions visualised in the mind’s eye. In Sketches by Boz, Dickens romanticises the world around him as a method of ordering and sense-making, but in Villette this operates the other way round: rather than imagination prompted by physical sights, physical sights are prompted by imaginary ones. Furthermore, the article from Macmillan’s Magazine displays a detailed awareness of the power of pre-conceptions in forming the experience of a given view. The realist claims of panoramas and their much-touted illusions of comprehensive totalities therefore had to be balanced alongside the imaginative subjectivity of the individual. If, as I have been arguing, the temporal compression involved in experiencing a panorama facilitated a disentanglement of embedded temporal structures, it must also be pointed out that this process had its limitations. Panoramic illusion relied on containment, both physical and hermeneutic, to create a sense of comprehensive totality. Individual experiences might be unique to each observer, but they were still largely contained by the painting itself which, in presenting only one moment, left imaginative temporal meanderings (daydreams, memories, etc.) somewhat tenuously supported. Panoramic images were usually insistently materialistic, presenting only the visible surface of physical reality. In a manner, the artist provided the viewer with the a priori sense required to reconcile “the actual vision and the idea into complete union”—by the time the observer arrived, these had already been unified by the artist. Yet actual experience allows and encompasses a much wider variety of subjective meanings than such illusions can possibly include. Whereas the panorama sought to



contain space-time in a controlled environment, panoramic discourse in printed texts often sought to extend beyond this to generate a mimesis that more closely reflected real-life experiences. That is, they acquired a plurality of meaning and a discursive hybridity which more closely reflected the plurality of temporal experience and involved the reader in a wider array of sense-making activities. It is clear, from the various examples covered here, that visual technologies were important for many kinds of popular and literary texts. The following chapters will demonstrate how our understanding of nineteenth-century British culture can be enriched by explication of the technological-perceptual discursive frameworks that underpin much of the century’s print culture. Part of the reason this has not been covered in greater detail until now is that these discourses operated primarily on a referential level of connotation and association. While there are many examples of direct, denotative, surface-level links between texts, ideas, and technologies, there are many more which are connotative, employing links that rely on cultural information that is not explicitly present on the surface of the text. For instance, a nineteenth-century reader might recognise a relationship of panoramic vision between, say, a bird’s-eye view, a series of urban sketches, and the chaotic urban scenes of Frith and Boucicault, without the presence of direct textual references. Indeed, such texts might rely on an implicit evocation of readers’ experiences of panoramas to convey the full breadth of their meaning. On the connotative level of heteroglottic cultural discourse, correlation and association can themselves operate as direct relations; the semantic, conceptual, and perceptual currents that form cultural discourse refer and defer meaning on a below-the-surface level of connotative meaning. These currents and meanings are not, however, indistinguishable or undetectable. Rather, the discussion below seeks to uncover some of them in order to shed light on individual texts and textual formations but, more broadly, to demonstrate the manner in which technology and imaginative processes became entwined in ways that affected the processes of seeing, thinking, and writing in the nineteenth century.

Notes 1. Altick, The Shows of London, 149. 2. Stephan Oettermann, The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 101.



3. Oettermann, The Panorama, 185. 4. Oettermann, The Panorama, 288. 5. Oettermann, The Panorama, 143. 6. This is partly to avoid repetition of the considerable scholarship that already exists on panoramas. For useful sources which discuss the various forms of panorama, beyond those already cited, see also Denise Blake Oleksijczuk, The First Panoramas: Visions of British Imperialism (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and Bernard Comment, The Panorama (London: Reaktion, 1999). 7. Oettermann, The Panorama, 49. 8. Oettermann, The Panorama, 49. 9. Altick, The Shows of London, 149. 10. Stafford and Terpak, Devices of Wonder, 318. 11. Alison Byerly, “‘A Prodigious Map Beneath His Feet’: Virtual Travel and The Panoramic Perspective,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 29 (2007): 151. 12. Oettermann, The Panorama, 22. 13. Altick, The Shows of London, 132. 14. Anon. “Panorama of London and Visitor’s Pocket Companion” [Advertisement], Pierce Egan’s Weekly Courier, to the Sporting, Theatrical, Literary, and Fashionable World, 8 February 1829. 15. Roderick Murchison, quoted in Anon. “Mr. Wyld’s Model of the Earth,” Illustrated London News, 7 June 1851. 16. Thomas Horner, quoted in Anon. “Pen and Ink Views of the Metropolis— No. V.,” Morning Post, 20 October 1835. 17. Anon. “The Colosseum, Regent’s Park,” Morning Chronicle, 28 May 1831. 18. Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, ed. Margaret Cardwell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 128–132. 19. Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 131–132. 20. Dorothy Van Ghent suggests that Dickens presents this overwhelming level of detail because, “assuming there is coherence in a world visibly disintegrated into things, one way to find it is to mention everything.” As will be seen later (see Chaps. 7 and 8), such assumptions are not inevitable. Dorothy Van Ghent, “The Dickens World: A View from Todgers’,” Sewanee Review, 58, no. 3 (1950): 426. 21. Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 131–132. 22. Perhaps most famously, Queen Charlotte reportedly felt seasick upon visiting Barker’s Leicester Square panorama of the naval fleet at Spithead. It is difficult to know whether this was a complimentary comment on the artist’s skill or a genuine physiological response to the immersive illusion (or both). See Altick, The Shows of London, 133–134. 23. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York:



Schocken Books, 1967, repr. 1999), 253–254. A helpful account of various historical conceptions of temporality is given by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), 23–36. 24. Martin Meisel makes the case that, rather than a unified experience, panoramas were temporally fragmented due to the sheer variety of details contained in the image. My own argument builds on this to suggest how such fragmentation might operate as experience. See Martin Meisel, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983), 376. 25. Altick, The Shows of London, 155. 26. See, for instance, Oettermann, The Panorama, 39–47; Rob Shields, The Virtual (London: Routledge, 2003), 10. 27. Oliver Grau, Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, trans. Gloria Custance (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), 111. 28. Grau, Virtual Art, 110. 29. Oettermann, The Panorama, 32. 30. Anon. “Mr. Wyld’s Monster Globe,” The Era, 24 August 1851. 31. Henry Morley, “The Globe in a Square,” Household Words, 12 July 1851, 370. Morley also complained about the use of two different scales in the three-dimensional rendering of the Earth’s surface which, he felt, destroyed the illusion of realism. 32. Byerly, “Travel and The Panoramic Perspective,” 156. 33. Spencer, Principles of Psychology, 415. 34. The origins of the panorama are widely contested with some critics suggesting eighteenth-century historical and topographical “prospect” paintings (Altick) as the pre-history of the panorama, whilst others locate this pre-history in eighteenth-century military sketches (Michael Charlesworth), or eighteenth-century images of European cities (Deborah Nord). See Altick, The Shows of London; Deborah Epstein Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation, and the City (London: Cornell University Press, 1995); Michael Charlesworth, Landscape and Vision in NineteenthCentury Britain and France (London: Ashgate, 1988). 35. Charles Dickens satirised panoramic travel in a series of articles following the fictional Mr Booley who travels only by panorama and diorama, proclaiming in wonder: “all my modes of conveyance have been pictorial.” See Charles Dickens, “Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller,” Household Words, 20 April 1850, 77. For detailed discussions of panoramas as sites for virtual travel, see Alison Byerly, Are we there yet?: Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 29–82; Altick, The Shows of London, 180; Charlesworth, Landscape and Vision, 14; Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The



Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 52–69. 36. Henry Morley, “Our Phantom Ship: Negro Land [I],” Household Words, 18 January 1851, 403. 37. This was a common pattern for panoramas depicting a place rather than a battle. Examples that follow this pattern include “Description of a View of the City of Jerusalem, and the Surrounding Country” (1841), 149–162; “Description of a View of the Himalaya Mountains” (1847), 291–302; “Description of a View of the City of Cairo, and the Surrounding Country” (1847), 305–320. These anonymously authored examples have all been reprinted at the above page numbers in Stable panoramas in Britain Part 2, ed. Sibylle Erle, Laurie Garrison, and Phoebe Putnam, vol. 2 of Panoramas, 1787–1900: Texts and Contexts, ed. Anne Anderson and Laurie Garrison (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013). 38. Henry Morley, “Our Phantom Ship: Central America [II],” Household Words, 22 February 1851, 516–517. 39. Morley, “Our Phantom Ship: Central America [II],” 517. 40. Morley, “Our Phantom Ship: Central America [II],” 518. 41. Henry Morley, “Our Phantom Ship on an Antediluvian Cruise [VI],” Household Words, 16 August 1851, 492. 42. This relates to earlier tensions between external and internal visibilities. J. Jennifer Jones, for example, argues that panoramas intersected problematically with Romantic conceptions of the sublime as they relied on materiality and externality, giving rise to the term “material sublime.” Jones, “Absorbing Hesitation: Wordsworth and the Theory of the Panorama,” Studies in Romanticism, 45, no. 3 (2006): 359–360. 43. For full discussion of these, see Meisel, Realizations, 381–384. 44. Anon. “Bird’s-Eye View of the ‘Great City’,” Punch, 4 May 1867. 45. Thomas Carlyle to Edward Fitzgerald, 1 October 1842, in The Carlyle Letters Online, ed. Brent E.  Kinser. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007). http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org. 46. Thomas Carlyle to Edward Fitzgerald, 29 September 1842, in The Carlyle Letters Online. 47. Gowan Dawson gives an excellent discussion of this in “Literary Megatheriums and Loose Baggy Monsters: Paleontology and the Victorian Novel,” Victorian Studies, 53, no. 2 (2011): 203–230. See also Dawson, Show Me the Bone: Reconstructing Prehistoric Monsters in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). 48. The process Carlyle describes of turning a series of sketches into a panoramic image is a basic reiteration of the process undergone in creating the panoramas: a sketch artist would create a series of views of the scene which would then be combined into the large circular painting by the artists at



the rotunda. When urban sketch literature appeared to combine both the panorama and the sketch, it was actually restating the importance of the original visual mode which was usually hidden in the larger work. 49. For a discussion of the tradition of writing about London in sketch literature, see J.C. Reid, Bucks and Bruises: Pierce Egan and Regency England (London: Routledge, 1971), 50–52; Donald J. Gray, “Views and Sketches of London in the Nineteenth Century,” in Victorian Artists and the City: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and F.S. Schwarzbach (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980), 43–58; and Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets, 19–48. 50. For the links between sketch writing and panoramas, see Huhtamo’s work on “discursive panoramas” in Illusions in Motion, 331–361; and Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets. Walter Benjamin was perhaps the first modern critic to describe “an abundant literature whose stylistic character forms an exact counterpart to the dioramas, panoramas, and so forth.” Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 531. 51. Pierce Egan, Life in London, or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. And his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, ill. I.R. & G.  Cruikshank (London: Chatto and Windus, 1870), 51. 52. Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz and Other Early Papers, 1833–39, ed. Michael Slater (London: J.M. Dent, 1994), 60. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 53. This notion of extension beyond what is present in the text is reiterated elsewhere. An 1833 entry in the Penny Cyclopaedia pointed out that the modern (as opposed to classical) practice of dividing plays into acts extended “the time of the story greatly beyond the space [of the stage].” See Anon. “Acts (in the drama),” Penny Cyclopaedia 1, no. 13 (1833): 100. 54. Brontë, Villette, ed. Herbert Rosengarten and Margaret Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 65–66. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 55. Anon. “Dead Men Whom I Have Known; Or, Recollections of Three Cities: London From The Top of St. Paul’s. Part I,” Macmillan’s Magazine, July 1865.


“Lost in Air”: The Magic Lantern and Visual Experiences of Balloons and Dreams

Balloons In 1852, Henry Mayhew, accompanied by the famous aeronaut Charles Green, ascended over London in a balloon. An invention of the latter stages of the previous century, by the 1850s the balloon ascent had become a popular spectacle.1 For as little as a shilling, one could watch professional balloonists like Charles Green rise from the Earth in these fragile-looking contraptions. For the Earth-bound spectator, the show was about spectacle and adventure, but for the aeronaut, the visual experience was somewhat different. The balloon ascent had come into popularity more or less contemporaneously with the panorama as well as at a time of increased interest in magic lantern shows such as phantasmagorias and dissolving views.2 These two visual shows, the panorama and the magic lantern, correspond to the two kinds of vision which mid-century writers identified in the visual experience of the balloon ascent. Aerostatic vision—the view from a balloon—was a particularly powerful form of elevated view, and it corresponded in many ways with the far-­ seeing vision of the panorama. Panoramic descriptions of balloon views were not uncommon, and by 1858 a patent had been filed for aerial photography by the French photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon).3 It is not perhaps all that surprising then that the analogy chosen by Dickens and Cruikshank for Sketches by Boz was aeronautical—the frontispiece shows two figures, identifiable as Dickens and Cruikshank, rising over a © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_3




crowd in a hot-air balloon, and Dickens’ preface describes the book as a “pilot balloon.”4 Indeed, a topographical kind of vision that aims to make sense of the world, analogous in many respects to the realism of the panorama, is perhaps the most easily identified aspect of the balloon view. If, at times, such elevated views were problematically chaotic, giving too much all at once, they were also a part of what Denis Cosgrove and William L. Fox term the “geographical imagination”: the process of topographic viewing from above, being “one of our most basic methods of transforming space into place—that is, into known and meaningful locations and environments.”5 The visual experience of the overview, of the simultaneous glance at comprehensive totality, recreated in panoramas and staged through balloon ascents (and, later, aerial photography), was appealing because it allowed (or was supposed to allow) the individual to make sense of the geographical spaces she or he inhabited. It is for this reason that so many panoramas presented views of the cities in which they were exhibited. The process involved here seems, on the face of it, a straightforward act of the geographical imagination, of transforming space into place. In Mayhew’s account of his balloon ascent, he describes his need for an overview in order to see beyond the close-up detail of his journalistic work, to “contemplate far above” the city having previously seen it “below the surface,” and to make sense of the “immense mass” of “strange incongruous” detail.6 The last part, in particular, is strikingly reminiscent of Dickens’ observer on the roof of Todgers’ who suffers from a surfeit of overwhelming and incongruous detail and the sheer lack of order in the chaotic perceptions of a bustling city. Simultaneity remains an issue in Mayhew’s account, but rather than the difficulty being too much all at once (as in the view from Todgers’), it is a case of not being able to see enough. From the surface of the city, or “below the surface” as Mayhew puts it, he is able to see close detail, and he is aware that this detail is perpetuated throughout the metropolis, but he is unable to follow that continuation, unable to make the different perceptual pieces correlate and cohere. His hope then is that an overview of the entire thing, of the whole city “blent into one black spot,” will allow him to comprehend not just a small segment of the city but the entire thing as a totality. Yet this geographical positioning is complicated in the actual experience of the aerial balloon view. Mayhew begins by comparing the experience with two visual technologies with which his readers would have been familiar, the panorama and the diorama: “the earth appeared literally to consist of a long series of



scenes, which were being continually drawn along under you, as if it were a diorama beheld flat upon the ground and […] the world was an endless landscape stretched upon rollers.” The “diorama,” or moving panorama, which Mayhew employs as an analogy, used geometrical perspectivalism like the static panorama to construct realist views of its subjects. Both, therefore, make sense as analogies for a visual experience that, from an elevated position, topographically orders visible space within a set of geographical relations. The “panoramic effect,” Mayhew writes, is “the distinguishing feature of a view from a balloon.” The panorama is here used to describe the geographical imaginative process by which physical spaces might be imaginatively organised into places. Before describing the ascent, Mayhew imagines the experience to explain why he was embarking on such a risky endeavour. In justifying his apparent bravery, Mayhew’s description changes dramatically towards more dream-like imagery as he imagines what he will experience: “Jacob-­ like, you mounted the aerial ladder, and beheld the world beneath you fade and fade from your sight like a mirage in the desert.” It is unclear whether this imagined experience was reflected in reality—it comes before Mayhew describes the actual ascent but was presumably written afterwards, and, interestingly, it takes up roughly as much space in his article as his description of the flight (which digresses into a discussion of the other passengers), perhaps because it was a clear day so venturing “into the clouds” as the title suggested remained only a fantasy. Certainly, readers seem encouraged to combine both the real and the imagined accounts in order to fully understand the experience. Interestingly, in Mayhew’s pre-­ conception, the aeronaut feels an ontological shift in this new space: you “feel yourself really, as you would ideally in your dreams, floating through the endless realms of space.” This, in fact, is a pseudo-religious experience, a “foretaste of that elysian destiny which is the hope of all.” Rather than aiming simply to reaffirm his place in an ordered reality or even to offer a more comprehensive view of a tangible world, Mayhew’s motivation is to actually disrupt that comprehension of reality, to escape from material reality.7 With the physical world having vanished like a “mirage in the desert,” the imagined viewer is left with the odd paradox of a more limited vision facilitating an expanded sense of infinite space, within which you “feel yourself really,” as though previous self-consciousness had been incomplete or unreal. The language gestures pointedly away from the fixed solidity depicted in panoramas towards a world that is conceived, first and foremost, in the mind, just as in a dream. This language is especially



striking coming from Mayhew; for a man known most widely for his social journalism, he is remarkably quick to eschew the detailed, realist mode of the panorama and diorama with which he begins. The inability of the panoramic perspective to adequately articulate the entirety of the balloon experience is further demonstrated by comparison with the shows themselves. One “diorama” (in this case likely a moving panorama) of a balloon flight, for example, was unable to—or disinterested in—replicate anything other than the aspect of the landscape laid out for a god-like observation. A reviewer for All the Year Round noted that if a “bird’s-eye condition” (i.e. the view from the balloon) were maintained, then the countries passing below would be “rather indistinct and unsatisfactory.”8 To solve this problem, after the first part of the diorama, the balloon was reduced to a tiny figure “put away high in the air, in its proper place.” The actual view from the balloon is thus abandoned when it ceases to be distinctly panoramic; it relies too heavily on the subjective presence of the observer in a visually limited position to be satisfactorily recreated for a mass audience in this way. A year before Mayhew’s ascent, the poet and critic Richard Horne wrote a similar description which begins with panoramic descriptions of the Earth in a “map-like appearance.”9 But, as discussed in the previous chapter, for Horne this real counterpart to the simulated view of the panorama is disconcerting: “Everything below is seen in so new a form, so flat, compressed, and simultaneously—so much too-much-at-a-time— that the first look is hardly so satisfactory as could be desired” (99). Horne, like the observer on the roof of Todgers’, is overwhelmed by the simultaneous perception of so much physical reality. For Horne, it is only when the view becomes abstracted and mediated by cloud and vapour that these problems subside. Whereas Mayhew’s balloon flight occurred on a cloudless day, Horne’s does not, and his experience seems to validate Mayhew’s imagined account. As Horne’s balloon rises, the view tends towards psychological and metaphysical forms of vision, to the extent that Horne describes it as a “phantasmagoria,” writing that “we soon come now to the shadowy, the indistinct,—and then all is lost in air.” The clouds rush past “giddily, and incessantly down, down, and all with the silence of a dream—strange, lustrous, majestic, incomprehensible!” (99).10 This visual experience prompts a kind of involuntary imagination which, according to Horne, caused less “respectable and business-like” aeronauts to indulge in various “romantic fancies” and “self-delusions” (99–100). Once the balloon



enters the clouds, the view turns “magical” and phantasmagorical, divorced from the empiricist epistemological stance required of practical engagement with physical reality.11 The panorama’s reliance on geometrical perspective, emphasising the material world, corresponded with one element of the balloon view. But the second part of the balloon view, once one rose into the clouds, becomes a “phantasmagoria”; it more closely resembles the phantasmagoria magic lantern show with its associations with the subjectivity of the individual observer. In phantasmagorias, the screen, like a cloud, created a distance between subject and object, the darkened room filled with a single diffused light created a sense of abstraction, and the small painted slide’s indistinctness of detail required an act of imaginative perception to complete the image. The prominent showman of the early phantasmagoria, Étienne-Gaspard Robert, or Robertson as he was commonly known, was also a keen balloonist. Henry Morley wrote an article in Household Words four years after Mayhew’s ascent, describing meeting Robertson, who is introduced to him “as an artist of ghosts.”12 Robertson corrects the introduction, adding: “he was not only a manufacturer of phantoms, but was a Power of the Air in another sense, as one of the most successful balloon travellers of his own time.”13 In fact, Robertson claims that he had “raised ghosts and ascended to the sky in many countries.”14 The magic lantern show, the phantasmagoria, and the balloon are here linked, united under the term “Power of the Air,” and indeed the phantasmagoria more generally held a strong relationship with the air. Unlike the panorama which attempted to create an illusion of tangible reality, magic lantern shows, particularly the phantasmagoria, openly made visible the ephemeral, intangible, and even the invisible (e.g. spirits and ghosts). Light was projected through a painted glass slide, via a lens, on to a viewing surface designed to dematerialise the image. The surface itself was usually, but not always, a screen—Robertson used thin gauze saturated in wax and sometimes more transitory materials such as smoke—and the projector was hidden from view (the screen was usually back-projected).15 If, as Isobel Armstrong suggests, “the lens remade matter as an ‘ideal’ entity, in the ‘air,’ and so changed the image that it appeared independent of an origin, a replication without correspondence,” then this was especially true for the magic lantern which did not require a tangible object at all but merely the transparency and translucency of painted glass and a smoke screen.16 The aim was to dematerialise the image to turn it into a



“phantom”; to this end Robertson had his images painted on black backgrounds as, in the darkened room, this made them appear to “float in free space.”17 The image appeared as though it existed only in the empty air. The effect was an internalisation of the image—logically, if it did not pertain to a tangible real-world object, then it must be a result of some mental or imaginative process. This imaginative internalisation was an intentional part of its design. Panoramas might have excited people’s imaginations in their effect, but beyond a basic ordering of physical reality, imaginative vision was not a part of the design. Conversely, magic lantern shows relied intensively on the imaginations of audiences. Notably, according to Simon During, Robertson had “read von Eckartshausen on the power of the involuntary imagination to conjure up absent or dead persons.”18 Karl von Eckartshausen, a German mystic, considered the imagination to be related to blood flow. In 1788 he claimed it possible to use the “involuntary power of the imagination” to “manufacture a mirror whereby you can show different people a person they would like to see, even if the person they want to see is not present.”19 von Eckartshausen’s method followed a rudimentary form of associationism: “the imagination is a container of pictures, therefore similar pictures evoke other similar pictures.” Like von Eckartshausen’s “mirror,” Robertson’s phantasmagoria promised to present the dead to its audience through an associationist prompting of involuntary imagination. Mayhew’s and Horne’s respective accounts of the abstracted, dematerialised visual experience of ballooning in clouds self-­consciously express a similar kind of involuntary imagination that romanticises the balloon ascent as a spiritual experience. For Romantic writers such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, popular visual entertainments like the panorama and the magic lantern were, at best, examples of a “material sublime” reductively materialising the spiritual and psychological feelings of the true sublime.20 Yet in these ballooning accounts, these same visual technologies are instrumental to conveying both perceptual and spiritual characteristics of a real experience. There was, of course, a clear connection very early on between the phantasmagoria on the one hand and irrational psychological visions on the other, especially dreams and hallucinations, with the term “phantasmagoria” quickly becoming a metaphor.21 This was as much to do with the dematerialising processes of its technological conditions as with its fantastical subject matter. In a similar manner to accounts of ballooning,



dematerialised images frequently prompted supernatural or irrational forms of vision. Walter Scott tells the story of a “wild man”: It is certain that many persons profess to have seen such a form traversing, with huge strides, in a line parallel to their own course, the opposite ridge of a mountain, when divided from it by a narrow glen; and indeed the fact of the apparition is so generally admitted, that modern scepticism has only found refuge by ascribing it to optical deception.22

Here Scott adds in a footnote: “the shadow of the person who sees the phantom, being reflected upon a cloud of mist, like the image of the magic lantern upon a white sheet, is supposed to have formed the apparition.” The image, like that of the magic lantern, is instinctively associated with the supernatural because of its apparent lack of relation to a tangible object. The actual process by which the image is made dematerialises it and, by extension, abstracts it from the realm of physical reality. What does not look solid is either supernatural or an “optical deception.”23 In this sense, then, the technological conditions of the magic lantern image suggest the supernatural even without the many ghostly phantoms that were the favourite subject of the phantasmagoria shows. The magic lantern show recreated the distinct properties of dematerialised, irrational visions, in such a way that it quickly became a shorthand for that type of visual experience. In an evocative account, Marcel Proust, writing much later, describes his childhood magic lantern which “substituted for the opaqueness of my walls an impalpable iridescence, supernatural phenomena of many colours, in which legends were depicted as on a shifting and transitory window.”24 An important part of the lantern’s enduring visual appeal was its ability to dissolve solid objects—like Proust’s walls—into intangible, shifting images which could not help but question the very nature of perception, appealing to the imagination (the suggestions of the “supernatural” and the stories of “legends”) while disrupting any sense of physical space. It is this aspect of the magic lantern show which is so strongly suggested to the aeronaut witnessing a panoramic vista of the physical world become “lost in air.”25 The visual experience of magic lantern shows, reiterated by the atmospheric effects experienced in ballooning, can in this sense be understood as a visual mode that might contend with, or supplement, the panoramic visual mode. In 1858, Edmund Dixon wrote an interesting account of a



dream of flight in which the dreamer “is uplifted from the ground, as if in a buoyant medium, and glides without an effort through the scenes of an ever-varying panorama.”26 The chief technology of topographical realism, the panorama (in all its forms), is thus reconfigured in the bodiless movement of the “soul” in “repose.” Dreams of flight, according to Dixon, are one of the “most pleasing of delusions.” This kind of dream state appears to realise more fully the kind of imaginative vision that Horne describes in his account. Interestingly, in a move rather like those observers who pre-­ imagined the view from St Paul’s before climbing the dome, during his balloon flight, Mayhew imaginatively supplements the perceptual reality of the flight to imbue it with the qualities of “ancient myths.” The result is more satisfying because it gestures more strongly towards the limitless vision for which he strives; Mayhew contrasts this with the “stage trickeries of an ethereal Astley’s,” which limit the experience to the mechanical bounds of physical machinery.27 These kinds of vision extend beyond the physically tangible, which was the domain of the painted panorama, instead relying on the creative powers of the mind to generate an alternative but potentially more satisfying conception of space and place. Through the imagination, the dream steps beyond the material and propels the observer into what Auguste Comte may have termed a “theologico-metaphysical prison” but which Mayhew, Horne, and Dixon find liberating rather than constricting.28 Rather than an example of the geographical imagination that perceptually organises space into place, this is an imaginative geography in which place is projected rather than perceived. In this space, the individual is forced to confront the creative aspect of perception that was widely debated across the pages of periodicals like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in the mid-­ century period (discussed at length in Chap. 5). At the heart of this lay the epistemological fault line between the various debates of Kantian apriorism, Humean scepticism, and Scottish common-sense philosophy, or, more generally, between materialist objectivity and various versions of subjectivity. It becomes clear from these examples that the narrative strategies used to describe the dematerialised latter stages of the balloon ascent overlap in their shared references to various kinds of visual experience. In this way, they can be seen to form part of a discourse surrounding the specific kind of dematerialised vision inculcated in magic lantern shows and, especially, the phantasmagoria. As in the previous chapter, the narrativising of this experience is not without its problems. How one translates the simultaneity



of even a (seemingly) dematerialised spatio-temporal experience is wrought with complications, not least because if such an experience is figured in the guise of dreams and psychological forms of vision (as this discursive framework persistently attempts), then the basic structures of spatio-temporal experience are opened to reinterpretation. As such, the psychological functions of visual perception were contentiously debated and often involved an epistemological undoing of physical reality itself. In 1855, for instance, Alexander Bain argued in his influential The Senses and the Intellect that an objective reality cannot exist within the realms of human perception: “We are incapable of discussing the existence of an independent material world; the very act is a contradiction. We can speak only of a world presented to our own minds.”29 The technological conditions of the magic lantern and the natural conditions of the balloon flight emphasised individual subjectivity. The dematerialised abstraction of this visual mode implies an instability in physical materiality, suggesting that reality itself was at best uncertain and at worst mere illusion, that physical reality itself could be dissolved before one’s very eyes. This is part of what made the lantern such a perfect tool for the illusions at, for example, the Royal Polytechnic or the Adelaide Gallery (see Chap. 5). The knowledge that one was being deceived by illusions could be as disconcerting and entertaining as the illusion itself. Furthermore, if this abstracted visual mode prompted a retreat into a world dominated by the mind (as some texts suggested), a world most fully realised in dreams, then it was potentially also a conscious realisation of the unconscious experience of dreaming. As Mayhew put it, you felt “yourself really, as you would ideally in your dreams.”30 The acts of involuntary imagination prompted by the magic lantern and balloon vision amount to a surfacing of the subconscious and a loss of conscious control in the use of the imaginative power. A balloon flight, in a very practical sense, is only ever semi-controlled, subject as it is to the whims of shifting winds. In his The Physiology of Common Life (1860), Lewes draws a subtle comparison in his discussion of dreams: “we do not pause on certain suggestions, do not recur to them, and reflect on them, but let one rapidly succeed another, like shadows chasing each other over a cornfield.”31 The shadows are of course cast by clouds, blown irrationally across the field. Like the balloon view, Lewes’ conceptual dreams are under the invisible and irrational direction of the wind; the image of shadows over a cornfield suggests the high vantage point of the balloon. Yet the shadows themselves are reminiscent of the phantasmagoria—which



itself had quickly become associated with irrational psychological processes. When Lewes writes, “in dreams no perception is confronted with actual objects,” then he might as easily be talking of the magic lantern in which viewers do not see objects but merely the shadows cast by translucent glass slides.32

Dreams Common rhetorical techniques for describing dreams in the nineteenth century involved theatrical metaphors—peep shows, moving panoramas, dioramas, and phantasmagorias were frequent tropes.33 These metaphors all share the inference of a sequential procession of visual images perceived in a virtual space (i.e. not directly within material reality but as spatial representations subject to some form of mediation) with sensations of rapidity and temporal compressions and decompressions often commented upon as experiential characteristics of this space. As the century progressed, the magic lantern became an increasingly common trope for describing the dream experience.34 Jane Welsh Carlyle, for instance, describes a scene in a dream that “changed itself, more i­ nsensibly than any dissolving view.”35 Likewise, in the chapter, “Mrs. Flintwinch has another Dream,” in Little Dorrit (1855–1857), Dickens begins a similar description by inferring the distorting vision of the magic lantern. Here the “varying light of fire and candle” casts, on the wall of the house, the “changing distortions” of the characters “like shadows from a great magic lantern.”36 The images “hover there” before gradually disappearing: Mistress Affery’s magnified shadow always flitting about, last, until it finally glided away into the air, as though she were off upon a witch excursion. Then the solitary light would burn unchangingly, until it burned pale before the dawn, and at last died under the breath of Mrs. Affery, as her shadow descended on it from the witch-region of sleep. (173)

Dickens’ language emphasises the disorientating lighting conditions to convey a sense of the supernatural and of magic. People become mere shadows, magnified beyond proportion, hovering, and gliding in the “changing distortions” of the light, and sleep is itself a haunted realm, a “witch-region.” The unreliability of vision is such that in this chapter Mrs Flintwinch’s “dream” is actually real, but she is discombobulated by its apparent



unreality (helped along, of course, by her manipulative husband Jeremiah); unreliability makes the real seem unreal, and the ensuing spectacle, to the knowing readers, is unsettling. In this example, the “dream” suggests the magic lantern which in turn connotes the dream: the two forms of vision essentially act in the same way to create an effect of dematerialisation that implies both the supernatural and the psychological. In Mrs Flintwinch’s preceding “dream” (subject of an earlier chapter of the novel), she sees what appears to be Mr Flintwinch watching himself sleep “just as she might have distinguished between a tangible object and its reflection in a glass.”37 The reflection, like the lantern image, is a dematerialisation of the object; its intangibility and, in this case, uncanniness suggest a dream vision. The oscillation between sleeping and waking, imagination and material reality, is here aligned with the disruption of the link between image and object. Moreover, the psychological process of dreaming could be understood in the terms of the technological process of the magic lantern. An article in 1850, for instance, argued: “we do not see in sleep, but we project into space, and thus our ideas have the fixed reality of perception.”38 In this conception, the dream is a kind of psychological projection with a similar dissociation from object as in magic lantern projection. Dreams, balloons, and the magic lantern all share a vocabulary of intangibility and a common interest in the imaginative. That is, the visual mode of the magic lantern is used to articulate the visual experience of the balloon and the dream, but equally, the balloon and the dream reiterate and reaffirm the experience of the magic lantern. There is clearly a looseness in this—the comparisons are not perfect, and, indeed, to talk of “the magic lantern show” is to elide a wide range of different techniques, devices, and types of show. That said, such looseness is evident in how these common points of reference converge. When Dickens writes of the shadows cast “like shadows from a great magic lantern,” he is not referring to a specific technique or show but to a generalised sense of abstracted, psychological, and “magic” vision (the device retained its association with the supernatural throughout the century, but this was usually with varying degrees of irony). A specific form of magic lantern show—the dissolving view—is considered in the next chapter. The spatio-temporal dynamics of dreams, of the balloon view, and of magic lantern shows present further complications. In Lewes’ physiological account, dreaming presents a train of thought instigated by an incomplete sensory perception (since the senses are, according to Lewes, partially



closed during sleep) which, left uncorroborated by other perceptions, is freed to follow fanciful trajectories until intercepted by an incongruous second train of thought prompted by a different isolated and incomplete sensory perception. These thought trajectories, often described by Lewes as “trains of thought” and inspired by associationist ideas of the consciousness, led Lewes to coin the phrase “streams of consciousness.”39 Interestingly, Lewes’ linear trajectories conceptualise thoughts as a set of spatial relationships—thoughts are “trains” that follow teleological pathways. Earlier, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Dugald Stewart, drawing on associationist ideas of the mind, had theorised dreams as successions of associated thought images. It is the temporal experience that Stewart finds most interesting, since it is the aspect that other writers have represented as “the most mysterious of all circumstances connected with dreaming.”40 Stewart is intrigued by the fact that in dreams, times and places are confounded, and “in the course of the same dream,” we might even “conceive the same person as existing in different parts of the world” (168). According to Stewart, this dream experience operates on a principle of spontaneity since “the subjects which then occupy our thoughts, are such as present themselves spontaneously” regardless of conventional rules of space and time (168). Not only does spontaneity supersede the normal laws of material reality; in Stewart’s thinking, the observer’s subjective sense of personal chronology is also disrupted through an ability to “give a single instant the appearance of hours, or perhaps of days” (170). In order to explain this phenomenon, Stewart uses an analogy drawn from popular visual culture, the peep show: When I look into a shew-box, where the deception is imperfect, I see only a set of paltry daubings of a few inches diameter; but, if the representation be executed with so much skill, as to convey to me the idea of a distant prospect, every object before me swells in its dimensions, in proportion to the extent of space which I conceive it to occupy, and what seemed before me to be shut up within the limits of a small wooden frame, is magnified, in my apprehension, to an immense landscape of woods, rivers, and mountains. (170)

Visual contextualisation informs Stewart’s understanding of the temporality of the dream such that the lack of contextualising features which locate a dream in material reality causes a fundamental rupture of spatio-­temporal experience. Whereas a panorama might decompress a single moment in a



way that allows prolonged observation and reflection, in a dream this ­consequence is prevented by the absence of rational order, of rational thought itself. Lewes builds on Stewart’s idea of contextualisation. In Lewes’ account, dreams are composed of linear trains of thought that contain their own internal logic but, lacking external corroboration, are inaccurate and often incongruous with successive thoughts prompted by different uncorroborated external stimuli. Dreams are thus waylaid thoughts, at cross-­purposes, often moving perpendicular or tangentially to one another, so that individual agency is not expressed in the terms of teleological rationalism. According to Lewes, the individual, unable to use sensory corroboration to guide rational thought, is compelled through these “rapid successions” with little control or ability to pause for reflection.41 This disruption of causational relations is effectively a more developed reiteration of von Eckartshausen’s notion of involuntary imagination in which “similar pictures evoke other similar pictures.”42 The idea of successive trains of thought or “pictures” which might be prompted or even directed by visual stimuli is the fundamental principle of both the phantasmagoria and dreams. Similarly, Herbert Spencer’s explanation of the perception of space in The Principles of Psychology (1855) emphasises this issue of corroboration and contextualisation in an example that strongly resembles the darkened room of the magic lantern show: Any one guided into a totally dark place with which he is unacquainted, and of which there are consequently no recollected visual impressions to occupy his imagination, will find that he almost loses his ordinary idea of space—that he almost ceases to be conscious of it as an infinity of coexistent positions, and remains conscious of it only as permitting freedom of movement.43

The dark room decontextualises sensations in order for the projected image to more closely mimic the dream’s distortions of time and space. The dream experiences suggested in the much later work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung can be useful in unravelling some of the assumptions made in these nineteenth-century conceptual models. In particular, Jung’s radial model of dreams is helpful in thinking outside of the linear causational sequences we are habituated to using to conceptualise temporal experience. In Jung’s model, the logic of the dream is non-linear and radiates from a centre of meaning in myriad ways, perhaps overlapping or near-simultaneous.44 From this perspective, Jung argues: “the



unconscious does not care about our time or the causal interrelation of things.”45 Rather than these rules derived from conventional reality, we should “suppose an unrecognisable centre from which the dreams emanate.” Our conscious recollection of dreams misrepresents them as a chronological series “one after the other”: “we conceive them with the help of the temporal category and relate them to one another in a causal way.”46 Thus, the chronological series we consciously recollect is not the “true series” in which the dreams were originally experienced. To make sense of dreams, we strip them of their simultaneity and impose a sequential order on non-­sequential events. Magic lantern shows of all kinds were often guided by a showman who might impose a narrative sequence on the shifting images. If we remember that, especially in phantasmagorias, the images themselves were often pointedly irrational, supernatural images designed to loom from empty air, the showman’s narrative is always in some degree distinct from the first-order irrationality of the visual data. It seeks to install a logic upon visual data where, to some degree at least (depending on the success of the illusion), there may be no logic beyond that of juxtaposition and implied connotation. The tenuousness of this logic refers implicitly back to the dream state where causational and sequential logic is eroded by the unconscious mind. Such a referral might well suggest a serious disruption of the linear relations of causational sequencing. The later theories of psychoanalysis obviously developed in unique and different ways, but some of the basic underpinnings overlap. Stewart, for example, noted the importance of memory, especially childhood memory, in forming and directing the associated ideas or trains of thought ­experienced by the dreamer.47 To emphasise the formative importance of memory is also to reinstate the importance of the subjective observer since memories are unique to each individual. A showman might impose some form of order upon the show, but involuntary acts of imagination require the audience to play a powerful role in endowing the illusion with signification while also disrupting the showman’s narrative. The visual experience is thus directed but not controlled by imaginative perception, with memory acting as a vital element just as it might in a dream. Although memory can be experienced sequentially, it is also mutable, often irrational, and, in reveries and moments of nostalgia, prone to the uncontrolled balloon-like movements described by Lewes. The spatio-temporal dynamic in this conception of dreams is such that the kind of simultaneity found in dreaming disrupts teleological



spatio-temporal models (i.e. the objective time of chronology and the objective spatial relations posited by conventional geography), forming a disjunction between observer and material reality (time and space are decontextualised so that both temporal moments and geographical space are compressed or decompressed without apparent cause), and, furthermore, the logic of rational thought is replaced, or at least redirected, by the irrational forms of memory and imagination. Dreams therefore are experiences in which our normal psychological processes for making sense of the world are unable to operate. Magic lantern shows did not typically promise spatial simultaneity in a panoramic sense, but, through techniques of superimposition, they could imply a temporal simultaneity that operated within a visual space of intensified decontextualisation: the darkened room with slides painted on black backgrounds so as to appear out of the darkness, the permeability of the screen (sometimes images were even projected onto smoke), the fantastical content of the slides. A general disregard for perspectival realism, for contextualised information (there might be a showman, but he was unlikely, in the phantasmagoria at least, to provide comprehensive educational facts), and for contextualising reference points that might situate the audience made the magic lantern ideal as a conceptual model and metaphor for the decontextualised visions of dreams and hallucinations. Like Mayhew’s imagined view from a balloon, this was a visual experience that sought to transcend the limitations of visible reality, using memory and imagination to evoke atemporal psychic images to complement the real images on the screen. The moment at which balloon views turn away from panoramic description, and at which the “diorama” of the balloon flight abandons its balloon view, is the moment at which atmospheric effects of light and air create an abstracted visual field. The natural visual effects caused by clouds and air mimic the effect of decontextualisation that Spencer describes in the darkened room—obscuring air vapours and cloud formations create a surreal experience of disrupted and disjointed perspectives that emulate experiences of dreams. It is, then, unsurprising that fogs and mists might also remind some writers of the balloon view in a way that implies a dream-­ like disruption of physical reality. George Augustus Sala, for example, is reminded of ballooning by a fog seen while travelling by train: “I saw a fog, a real fog, the other day, travelling per rail from Southampton; but it was a white one, and gave me more the idea of a balloon voyage, than of the fog de facto.”48 Here the balloon voyage actually takes priority in his mind over the fog itself, as though the two things connote entirely



different experiences—a fog, perhaps, being more integrated within conventional perceptual reality than its aeronautical counterpart. In other words, one sees a fog with one’s feet firmly on the ground. Dickens opened his novel Bleak House (1853) with a well-known description of fog: “Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging over the misty clouds.”49 These observers occupy a deliberately uncertain position, neither in the sky nor on the ground, unable to see the river below or the city around them.50 As Steven Connor points out, the fog causes an “undoing of place and spatial differentiation”; it divides the visual space from the physical and geographical location. It also implies a temporal undoing. Both Mayhew and Horne conceptualise this kind of visual experience as dream-like and phantasmagorical. Correspondingly, with the temporal logic of a dream, in Dickens’ opening chapter, the streets appear as though the “waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth,” and it would be perfectly normal to see a Megalosaurus wading up Holborn Hill. Such is the dissociation between perceptual space and physical reality here that, on noting that pedestrians have been slipping in the mud “since the day broke,” the narrator adds in a doubtful mutter of a parenthesis, “if the day ever broke.” Sala’s and Dickens’ respective descriptions of fogs reverberate with the symbolic ascent-from-Earth of the balloon which maintains a diminished connection with physical reality as tenuous as that of a dream or of the decontextualised image of the magic lantern show. The visual feature shared by these forms of vision is the diffusion and abstraction of light through transparent and translucent materials. Diffusion was a fundamental feature of magic lantern shows in which the screen acts as a veil between materiality and immateriality, in a similar way to fog or cloud.51 Watching a magic lantern show, the viewer is drawn into an illusion, but rather than the emphasised solidity of the panorama, here the illusion is of the dissolution of matter. Transparency is both concealed and revealed, depending on how one looked at the screen (whether through or at), but the overall sense is of a disconnection from, or a dissolution of, physical reality. For some writers, this ability to look through matter, the fundamental process of the magic lantern, gives way to conceptions of the infinite. In the popular science book, The Aerial World (1886), George Hartwig writes that our knowledge of astronomical space is indebted to the “wonderful transparency of the air”:



Stars rolling through space at an incredible distance from our earth send forth their light through the luminous ether which carries it along on its imponderable billows, and, unimpeded by the transparent atmosphere, forms, as it were, the connecting link between our planet and their effulgent orbs. Thus we receive their image as if there were no intervening miles of air, and the grand idea of the infinite beams upon our mind.52

The invisibility of the air forms a visual denial of distance, a decontextualising feature reminiscent of Stewart’s description of “distant prospects” in dreams. Alongside this, the diffusion of light provides a vital service in preventing an excess of sunlight dazzling us. If the Earth’s atmosphere did not disperse the sun’s light, “the mild brilliancy of the firmament, with all its lovely graduations and plays of colour, would be transformed into monotonous contrasts of profound obscurity and vivid glare.”53 Perhaps the most recurrent aspect suggested by naturally diffused light is, as Hartwig suggests, the infinite. The magic lantern’s technologically produced vision aligns itself to this in its diffused light but also in its apparent eschewal of the conventional limits of perspectival realism. The magic lantern’s image is constrained by no stage or frame and can literally dissolve into another image, float in the air, or disappear in a cloud of smoke. It allows progression; however, its repetitions and progressions do not suggest the constraining linearity of the railway journey from A to B but rather the balloon voyage’s uncontrolled and unconstrained floating. In fact, this eschewal of teleological sequence and contextualised realism made it particularly apt as a model and metaphor for non-rational forms of thought and perception, most obviously as a shorthand of the highly subjective visions of dreams. Yet, as the next chapter will show, the dissolving view, as a particular and popular instance of the magic lantern show, contained its own set of discursive values which formed a part of nineteenth-­ century historiographical thought. These values had implications for a range of cultural production outside of history writing (though this was certainly involved), including, for instance, J.M.W. Turner’s painting and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), as will be seen.

Notes 1. For a discussion of balloon ascents as a spectacle, see Mi Gyung Kim, “Balloon Mania: News in the Air,” Endeavour, 28, no. 4 (2004): 149–155. Kim discusses early balloon ascents in France as a “theatre of the air” which could, in a manner not dissimilar to the panorama, offer the ruling elite a



new means for political symbolism. See also Elaine Freedgood, Victorian Writing about Risk: Imagining a Safe England in a Dangerous World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 74–99; John Robbins, “Up in the Air: Balloonomania and Scientific Performance,” EighteenthCentury Studies, 48, no. 4 (2015): 521–538; Jo Briggs, “Ballads and Balloon Ascents: Reconnecting the Popular and the Didacticin 1851,” Victorian Studies, 55, no. 2 (2013): 253–266. 2. For a description of the relationship between balloons and the panorama, see Oettermann, 13–18; Erkki Huhtamo, “Aeronautikon! or, the journey of the balloon panorama,” Early Popular Visual Culture, 7, no. 3 (2009): 295–306. 3. For a detailed discussion of balloons and aerial photography, see Denis Cosgrove and William L. Fox, Exposures: Photography and Flight (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), 23–51. 4. Charles Dickens, “Preface to the First Edition of the First Series” (February 1836), in Sketches by Boz, xxxix. 5. Cosgrove and Fox, Exposures, 10–11. 6. Henry Mayhew, “‘In the Clouds;’ or Some Account of a Balloon Trip with Mr. Green,” Illustrated London News, 18 September 1852, 224. Since the entire article appears on a single page, no further page numbers will be given for this source. 7. Flint considers this a “slippage” between “the material world and inner forms of vision.” See Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, 9–10. 8. Anon. “Moving (Dioramic) Experiences,” All the Year Round, 23 March 1867, 306. 9. Richard Henry Horne, “Ballooning,” Household Words, 25 October 1851, 99. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 10. Horne also makes a link between this environmental visual impairment with physiological impairment—he describes the clouds as a “cataract of cloud-rocks.” This fits within a broader interest in visual impairment in nineteenth-century accounts of visual experience. For more on this, see Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, 64–92. 11. In a similar vein, the popular science showman John Henry Pepper writes of “the thousand beauties of the panoramic view stretched below him [the aeronaut]” followed by the “magical spectacle” in which “the evening mists, gradually rising from the ground, collected into clouds and, hanging in dense masses, screened the earth from his sight” and the rising moon “tinged with various hues the ever changing forms of the accumulated vapours which floated beneath him.” See John Henry Pepper, Scientific Amusements for Young People (London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1861), 106.



12. Henry Morley, “Robertson in Russia,” Household Words, 4 August 1855, 14. 13. Morley, “Robertson in Russia,” 14. 14. Morley, “Robertson in Russia,” 14. 15. Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria: Spirit visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 148. 16. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, 253. 17. Warner, Phantasmagoria, 148. 18. See Simon During, Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 103–104. 19. Karl von Eckartshausen, Magic: The Principles of Higher Knowledge, trans. and ed. Gerhard Hanswille and Deborah Brumlich (Scarborough, Ont.: Merkur Publishing, 1989), 47. 20. For Romantic views on popular visual culture and conceptions of the sublime, see Wood, 99–120; Steve Vine, “Blake’s Material Sublime,” Studies in Romanticism, 41, no. 2 (2002): 237–257. 21. See Castle, The Female Thermometer, esp. 161. 22. Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary (London: Whittaker & Co, 1830), Chap. 18, 250, repr. in Literature Online. http://lion.chadwyck.com. 23. This tension between rational and irrational ways of seeing is played out in James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) in which an almost identical illusion to that described by Scott is ambiguously portrayed, having been conceived as “some horrid demon” by the character who witnesses it. See James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, with ‘Marion’s Jock’ and ‘John Gray o’ Middleholm’, ed. with intr. by Karl Miller (London: Penguin Classics, 2006), 36–37. 24. Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, I, “Swann’s Way,” quoted in Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, ed. David Robinson, Stephen Herbert, Richard Crangle (London: The Magic Lantern Society, 2001), 175. 25. Horne, “Ballooning,” 99. 26. Edmund Saul Dixon, “A Sweep Through the Stars,” Household Words, 22 May 1858, 531. 27. Mayhew, “In the Clouds,” 224. 28. Auguste Comte, “Preliminary Considerations on the Necessity of Social Physics, as Suggested by the Analysis of the Present State of Society,” in The Essential Comte: Selected from Cours De Philosophie Positive, ed. Stanislav Andreski, trans. Margaret Clarke (London: Barnes & Noble, 1974), 124. 29. Alexander Bain, The Senses and the Intellect (London: J.W. Parker and Son, 1855), 371. 30. Mayhew, “In the Clouds,” 224.



31. George Henry Lewes, “A Theory of Dreaming,” in The Physiology of Common Life, 2 vols (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1859–1860), 366–372, repr. in Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts 1830–1890, ed. Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 112. 32. Lewes, “A Theory of Dreaming,” 112. 33. For an account of the differing accounts of dreaming in this period, see Groth and Lusty, Dreams and Modernity: A Cultural History (London: Routledge, 2013). 34. See Castle, The Female Thermometer, 144–146. 35. Jane Welsh Carlyle, letter to William Dods, 16 September 1861, in The Carlyle Letters Online. 36. Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, ed. Harvey Peter Sucksmith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 172–173. 37. Dickens, Little Dorrit, 42. 38. Anon. “The Night Side of Nature,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, September 1850, 274. 39. For detailed discussion of this and its relations to associationism and nineteenth-century psychological theory, see Groth and Lusty, 40–54. 40. Dugald Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (New York: E.  Hosford, 1827), 170. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 41. Lewes, “A Theory of Dreaming,” 112. 42. von Eckartshausen, Magic, 47. 43. Spencer, The Principles of Psychology, 242. 44. Angeliki Yiassemides draws on a variety of Jung’s work to give an overview of this model in Jung’s thought. See Angeliki Yiassemides, Time and Timelessness: Temporality in the theory of Carl Jung (London: Routledge, 2013), 36. 45. Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936–1940, ed. Lorenz Jung and Maria Meyer-Grass; trans. Ernst Falzeder and Tony Woolfson (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2008), 10. 46. Jung, Children’s Dreams, 10. 47. See Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 167. 48. George Augustus Sala, “Things Departed,” Household Words, 17 January 1852, 401. 49. Charles Dickens, Bleak House, ed. George Ford and Sylvere Monod (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), 5. 50. Steven Connor, Matter of Air: Science and Art of the Ethereal (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), 180. According to Connor, London fogs in general were “seen as much as an enchantment as a curse” (277).



51. For a useful discussion of the screen as a key feature of the magic lantern show, see John Plunkett, “Optical Recreations, Transparencies, and the Invention of the Screen,” in Visual Delights—Two: Exhibition and Reception, ed. Vanessa Toulmin and Simon Popple (Eastleigh, Hamps: John Libbey, 2005), 175–193. For an excellent history of the magic lantern in general, see Laurent Mannoni, The Great Art of Light and Shadow: Archaeology of the Cinema, ed. and trans. Richard Crangle (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000). 52. George Hartwig, The Aerial World: A Popular Account of the Phenomena and Life of the Atmosphere (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1886), 53. 53. Hartwig, The Aerial World, 57.


The Dissolving View and the Historical Imagination

Reviewing the 1842 Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, the art critic John Eagles wrote of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings: They are like the “Dissolving Views,” which, when one subject is melting into another, and there are but half indications of forms, and a strange blending of blues and yellows and reds, offer something infinitely better, more grand, more imaginative than the distinct purpose either view presents. We would therefore recommend the aspirant after Turner’s style and fame, to a few nightly exhibitions of the “Dissolving Views” at the Polytechnic, and he can scarcely fail to obtain the secret of the whole method […] Turner’s pictures […] should be called henceforth “Turner’s Dissolving Views.”1

Eagles was not a fan of Turner’s work, and his review is no doubt intended to reduce the stature of Turner’s paintings from high art to the level of popular performance—the review begins its section on Turner by suggesting he suffered hallucinations, and Eagles reused the dissolving view comparison the following year, noting with approval that there were few imitators of Turner’s “‘dissolving view’ style.”2 The choice of metaphor was possibly influenced by Turner’s reputation as a performer among both critics and admirers, which was principally due to his performances on the Academy’s Varnishing Days, a period before the annual exhibition when academicians were allowed to work on their paintings once they had been hung on the walls of the gallery. Turner was mythologised in the press for performatively completing paintings on Varnishing Days from, it is sometimes implied, only rudimentary © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_4




sketches or a few washes of colour. Accounts were likely often exaggerated, but these performances cemented Turner’s reputation both as a popular performer and as a Romantic genius. On the Varnishing Days of the 1842 exhibition, it is unclear how much work Turner undertook on his paintings. Rebecca Helen compares the painted areas to the framed areas to suggest that Turner made only minor additions to War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet and Peace – Burial at Sea, for instance—but certainly by this time, there was a general myth of performative genius built around the artist.3 Much of the press for Turner’s submissions to the 1842 exhibition was negative, concentrating primarily on various aspects which broadly fall into the category of realism: clarity, recognisability, and believability of depiction, among others.4 Part of the problem also lay in Turner’s choice of subject matter—reviewers struggled, for example, to relate the exiled Napoleon and the limpet in War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet with the sea burial of the artist David Wilkie in Peace – Burial at Sea (Figs. 4.1 and 4.2).

Fig. 4.1  J.M.W. Turner. War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet. 1842



Fig. 4.2  J.M.W. Turner. Peace – Burial at Sea. 1842

These two subjects (or three if you include the jarring juxtaposition of emperor and limpet) do not naturally fit within a traditional historiographical narrative or seem to follow a sequential logic. The paintings contradicted reviewers’ expectations by disregarding realist principles of depiction in both form and content. In order to understand them, we need to look beyond the traditions of fine art painting, as Eagles suggested (the paintings, he wrote, are “dreamy performances” which viewers should consider as “dissolving views”). A successor to the phantasmagoria, the dissolving view was a form of magic lantern show that used a gradual transition (the “dissolve”) from one image to another. This transition could utilise superimposition of two slides over one lens or, more often, involved a gradual dimming and elimination of light through one lens while proportionally increasing light through another. Dissolving view shows came to prominence sometime in



the first part of the nineteenth century (Simon During suggests around 1825), taking over from the phantasmagoria as the chief magic lantern entertainment.5 Yet, despite its popularity, the significance of the dissolving view within print culture has received comparatively little attention. In one of the few pieces of work considering the literary impact of dissolving views, Joss Marsh has explored the dissolving view within nineteenth-­ century fiction from the retrospective perspective of twentieth-century film to conclude that the magic lantern “conditioned” audiences to what would later become considered primarily cinematic techniques of t­ emporal and spatial transformations.6 However, as will be seen in this chapter, more than simply conditioning audiences to a visual effect or providing novelists with an aesthetic technique, the dissolving view operated within both history writing and historical fiction as a way of conceptualising and articulating a historiographical perspective that focussed on irrationality and instability and ran counter to positivist accounts. As will be shown, a range of texts, both fiction and non-fiction, worked within what might be considered a quasi-phenomenological historical practice, for which the dissolving view was the paradigmatic metaphor. There is, however, a tricky issue in dealing with the dissolving view as a metaphor, since, in its relation to a type of show, a large number of visual effects and techniques relating to magic lantern showmanship might be meant by the term “dissolving view.” As venues and showmen competed with one another, techniques evolved, and a wide range were included in shows describing themselves as “dissolving views.” As well as the dissolving effect, shows might also involve, for instance, slipping slides which used a sliding panel to make an object or person suddenly appear or disappear within a single image, rackwork slides which involved two layered glass slides that moved with a ratcheted handle, or chromatrope slides which whirled a geometric pattern in a circle for swirling colour effects like a kaleidoscope.7 Shows might also be part of a larger programme of entertainment or education involving scientific information or even fictional narratives. Despite the variance in the shows, the principal effect—that of one image melting into another—remained the meaning most often implicated in the metaphor, probably because it is the effect literally described by the name. Perhaps the most famous venue for dissolving view shows was the Royal Polytechnic Institution, founded in London in 1838 to present new scientific inventions and discoveries to the public. In the Christmas season of 1863, for example, the Polytechnic showcased a “dissolving-view representation of Cinderella” accompanied with “verse and prose, in song



and narrative,” followed by John Henry Pepper’s “A Strange Lecture” which included his famous ghost illusion and various scientific demonstrations.8 But this, of course, was the Christmas pantomime, a special case, and not all shows were so elaborate or involved strong narrative elements. As Jeremy Brooker explains, many dissolving view presentations at the Royal Polytechnic simply presented a “series of seemingly unrelated images” which, coupled with the rivalry among showmen to present images relating to current events, created a rich environment for the generation of alternative historical logics.9 The lack of narrative coherency in these shows can be seen in the views that were advertised: for example, a handbill from circa 1842 advertising dissolving views at the Adelaide Gallery lists 30 different views beginning with a “Figure of Time withdrawing a Curtain” (Fig. 4.3). Some of the listed views are naturally linked—a series of four (numbers 15–18) focus on the poet Robert Burns, for example—but many hold no obvious relation to those before or after them. The audience might be partly guided by a showman, but in cases where no obvious connection existed between the subjects which dissolved into one another, audiences were likely to be left to find their own connections.

Fig. 4.3  Section from an Advertisement for Royal Adelaide Gallery. A splendid exhibition. c. 1842. (© The British Library Board. Evanion Collection)



The Royal Polytechnic was not the only venue for dissolving views—the Regent’s Park Colosseum and the Adelaide Gallery were two particularly notable competitors, but there were many more. Shows might also combine events and forms so that, for instance, an advertisement for the Royal Adelaide Gallery in the 1840s promised “dissolving views introducing a panorama of the Rhine” as part of a programme including the second act of an opera, “Monck Mason’s Aerial Machine,” the feeding of electrical eels, and a demonstration of laughing gas.10 But as During points out, whatever effects might be combined with the basic dissolve, the emphasis was usually on the seemingly magical effect of visions appearing and disappearing into one another and into and out of thin air.11 Beyond the magic lantern shows, there were also a range of portable optical devices which mimicked the dissolving view. “Spooner’s Protean Views,” for instance, were a range of cards which, like the original diorama shows, presented one image when viewed normally but dissolved into another when backlit (see Figs. 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4).

Fig. 4.4  “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)



The dissolving view as a metaphor had a variety of meanings. It could, for instance, be used simply to denote something as imaginary, lacking substance, or transitory, as in “the frost has been so severe […] that garden fruit seems likely to be a mere dissolving view this summer.”12 This usage was particularly common in criticism of parliamentary politics.13 But there was also a very specific intellectualised usage most often applied in historical, literary, or artistic contexts, in which transience and insubstantiality are combined with a subversion of teleological cause and effect. In these examples, one might, for instance, state: “Looked at from a right point of view, the world’s history is a series of dissolving views.”14 As will be seen, there was a cultural discourse in which the dissolving view metaphor was used to depict a kind of extra-teleological sequencing. A hint of this can be seen in a literary review of M.F. Tupper’s novels (The Twins and The Heart) from 1844. The reviewer bemoans the novels as overwrought but finds praiseworthy “glimpses” of “rambling, desultory, involuntary thought” which “flash […] across the intellect,” though “too often fading incontinently into the great obscure of dark and doubtful speculation—like the passing colours of a dissolving view.”15 There is, in the phrasing of this simile, something of the dismissive lack of substance that the dissolving view metaphor often conveyed in political usages, but above this lies a more insistent theme of irrational disruption. These “startling, anticipating, superseding” flashes interrupt the sequential logic of narrative and exist outside of it: “independent of the consecutive interest of the tale, these scraps of fugitive fancy and philosophy speak eloquently to the memory of feelings that have been somewhere familiar to you, you know not when, or how, or why.”16 They appear to be irrational insights that, independent of the teleological (the “consecutive”), speak to emotional memories that do not conform to rational logic or explanation. Treated on its own, the “dissolving view” part of this passage may seem only a small part of its rhetorical composition, but—as this chapter argues—the correlation of dissolving view with uncanny, non-teleological, and irrational phenomena occurs across a range of texts in this period. There is a certain messiness to this. The features of metaphorical uses were not exclusive to dissolving views (although this was their primary relation), and clearly the myriad technological forms that used some form of dissolve or transition (not all transitions were dissolves but the terms were often conflated) mean that the metaphors discussed here do not relate to all the technological forms. However, it is clear that by the mid-century



there was a distinct metaphor that used the term “dissolving view” to denote a set of meanings that broadly evolved out of the technological shows. The properties of the dissolving view which lent themselves to historiographical thinking are visible in Turner’s 1842 paintings. In both Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth and War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet, the colours swirl in a vortex around the central subject. Martin Meisel called it “a liberation of form in the flow of light and colour,” and this swirling does seem to dissolve and obscure perspectival certainty.17 The perspectival disruption also seems to correspond with a historical subjectivity: in considering Turner’s 1843 painting Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (another swirling paired painting), John Eagles wrote disparagingly of Turner spying Moses across the expanse of time and space through “his own peculiar perspective-defying telescope,” disrupting both visual accuracy and fidelity to the story.18 Certainly, the subjectivity of the observer-artist is a central feature. The famous (probably fictional) story of Turner lashing himself to the mast of the ship during a storm to paint his Snow Storm is just another way of expressing the centrality of individual subjective experience in these images. In a similar way, dissolving views, in which one thing combines with another in a “strange blending” or “melting,” sometimes functioned as metaphor for historical or political uncertainty and upheaval. Whereas the Whig interpretation of history emphasised a clear progress, the dissolving view was characterised by repetition, uncertainty, and irrationality. We can see this, for instance, in a letter to the Daily News in 1865 entitled “A Bird’s-Eye View of Paris” which described the contemporary historical situation: “I look down from my pride of place on the moving and ever-shifting incidents that are now blending together to constitute that extraordinary jumble of blunders which men call contemporary history.”19 The letter’s argument is about the rule of France and the nature of different forms of power. It finishes by presenting the French people as images of light on a canvas: […] in France there is no such thing as a representative institution of any kind […] Neither is there any individuality in the French people. No man stands out clear and distinct, acting according to the light that is in him, and which he radiates around. Every man is merged in his neighbour […] It is a canvas covered with daubs, but presenting no distinct images.20



Like Turner’s “dissolving views,” in which “one subject is melting into another,” here “every man is merged in his neighbour.” The metaphorical dissolving view functions as a counterpoint to the structures of historical narrative which, analogous to the perspectival realism of a panorama (in any of its varieties) or to the elevated overview, orders and rationalises the chaos of reality.21 We might, for instance, compare the dissolving view of history with the panoramic view suggested by Lewes in Problems of Life and Mind (1879): “History shows how individual experiences become general possessions, and individual labours become wealth; how facts become Science and industries Commerce.”22 On the one hand, history, according to Lewes, is a “shifting panorama” that presents, in its “continuous evolution,” a teleological sequence we understand as ordered chronology.23 The dissolving view, on the other hand, operates as a metaphor for the unordered chaos of reality—its instability offers moments of clarity before dissolving these into indistinct shapes and forms. As in this example in which individual people merge and personal boundaries become blurred outlines, the dissolving view often appears as a metaphor for those facets of the past which exist extraneous to empirical record or concrete physical perception. In the remainder of my discussion, my aim is to examine the metaphorical operation of the dissolving view within narrativisations of the past (in both historical and literary texts), in other words, the ways in which the metaphor functions within certain strata of the nineteenth-century ­historical imagination. I consider the dissolving view metaphor within nineteenth-­century history writing, reflecting on the shifting parameters of its values within a range of texts. A closer analysis is then conducted of the metaphor’s operation within a single text of historical fiction, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in order to more deeply understand the metaphor’s importance as a tool for conceptualising and articulating history. That these examples are drawn from both fictional and non-fictional history writing is indicative of the historiographical perspective associated with the metaphor, as will become clear.

The Case of a Metaphor: The Dissolving View and the Two Sides of History The role of the dissolving view metaphor within historiography can be helpfully elucidated using terms developed by the twentieth-century critic Michel de Certeau. In discussing the “space of memory” in historiography



and psychoanalysis, de Certeau contrasts psychoanalysis, which “recognises the past in the present,” with historiography which “places them one beside the other.”24 In this way, the psychoanalytic relation of past and present is a relation of “imbrication (one in place of the other), of repetition (one reproduces the other in another form), of the equivocal and of the quiproquo (what ‘takes the place’ of what?).”25 In contrast, the historiographical relation is “one of succession (one after the other), correlation (greater or lesser proximities), cause and effect (one follows from the other), and disjunction (either one or the other, but not both at the same time).”26 Using these terms, we might consider the dissolving view metaphor as beginning with a process recognisable as historiographical (or chronological)—a distinct focussed image followed sequentially by another image that shares a causative relation with the first—which is then supplanted by a process that anticipates something like the psychoanalytical conception of the past (being more equivocal, more coincidental, and less sequential). The dissolving view, in fact, is a cyclical repetition of images (first one, then the next, then an implicit return of the first). In dissolving, these images attain, lose, and regain focus and clarity; for transitory moments, they appear to coincide and coexist with no clear distinction from one to the next.27 The dissolving view is not, of course, a perfect metaphor for psychoanalytic memory (which obviously came later), but de Certeau’s distinction between historiographic and psychoanalytic does neatly capture the metaphor’s relation to conservative nineteenth-century realism and historiographical practice. The dissolving view is intrinsically unstable and therefore, potentially at least, destabilising. As such, it offered an alternative to traditional sequential historiography. This destabilisation is not without form or structure. The dissolving view presents a cycle which intermittently reinstates something resembling linearity and perspectival order, but this linearity is caught in a revolutionary whirl from one to the next and back again. This is a visual “whirl” in more than one sense: the blur of the images replicates the visual field of motion, the dissolving view images were commonly circular, and, like Turner’s paintings at the 1842 exhibition, colours and shapes characteristically radiate centrifugally around a central point which, remaining static across the slides of the dissolve, focusses the viewer’s gaze within the midst of the transitions. In essence, the whirling of the dissolving view contains a sense of rhythmic regularity. In images which oscillate between summer and winter or night and day as magic lantern dissolving views often did, a natural sequential rhythm supplants the linear progressions of sequential



conceptions of time and history.28 The effect contrasts starkly with, say, the moving panorama which commonly presented a journey from one fixed position through a succession of other fixed positions to end at a logically derived destination, all of which would likely be presented with a carefully constructed perspectival realism. Rather than succession and disjunction, the dissolving view infers repetition and conjunction, acting as a ­conceptual counterpoint to the linearity of conventional historical thought (which relies on the sequential logic of cause and effect). The second half of the nineteenth century, in one sense, was preoccupied with epochal and mythic returns: the return of the repressed in psychoanalysis, of visible reality in the photograph, of the primitive in atavism and evolutionary thought, of the dead in spiritualism, séances, table turnings, and spirit photography. These are all examples of the past returning to affect the present (and therefore the future) in some subtle, determinate way. The dissolving view as a paradigmatic metaphor for this kind of returning demarcates a shift from simple causational processes in linear progressions to an implicit, or even self-fulfilling causational action determined by the past in the present which acts on a future that reflects (or performs) a version of the past. That is, as in psychoanalytic thought, or in Derrida’s well-known discussion of Marx’s “performative ghosts,” the past, recognisable in the present, acts to determine a future that is a return to the past, thus forming a temporal cycle.29 As an example, the handbill for dissolving views at the Adelaide (Fig. 4.1) promises a variety of different subjects seen in different states or time frames. The “Water Girls of India,” for instance, appear in daylight and then in moonlight, followed by the Tower of London in daylight, then in moonlight, then on fire. As the lantern changes from one lens to the other, the scene dissolves from day to night, and the viewer is given the sense of time passing. When the subject remains the same, there is very little movement beyond the changing light or incidental details. The first image (either night or day) implicitly reiterates an aspect (in this case, the diurnal/nocturnal light) of the next image which is the past—that is, the nocturnal image acquires meaning in relation with the diurnal image—and this semantic return of the past implies the next stage in the cycle (the nocturnal implies a past instance of the diurnal and consequently implies a future diurnal moment). The implied sequence contains a causational rationale (day to night to day), but its progression from past to present to future is also a progression from past to present to past. Except that this rhythmic logic is further complicated by the progression to the next subject: there is



no clear logical connection between the water girls of India and the Tower of London except that both share a temporal rhythm (both transform from day to night). The logic of cause and effect is replaced by coincidence and shared rhythms that are not causation but do allow a certain predictive logic, in the sense that one can predict the final notes of a melody. The theoretical interest of the past as an element of subjective perception and psychological process (as in dreams, for instance) was brought to the fore in Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, but as the previous chapter showed, such notions were implicit in Victorian dream theories too. For example, in Spencer’s conception of dreaming, memory shapes the visual experience. These kinds of sequential dissolving views seem to subvert notions of temporal progression away from the past and into the future by inferring a return to the past that is the future. Such an inference helps clarify part of its appeal for articulating dreams, but it also points to wider implications for general conceptions of time and history. We can see some of the tropes of dissolving views in Turner’s paintings of 1842  where colours characteristically whirl around a central point. Turner experimented with circular, octagonal, and square canvases of proportions reminiscent of lantern slides. As consequence, his images suggest forms of motion—most famously in his 1844 painting Rain, Steam and Speed but also in the angled column of smoke in Peace or the vortexes of colours in the two deluge paintings. If (as Eagles suggests) we consider Turner’s contributions to the 1842 exhibition as “dissolving views,” then we might consider the two most difficult paintings, Peace and War, as a cyclical binary. The bright sunshine of War melts into the dark clouds of Peace much as magic lantern slides might melt from day to night or summer to winter. The light sources also share a structural unity—that central beam of brightness eviscerating the darkness of Peace is mirrored by the sun’s reflections in War. Compare these lighting effects with the description from a catalogue of dissolving view slides: any two paintings of the same size will answer for dissolving, care being taken that there is a general likeness of light and shade. For instance, a painting having a very light object in its centre will not dissolve handsomely into another painting having a very dark object in the centre. Striking and amusing effects, however, are often produced by dissolving with paintings of entirely different character, and the unexpected change will excite and keep up the interest of an audience—thus a landscape may dissolve into a ­chromatrope or a portrait; or a comic figure may, by the dissolving arrangement, be introduced into a landscape, etc.30



Turner’s paired paintings match the description very well with their shared (and unusual) size and shape and their shared use of light and shade. Thematically, too, there is some unity in the shared representation of the sea, though in War this is a watery shoreline rather than sea proper. But what about the difficulty of the central subjects? Exiled Napoleon does not so obviously dissolve into Wilkie’s burial at sea, and any notion of the latter returning back again to the former is jarring. Perhaps these difficulties are part of the point. They are, perhaps, the “striking” (if not “amusing”) effect of combining “paintings of entirely different character.” They are also the difficulties faced by viewers looking for conventional socio-historical links in paintings that, as the metaphorical dissolving view often does, seem to defy such conventions. Compare this with Spooner’s Protean Views (Figs. 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7). When viewed normally, one sees Napoleon (as the text beneath the

Fig. 4.5  “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)



Fig. 4.6  “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

image explains) “alone & contemplating the mighty ocean which separates him afar from the Continent which was the theatre of his triumphs and his power.” When the card is held so that light shines through it from the back, the “scene is changed & Napoleon is again powerful surrounded by his Veterans and his Legions in the Champ de Mars.” In an intermediate light or with a change of angle, the images blend (as in Fig.  4.6), so that Napoleon is indeterminately positioned in front of a ghost army. As the name suggests, the images are unstable, caught in an ever-changing flux as light reflects off and shines through at different angles and intensities. In these protean views, the effect of the dissolve takes precedence over the bound certainty of visible object. Glory and exile are thus presented as paired inversions which do not form a linear sequence since Napoleon in exile (the chronological end) is just one way of seeing the picture; with a slight shift of light, the card transforms back to its chronological beginning.



Fig. 4.7  “Spooner’s Protean Views No. 10: Napoleon Powerless and Napoleon Helpless.” c. 1840. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

Yet there is a contradiction here. Both versions of the image, as was common with dioramic entertainments, follow the rules of realist perspectivalism, and together they broadly conform to a conservative historical positivism. This is Napoleon as public spectacle: he exists within a clearly ordered chronology that serves to reinforce a conservative and nationalist world view. The image of a defeated Napoleon in exile visualises the completeness of the victory of the European monarchies over the new ­republic; the embedded image revealed by the light then demonstrates the greatness of this victory by showing the former greatness of the vanquished foe. Although the caption seems to invert the chronology and encourage viewers to look at the images as a cyclical repetition, the obvious adherence to rational logic (both in sequencing and in visual form) contradicts this—rather, the viewer is discouraged from engaging with the subject(s) outside of the established norms of teleological historiography. In effect, the two images work to further ingrain a specific and conventional



historical understanding. The intention is to make cause and effect visually apparent. The image of the man is viewed not as a man but as a great emperor in order to affirm the greatness of his defeat. In contrast, Turner’s paired paintings demand that the viewer think beyond established norms to reflect upon the meanings of teleological historiographical practice. In pairing Napoleon with the limpet, he pulls the figure away from the myth to consider him instead as a normal mortal. Whereas in the Spooner’s view of Napoleon, the dissolve is used as a transition between two distinct images, Turner’s 1842 “dissolving views,” which are notably blurred and indistinct except for their central subjects, seem to be locked in the moment between two images. The space of actual physical objects—the focal point of visible reality and the space of event—is very small in these pictures, confined to only thin bands of land that run across the mid-sections of canvas between water and sky. This is true of all of the 1842 exhibition paintings. The space of visible definition and physical solidity is caught between the indistinctions and contradictions of watery reflection and vaporous sky. The vast majority of painted space is thus given to indistinction, as though the whirling visual chaos around objects and people were just as important. Turner might be, as various critics have suggested, drawing attention to the embodied subjectivity of vision, but he is drawing attention, too, to the ambiguity of interpretation. In the paired paintings, War and Peace, for example, viewers who are used to history being “for” something (for understanding progress, nationhood, divine providence, or a multitude of other values) are unable to resolve the images into a coherent narrative. This is not history as chronology or ideology but as event, to be set within an interpretive framework only by individual observers in full knowledge that such frameworks are not naturally occurring, but imposed, and so necessarily reduce events to certain structures and values. The paintings relate to the metaphorical dissolving view in precisely their insistence that visibility does not equate understanding and that, in the blurry, vague expanse around the focussed subject, the flaws and ambiguities in our understanding are rendered visible—great gaps that rupture the certainty of the visible space. Irrationality (or an inability to grasp the rational) is a notable feature in nineteenth-century references to the dissolving view. In Pictures from Italy (1846), Dickens describes how “the rapid and unbroken succession of novelties that had passed before me came back like half-formed dreams,” and he would gaze steadily at a specific memory until:



After a few moments, it would dissolve, like a view in a magic-lantern; and while I saw some part of it quite plainly, and some faintly, and some not at all, would show me another of the many places I had lately seen, lingering behind it, and coming through it. This was no sooner visible than, in its turn, it melted into something else.31

The psychological irrationality (or, perhaps more specifically, extra-­ rationality, as imaginative processes often exist extraneously to conventional rationality) of the metaphorical dissolving view is thus an explicit part of its cultural value. So, too, is the sense of a returning of the past: Dickens uses the metaphor to refer to memories and dreams which cross-­ pollinate. The metaphor represents a kind of cognitive dissonance in which the thing seen is in self-conscious contradiction with the sense of the present moment of reality.32 In reality, no return of the past is perfect but must privilege certain aspects while excluding, diminishing, or altering others. In psychoanalysis such returns are enacted by an individual’s repressed memories (past experience) determining their present existence in ways which, according to Freud, recognisably imitate the past. In the atavist and degeneration theories of the last few decades of the nineteenth century, a similar action takes place with the evolutionary past of the human species returning within a bewildering historical situation to determine the actions and limit the potential for growth or development of specific individuals (often those the observer wishes to marginalise). Max Nordau, perhaps the most famous exponent of degeneration theory, calls this historical context “the vertigo and whirl of our frenzied life,” in which the degenerate individual has a predilection for “inane reverie,” unable to “fix his attention for long, or indeed at all, on any subject” (Chap. 6 addresses this in detail).33 Nordau’s concern is that a reality that shifts and dissolves without clear perspectival logic must necessarily have an organisational structure imposed upon it by the individual observer. The dissolving view is thus aligned with irrationality and, potentially at least, with chaotic psychological disorganisation, mental degeneration, and incapacity. More broadly, the issue of rationality places the metaphor on a fault line between two key developments in the nineteenth century that were inextricable from each other and which were deeply involved in discourses of sociocultural instability and revolution. The first of these is the development of a pervasive materialist empiricism which aimed to use scientific methods and theories to explain social and political phenomena. This general approach



was widely propagated both through extended works like Lewes’ The Physiology of Common Life which sought to explain the physical processes that determine human life for general readers and through the articles of popular periodicals like Blackwood’s, which could find validation in readings of figures as diverse as Bishop Berkeley and Auguste Comte. An article on Comte in 1843, for instance, maintained: “Our Conservative principles, our calm and patient manner of viewing things, have rarely received a stronger corroboration than from the perusal of the extraordinary work of M. Comte.”34 Despite Comte’s more controversial arguments, his positivist sociology as an extension of empirical scientific method promised, to this particular reviewer at least, a move towards social stability since it “is the attempt to reduce to the scientific method of cognition the affairs of human society—[…] all those general topics which […] sustain the incessant strife of controversy.” For many commentators, the conclusions of science were a threat to a society based on Christian values, but to others the scientific method, as here, promised to rescue society from instability and uncertainty. The second development was the unprecedented increase in printed fiction, especially novels, which created a body of imaginative work that, in myriad ways, mirrored, replicated, reimagined, and reflected on the structures and processes of contemporary and historical society, politics, and culture. In this manner, whether intentionally or not, literature was able to operate as a counterpoint to positivist, empirical, and scientific attempts to rationalise seemingly disparate phenomena. Nineteenth-century historians were often alert to this division between empirical and non-empirical discourses; since the Enlightenment’s reprioritisation of historical enquiry from wars and conquests to the socio-­ economic, political, and cultural questions of progress, historiographic approaches had been reappraised and reinvented. For example, in 1830 Thomas Carlyle described two kinds of historians, the “Artisan” and the “Artist,” the difference being in the ability of the “Artist in History” to “inform and ennoble the humblest department with an Idea of the Whole, and habitually know that only in the Whole is the Partial to be truly discerned.”35 Carlyle accepts that subjective choices are necessarily made, but these choices, made well, can yet be instrumental in portraying an accessible, if underlying, truth. As Hayden White shows in his study of nineteenth-century historiography, Carlyle’s conception of actual historical events is that of a “chaos of being,” which the historian must organise, first by understanding things “in their similarity to other things and then



grasped in their uniqueness, or difference, from everything else,” which Carlyle calls the scientific and poetic methods.36 As in normal perceptual experience, the key process here is contextualisation of data in order to compile spatial and temporal topologies that map relations across strata of socio-cultural phenomena and over periods of time. This historiographical method, then, correlates with positivist perspectival realism, especially that espoused by panoramas where the relations of partial details and a “Whole” are a clear priority. Carlyle’s friend and biographer, James Anthony Froude, took a similar view, positing two different kinds of truth, both equally valid, which necessitate the mediating effect of the author: the “literal and external truths” and “the truth of feeling and of thought.”37 In this version, ­subjective truth is equally valid, though under the control of the author who must mediate these different truths to construct a whole narrative. If this seems to move away from positivist and teleological historiography, it is clarified ten years later when, in 1864, Froude lectured at the Royal Society on the possibility (which he believed existed) of a “science of history.” This “science of history” clearly implies the possibility of objectivity within history writing—a view shared by Henry Thomas Buckle whose History of Civilization in England (1858) called for “the creation of the science of history” which would discover “regularity in the midst of confusion.”38 In essence, these different historiographies were attempts to negotiate between objectivity and subjectivity: on the one hand, there was history as science, concentrating on “literal and external truths,” and, on the other, history as art, focussing on “the truth of feeling and of thought.” On the one side, there was specialised scientific discourse, and on the other side, there was literature. The difficulty between these two facets of history writing was the difficulty of resolving individual human psychology with external events—a difficulty that could be recast as the resolution of the invisible with the empirically observable. Beginning his 1829 essay “Signs of the Times,” Carlyle considers the spread of ideas through the general public, describing the “action and reaction of minds on one another” as a “real magic” in which the “casual deliration of a few becomes, by this mysterious reverberation, the frenzy of many.”39 By this process, “men lose the use, not only of their understandings, but of their bodily senses.”40 Having lost, in Carlyle’s description, both mental faculty and bodily senses, the revolutionary figure effectively exists in an unconscious dream-like state of “deliration.” This is “magic” precisely because the causational relation



(psychological “action and reaction”) from one person to another is entirely invisible and thus seemingly beyond empirical understanding. This form of invisible, extra-rational “magic” is central to Carlyle’s essay which seeks to critique the “age of machinery” in which even the “internal and spiritual,” having been mechanised, are reductively understood in materialist terms.41 Faith in physical “Mechanism” presents “but half a picture.”42 A true understanding would require, Carlyle implies, an additional view. Where conventional rationalism finds its limit, Carlyle’s rhetoric turns to the visual and logical structures of the dissolving view. Carlyle positions the reader within a present moment that is “the conflux of two Eternities,” issuing from a past that is both infinite and open to sudden change in the present.43 Carlyle points to moments (the French Revolution, New England witch burnings) in which “a whole people” are “drunk” and wrestle with “all ghastly phantasms” before suddenly the historical moment “lies behind [them] like a frightful dream.”44 In the same way that a dissolving view image might suddenly shift from one subject to another, the revolutionary mood, characterised visually with “phantasms,” suddenly shifts into something else and is remembered only in the unreal terms of a “frightful dream.” Within this historical and psychological flux, England’s insistence on rational teleology has kept it stable: [In England,] the distemper is of pretty regular recurrence; and may be reckoned on at intervals, like other natural visitations; so that reasonable men deal with it, as the Londoners do with their fogs,—go cautiously out into the groping crowd, and patiently carry lanterns at noon; knowing, by a well-grounded faith, that the sun is still in existence, and will one day reappear.45

Carlyle’s figure of “frenzies and panics” as a kind of “fog,” a decontextualised view that disrupts perspectival order, infers the unfocussed dissolve in which “reasonable men” carry on with the knowledge that such a regular occurrence will pass naturally, while the crowd must “grope.” That is, rational thinkers use an inductive logic to suppose that the fog will be dispelled, that it is simply a natural rhythm that will dissolve back into clarity. Yet, despite this “well-grounded faith,” social and political institutions are vulnerable to the vanishing act of the dissolving view: “Those things [repeal of Test Acts, and the ‘Catholic disabilities’] seemed fixed and



immovable; deep as the foundations of the world; and lo, in a moment they have vanished, and their place knows them no more!”46 In Carlyle’s rhetoric, nineteenth-century rationalism is reliant on the quasi-religious dynamic of faith and doubt in order to prevent the dissolution of seemingly “fixed and immovable” institutions. In essence, nineteenth-century historiography grappled with the issue of interpretation. On the one hand, it attempted to present history through empirical facts and applying universal theory in imitation of scientific method, while on the other hand, it sought to represent and interpret those problematic phenomena which were not immediately available to materialist science (the motives, beliefs, and anxieties of individuals). A metaphor which represented a seemingly magical transition from one state to another was a valuable tool for negotiating these issues. Within this historiographical context, the literary parameters of the metaphor are usefully circumscribed by George Eliot’s novella The Lifted Veil (1859). Eliot’s story presents a first-person narrator, Latimer, who experiences prophetic visions and can sense the thoughts of the people around him. The story is full of doublings—it begins and ends with Latimer’s death, for example, and he describes visions and experiences before they are actually experienced. A key development is his vision of Prague, a city which he has never visited. At this moment in the narrative, Latimer is still sceptical of his newly acquired prophetic visions and asks: “Was this a dream—this wonderfully distinct vision—minute in its distinctiveness down to a patch of rainbow light on the pavement, transmitted through a coloured lamp in the shape of a star—of a strange city, quite unfamiliar to my imagination?”47 Latimer focusses on the star-shaped patch of “rainbow light,” and it is this which confirms his abilities when he eventually visits Prague in reality. This transmission of light strongly suggests a magic lantern image (which might equally be described as an image “transmitted through a coloured lamp”). As in the dissolving view, temporal disruption and repetition characterise the vision which begins with the “summer sunshine of a long-past century arrested in its course” (9). This light, we are told, is “scorching the dusty, weary, time-eaten grandeur of a people doomed to live on in the stale repetition of memories, like deposed and superannuated kings, in their regal gold-inwoven tatters” (9). The people, indeed, are “a swarm of ephemeral visitants infesting it [the city] for a day” (9). Such are the similarities with the dissolving view that the reader is not surprised when Latimer then references it directly: “But I could not believe that I had been asleep, for I remembered distinctly



the gradual breaking-in of the vision upon me, like the new images in a dissolving view, or the growing distinctness of the landscape as the sun lifts up the veil of the morning mist” (10). The temporal character of Latimer’s vision closely follows that of the dissolving view. The dissolving slides in Figs. 4.8, 4.9, 4.10, and 4.11, for example, show the same scenes by both day and night. As the lantern changes from one lens to the other, the scene will dissolve from day to night, and the viewer is given the sense of time passing. In the first pair, the primary movement, beyond the changing of the light, is the disappearance of the ducks in the foreground. In both pairs, because there are no people (although there is a small figure of a sailor on one of the boats who, unexpectedly, remains static across the dissolve), there is little obvious movement at all. Commonly in dissolving views of cities, the streets are

Fig. 4.8  Dissolving view slide #1 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)



Fig. 4.9  Dissolving view slide #2 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

entirely empty. The slides, of course, cannot progress beyond a simple repetition between the pairings, and Latimer’s vision, like the structure of the story itself (in which beginning and end mirror each other), features a similar sort of repetition. That is, while the dissolving view could create the illusion of a change from day to night, the view itself remained static and lifeless, much as Prague, in Latimer’s vision, is trapped in the “stale repetition of memories” in which the lifeless statues are “the real inhabitants and owners of this place” (9). The people of Prague are transitory, mere “ephemeral visitants,” and it is the unmoving scenery which holds the gaze (9). Eliot’s story provides clues about the values of the metaphor. Here we have a character for whom time does not pass in a linear sequence but follows a cyclical rhythmic pattern marked by repetitions that follow a binary of vision and reality. It is, too, a story of returns—in which the murdered



Fig. 4.10  Dissolving view slide #3 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

maid returns dramatically to life to name her murderer, in which the beginning returns in the end (or vice versa), and in which memories constantly return to shape the narrative of the present. Moreover, Latimer experiences human relations in an unusual manner. The observable—the “rational talk, the graceful attentions, the wittily-turned phrases, and the kindly deeds”—is “thrust asunder” to reveal the invisible and psychological: “all the suppressed egoism, all the struggling chaos of puerilities, meanness, vague capricious memories, and indolent make-shift thoughts, from which human words and deeds emerge” (30). The concerns of the novella are the concerns expressed by Carlyle in “Signs of the Times”— concerns for the temporal rhythms of history and for the insensible effects of individual minds on one another.



Fig. 4.11  Dissolving view slide #4 from assorted box of 15. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)

Such preoccupations return us to revolutionary history, which is to say to a history that seeks to circumvent the “stale repetition” of hegemonic socio-political structures. Even in the language of writers who were critical of revolutionary action, the dissolution of the “foundations of the world,” as Carlyle puts it, contained the fascination of the irrational and quasi-­ magical. The attempt to devise a science of history was often driven by this fascination and by a desire to contain or control it. Yet the same fascination also powered the narratives of fiction that abstracted the revolutionary from the historical in ways that engaged with its seeming irrationality on a personal level—on the level, to borrow Carlyle’s phrase again, of “the magic in the action and reaction of minds on one another.” The relationship between this kind of fiction and history was, in effect, the relationship between theory and science.48



Forms of the Present, Returns of the Past: The French Revolution and A Tale of Two Cities While historians were engaged in combining scientific method with historical phenomena, literary writers such as Bulwer-Lytton and Dickens were using historical fiction to codify specific socio-cultural phenomena (both historical and contemporary) in isolation from the complex of forces and processes that comprised real-world contexts. For example, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) operates as part of a body of work seeking to theorise the French Revolution and to reconcile it with the presiding beliefs of British popular print culture. Such texts were, of course, interested in their own socio-historical moments. In fact, readers showed awareness of the importance of contemporary society in even the most conventional non-fictional history writing. As one writer put it: “Our whole literature connects itself with the present more intimately than ever. If Arnold writes a History of Rome and Grote a History of Greece, they are thinking of present England all the time.”49 This is reflected in Dickens’ opening statement in A Tale of Two Cities that “in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”50 The novel is also quite clearly a serious examination of the social and psychological forces that made the revolution possible, using its historical detachment to contain those forces outside of their 1850s context. The novel, Dickens writes, aims to “add something to the popular and picturesque means of understanding that terrible time.”51 Alongside Dickens’ statement, we might usefully consider the view of historical fiction given by Dickens’ friend and occasional collaborator, Bulwer-Lytton. The “true mode” of historical fiction, according to Bulwer-Lytton, is to “study diligently the materials as history” to adopt a firmly historical view of “the facts” while adding “that warmer interest which fiction bestows, by tracing the causes of the facts in the characters and emotions of the personages of the time.”52 In this way, events are “thus already shaped” so that what remains for the fiction writer is “the inner, not outer, history of man—the chronicle of the human heart.” The overall effect should be to create a “new harmony” between the human and the historical, “between character and event,” and thus to offer a “completer solution of what is actual and true, by those speculations of what is natural and probable, which are out of the province of history, but belong especially to the



philosophy of romance.” Here, then, is a clear statement of the purpose of romantic, or popular fictive, efforts to deal with factual historical events as a means of examining the psychological and subjective aspects of history.53 If Dickens, as he claims, aims to contribute to a “popular and picturesque” understanding of the French Revolution, then this is likely the tradition of historical fiction to which he is referring. From this, the lineage of Dickens’ novel can be traced back from Dickens to Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842) and then to Carlyle’s The French Revolution (1837), which, in her work on the phantasmagoria, Terry Castle describes as “a kind of spectral drama—a nightmarish magic-lantern show playing on without respite in the feverish, ghostly confines of the ‘Historical Imagination.’”54 There is in Carlyle’s history a continual sense of this oscillation of ideas and actions, of a revolution that genuinely revolves. Carlyle describes France as a wavering, shifting scene: So wags and wavers this unrestful World, day after day, month after month. The Streets of Paris, and all Cities, roll daily their oscillatory flood of men; which flood does, nightly, disappear, and lie hidden horizontal in beds and trucklebeds; and awakes on the morrow to new perpendicularity and movement.55

The dominance of cyclical rhythms in the midst of a bloody episode of history reflects  Carlyle’s faith in the temporariness of such ideological “fogs” and also in his role as historian in organising the “chaos of being.” The concern for the macro—the large-scale “flood of men,” “the streets of Paris, and all Cities”—is used to generate distance between the politically and morally uncomfortable revolution and Carlyle’s middle-class British readers, while his invocation of familiar natural rhythms evokes a sense of the everyday and the natural but also, perhaps, for his religiously minded readers, a sense of divine control. Here the dissolving view figures as an elusive metaphor that informs Carlyle’s language choices (his “oscillatory flood,” his “wags and wavers,” his night-day binary opposition), but while it creates a sense of dissolution and instability, there is also a hint of spectacle, of audience safety, of, perhaps, the mediation of the screen. Zanoni (1842) arguably takes Carlyle’s interest in the division between empirical historical phenomena and the psychological processes that cause (or are at least involved in) them and adds Bulwer-Lytton’s interest in the division between science and the occult. This is a novel of threshold spaces, but rather than existing strictly between materialist science and psychology,



these spaces lie between scientific rationalism and magical ideas of the supernatural, ideas that Bulwer-Lytton would later revisit in A Strange Story (see Chap. 5). Zanoni is set in the years leading up to the French Revolution with the final portion of the book taking place during the Reign of Terror. Situated in the two periods of before and after the ­beginning of the revolution, the story itself occupies a threshold space, which is then mirrored in the supernatural plot. The eponymous character, a mysterious Chaldean mystic, is described, for example, as existing “in that solemn spot, between two worlds” and, able to travel “beyond the portals of the visible world,” has surpassed “the bounds of the common knowledge of man.”56 Equally, having foreseen the future, Zanoni knows that the world around him also sits between two worlds as it moves towards the radical upheaval of the revolution. Implicit in this recreated past is a predicted future that the lonely prophetic figure sees in the actions and views of those around him. In a way, the novel combines the concerns of Carlyle’s and Eliot’s respective writings, using a supernatural character to elucidate, through fiction, the psychology of revolution. This effect is principally achieved through a series of archetypal characters who stage various politico-philosophical debates with Zanoni, and the supernatural device is used predominantly as a foil for rendering the historical situation of these debates transparent. In a passage not very far removed from Dickens’ famous opening description of the historical period, Bulwer-Lytton uses a similar technique of contradicting transitions: […] while that was the day for polished scepticism and affected wisdom, it was the day also for the most egregious credulity and the most mystical superstitions,—the day in which magnetism and magic found converts among the disciples of Diderot; when prophecies were current in every mouth; when the salon of a philosophical deist was converted into an Heraclea, in which necromancy professed to conjure up the shadows of the dead; when the Crosier and the Book were ridiculed, and Mesmer and Cagliostro were believed.57

As in Carlyle’s thinking, the psychology of revolution is a kind of diabolical magic which must be somehow reconciled or overcome with rationalist thinking. The role of writer (historian or novelist) is, at least in part, to offer some explanation which conforms to hegemonic rationalist structures. And yet the structures at work in this passage are dualisms that dialectically form a sense of period: that is, “polished scepticism” opposed



by “egregious credulity.” The rationalist need for an ordered view is thus attempted via a series of contradictions, dualisms, and transitions and changes. These, then, are the precedents of the dissolving view metaphor which are most likely to have influenced Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. In writing about the French Revolution, Dickens, like Bulwer-Lytton, portrays historical events that are ostensibly real enough (certainly, Dickens lays claim to this in his preface), but the individual characters and therefore the psychological experience of events, at least on the face of it, are entirely fictional. The fissure we find in these two novels, between historical fact and historical fiction, is helpfully traversed in Bulwer-Lytton’s account of romantic historical fiction but also in Carlyle’s historical account of the French Revolution which generates a similar effect (albeit from a more historically grounded perspective) with emphasis given to the mutability and impenetrability of psychological and social constructs. Importantly, Carlyle draws attention to the subjective inaccessibility of objective reality, borrowing from the tradition of German Idealism: For ours is a most fictile world; and man is the most fingent plastic of creatures. A world not fixable; not fathomable! An unfathomable Somewhat, which is Not we; which we can work with, and live amid,—and model, miraculously in our miraculous Being, and name World.—But if the very Rocks and Rivers (as Metaphysic teaches) are, in strict language, made by those outward Senses of ours, how much more, by the Inward Sense, are all Phenomena of the spiritual kind: Dignities, Authorities, Holies, Unholies!58

History, then, is as problematically unreal as fiction. Or perhaps it would be more useful to say fiction is as productively real as history. The striking thing is not Carlyle’s argument that objective reality is “unfathomable,” which is a rehearsal of the kinds of metaphysical arguments that were prevalent in British periodicals in the first half of the century,59 but his ­extension of this argument in order to indicate the unreal fictiveness of “phenomena of the spiritual kind.” Carlyle’s historical account, in drawing attention to these fictive and literary aspects of his historiography, conducts—from a more “serious” historiographical perspective—the conceptual work necessary for us to consider Dickens’ novel as not “just” a novel but as an extra-historical theorising of historical events without this seeming unduly anachronistic. We can see that Carlyle’s historiographical perspective blurs the boundary between objective and subjective modes,



inviting alternative approaches that counter the dominance of observable fact and give greater consideration to ideas, feelings, and experiences. A Tale of Two Cities is, perhaps, the clearest distillation of this kind of literary operation using the dissolving view metaphor. It begins with the famous contradictory statements which, through anaphora, themselves seem to almost dissolve into one another: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us […].60

With this opening the novel immediately sets itself within a threshold space between absolutes, a space of doublings and fluctuating images, which continues in the novel’s perpetuating doubles: London and Paris; Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay; the pairing of chapters such as “Monseigneur in Town” and “Monseigneur in the Country,” “The Fellow of Delicacy” and “The Fellow of No Delicacy,” “The Shadow” and “The Substance of the Shadow,” “Dusk” and “Darkness,” and so on. Such doubling, naturally and necessarily, implies cyclical revolutions and oscillations (so there was dusk, so there will be darkness, and back again). As in Carlyle’s account, there is a psychological haunting taking place, in which the past returns to unexpectedly affect the present. It is not coincidence that the first book is titled “Recalled to Life.” This “recall” is a complex return. For Dr Manette, it seems to be a virtual return to life, but for his daughter, it is the past returning, and, like a repressed memory, it determines her behaviour, yet the doctor too is haunted by his own past which returns perpetually in his obsession with shoemaking. The oscillations from past to present that occur in the revolution (the repressed people becoming repressed again by the novel’s end) are mirrored in the psychology of individual characters. The movement of the novel is continually from macro to micro, from national revolution to close personal and interpersonal detail. As a novel based on historical events, A Tale of Two Cities mediates between individual and socio-historical perspectives.61 Death represents the final limits of the novel’s doublings and repetitions; despite the opening’s return to life, death represents historical finality. In the final chapter, we are told: “all the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the



one realisation, Guillotine” (384). The narrator actively rails against this terminal conclusion: Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back again to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants! No; the great magician who majestically works out the appointed order of the Creator, never reverses his transformations. (385)

Whereas the novel’s opening lines draw attention to the uncertainty that underlies seemingly certain objectivity, its conclusion presents the final limit of the subjective-objective divide. Death, represented by the guillotine, is the inexorable historical fact that cannot be wrestled or interpreted, only recorded. It is the end of experience and thus the termination of the subjective perspective. From the individual’s point of view, there are no “transformations” which can reverse this—the historical experience ends in this fact. Read alongside the novel’s opening, Dickens’ initial concern for historiographical representation (how to accurately present the nature of the period) ends at the terminus of historical experience. The perspective of the novel shifts and fluctuates between these two perspectives ­(fact-­based objectivity and the subjectivity of lived experience), in a manner which might be compared with chronotopic theories of historical narrative.62 Its position as historical fiction, somewhere between pure history and pure fiction (if such things are ever really possible), is a historiographical ambiguity most clearly articulated by its perpetuating doublings and repetitions, that is, by its application of the metaphorical dissolving view. The temporal, spatial, and perspectival movements of the novel are far from straightforward; they range from small family interactions to the large-scale events of the revolution, from pre-revolutionary events to a narrative voice that looks back on the revolution from its future, and, indeed, from the brief moment of Carton’s execution to the imaginary temporal expanse in which his hypothetical final speech might be given.63 Such temporal looseness is made clearer when considered in relation to a later, more traditionally historical, use of the dissolving view metaphor. The early twentieth-century historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, a historian known for his narrative approach to history writing, uses the dis-



solving view to describe the course of historical progress, configuring nineteenth-century economic changes as a series of revolutions in which states of being, like images, are “rapidly superimposed on one another.”64 After 1780, history thus becomes, in Trevelyan’s account, a “series of dissolving views” as each “new economic half life obliterates a predecessor little older than itself.” Here the superimposition of revolutionary change is also a compression of time in which no state remains static long enough to be fully realised, or, in the terms of the metaphor, no image remains static long enough to be scrutinised with the clarity of a realist painting. Like Lewes’ dream (discussed in the previous chapter), it does not pause for reflection but passes rapidly and, seemingly, without clear causative relations, like “shadows chasing each other over a cornfield.”65 This metaphor appears throughout the preceding century. For instance, in an article in All the Year Round, an anonymous contributor shuns geographical facts and temporal markers (locations and dates, etc.) in order to portray British history as a series of “dissolving views.”66 While sequential, these historical “dissolving views” do not seem to exist within a timeline of cause and effect. The continual upheaval of structures and subjects is the primary function of the dissolving view metaphor in this usage and indicates the instability of time, or at least, of historical narrative, in its wider function. Certainly, in A Tale of Two Cities, temporal and spatial fluctuations operate with a sense of doubled superimposition. This is both a family drama and a historical epic because the narrative superimposes both magnitudes of scope upon one another. In a similar way, it becomes possible for it to be both “the best of times” and “the worst of times.” The relationship is not a simple contradiction but a complex dynamic more closely described by the visual process of superimposition than by the contradiction that separates the parts of a temporal sequence. In this manner, A Tale of Two Cities addresses the dilemma faced by nineteenth-century historians who sought a historical epistemology to combine empiricism with psychology. The metaphorical dissolving view had a set of values beyond history and historical thought, perhaps most importantly in relation to critical views of industrialised urban life. Nordau’s “vertigo and whirl of our frenzied life,”67 for example, reflect an earlier discourse which includes Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ famously haunted Europe in which “all that is solid melts into the air”68 but also lesser-known texts such as a description from



Household Words of “crowds of hurrying atoms” returning to the “whirling vortex of work, of speculation, and of trade” after the New Year: Unequal and vastly different they may be to each other, with all their outer and their inner trappings—their wealth and their poverty; their meekness and their severity; their wisdom and their ignorance; their weakness and their strength; their theories, their dogmatism, their palaces, their jewels, their pictures, and their cherished books—but, to me, they appear only as a set of amusing puppets acting a play, in which the sick man cannot walk so fast as the strong man.69

The anaphoric contrasts echo Dickens’ novel a year later, but here the effect is to portray the insignificance of the differences imposed by nineteenth-­century capitalist society. The metaphor still stands for instability and irrationality, but the perspective shifts slightly from text to text as well as from one discursive arena to another. The metaphorical dissolving view’s relation to instability, irrationality, and revolution seems relatively clear in these texts. However, such relations are complicated when we consider that the metaphor appropriates for its form one of the most lucrative popular entertainments of the century. That is, the dissolving view becomes metaphor in part, at least, because of its economic success. There is a sleight of hand in the use of this popular illusion as a metaphor for instability and revolution by discourses embedded in capitalism. Or rather, there is a cognitive dissonance between the dissolving view as successful part of a hegemonic economic system and dissolving view as metaphor for the disruption and destruction of hegemonic systems. The reviewer of Turner’s 1842 paintings, in this sense, could simply be dismissing them as on the level of cheap popular entertainment. Considered in isolation from the discursive context of dissolving views, exemplified here with Carlyle and Dickens, this seems a likely potential meaning of that instance of the metaphor. Treated as a singularity absent from any (retrospectively constructed) continuum, as an event rather than a historical moment, the metaphor breaks down under the weight of its textual situation. This, perhaps, is the final effect of the dissolving view metaphor: objectivity ultimately proving illusory, the embeddedness of the subject returns, unbidden, to shape the representative sign. The instability of the metaphor is the instability of the subject. Objectivity is thus a repression, not elimination, of the subjective, and, as it becomes ever more distinct, it



melts more rapidly into subjective situatedness. The literary use of the metaphor in A Tale of Two Cities is, perhaps, the fullest expression of this. Those opening lines contradict with such objective historical certainty, but the greater their certainty, the more they dissolve into uncertainty and contradiction. This paradox also applies to “Turner’s dissolving views” in that the more certain we, as viewers, are that this is a view of Napoleon on Elba and this is a view of Wilkie’s funeral, the more uncertain we become of our interpretation of the pairing, and the more they converge in contradiction. These two events are juxtaposed so that their meaning and relational dynamic are left more or less open to the viewer’s interpretation. The structures of historical force (of sequence, of continuum) are rendered visible here. In the British soldier, for instance, Napoleon’s historical past is made visible, as is his imprisoned future. However, these forces are not the main agents of meaning in the images—they are peripheral, there to be identified, but attention is not purposely drawn to them. In this sense, these are extra-historical images which probe and question the history they ostensibly project. As dissolving views, these images do not resolve uncertainty, they generate it, and they blur conventional structures and obscure dominant historical relations. They inculcate a historiographical perspective of complex relations that evade the organising structures of cause and effect, of sequential succession, of contradistinction and perspectival clarity. In other words, they epitomise the problematic dynamic of the dissolving view metaphor in the nineteenth-century historical imagination. By the end of the nineteenth century, the magic lantern had become embedded within institutional and establishment practices, since it was widely used as for educational talks and, by 1879, for projecting the words of hymns onto church walls during services.70 One article humorously suggests applying the principles of the dissolving view to gardening so that seasonal flowers “dissolve” into one another.71 Risking having “my head chopped off” by “the carpet bedders” who follow the fashions, the writer recommends applying “the principle of the dissolving view operation” to “blend one system of bedding into another, so that the spring bedding will dissolve itself into the summer bedding.”72 The light-hearted tone mimics a revolutionary language (making references to beheading, exile, and “systems”) that forms a pastiche of earlier discourses surrounding the magic lantern. Though the lantern’s association with subversive instability was perhaps no longer as pressing or concerning as it once was, the



connotations are retained so that the author can use them for humour.73 The magic lantern had, by this time, become a technology that was ingrained within the popular imagination in a myriad of ways, but its subversive connotation still lurked beneath the surface. An important part of this subversive quality was, as the next chapter will show, the implicit epistemological instability of these decontextualised images that dissolve and disrupt material reality.

Notes 1. John Eagles, “Exhibitions  – Royal Academy,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, July 1842, 26. 2. John Eagles, “Exhibitions,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Aug 1843, 188. 3. Rebecca Helen, “‘Three Days or more…’ Turner’s Varnishing Day practice and the physical evidence,” The British Art Journal 15, no. 2 (2014), 52–53. Helen’s article re-evaluates contemporary claims against the physical evidence from the paintings, concluding that many accounts were exaggerated. 4. Some of the major criticisms can be found, with useful reference to John Ruskin’s response, in Edward Tyas Cook, “Introduction,” The Works of John Ruskin, Volume 3: Modern Painters I, ed. Edward Tyas Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), xxiv–xxv. 5. Simon During, Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 102–103. 6. Joss Marsh, “Dickensian ‘Dissolving Views’: The Magic Lantern, Visual Story-Telling, and the Victorian Technological Imagination,” Comparative Critical Studies, 6, 3 (2009), 334–335. 7. See Isobel Armstrong, 143. Armstrong provides an excellent account of dissolving views (336–407). For a detailed history of magic lanterns and the Polytechnic, see Jeremy Brooker, The Temple of Minerva: Magic and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London, 1837–1901 (London: The Magic Lantern Society, 2013). As Brooker points out, whilst comparisons were often made with the kaleidoscope, “chromotropes [chromatropes] offer constant and unchanging geometric designs quite unlike the random combinations that characterise the kaleidoscope” (55). Perhaps for this reason, the psychological metaphors did not tend to follow the chromatrope as they did the kaleidoscope. 8. Anon. “The Theatres,” Illustrated London News, 3 Jan. 1863, 19. 9. Brooker, The Temple of Minerva, 55–56. According to Brooker, events were not usually directly presented but images that related to them were used—geographical images, for instance.



10. Anon. “The Bohenian Girl  – Royal Adelaide Gallery,” The Times, 18 January 1844. 11. See During, Modern Enchantments, 102–103; 143–146. 12. Anon. “The Farm,” Illustrated London News, 30 April 1859, 426. 13. For examples, see Anon. “The observations of an intelligent foreigner…” The Times, 17 Nov. 1845, 4; Anon. “Sketches in Parliament,” Illustrated London News, 19 June 1858, 598; Anon. “Sketches in Parliament,” Illustrated London News, 12 May 1860, 450; Anon. “Sketches in Parliament,” Illustrated London News, 30 May 1863, 603. 14. J. Ewing Ritchie, About London (London: William Tinsley, 1860) Chap. xx, http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/aboutlondon.htm. 15. Anon. “Literature,” Morning Post, 28 June 1844, 6. 16. Anon. “Literature,” Morning Post, 28 June 1844, 6. 17. Meisel gives a helpful, if brief, discussion of Turner and the dissolving view in Realizations, 185–186. 18. Eagles, “Exhibitions,” 193. 19. Anon. “A Bird’s-Eye View of Paris in 1865,” Daily News, 31 May 1865. 20. Anon. “A Bird’s-Eye View of Paris in 1865.” 21. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the history of the phrase “bird’s-eye view” roughly coincides with that of the panorama, with its first recorded appearance in 1782. Articles offering “bird’s-eye views” of cities, subjects, and events are common in the newspapers of the nineteenth century and closely relate to the panorama. Part of the appeal of the elevated view for these kinds of articles is its visual containment and apparent mastery of its subjects. See, for example, the anonymously authored articles: “A Bird’s-Eye View of the City of Algiers,” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 27 June 1830; “A Bird’s-Eye View of Naples,” Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée, 1 January 1835; “Bird’s-Eye View of London, taken from the top of the Duke of York’s Column,” Cleave’s Penny Gazette of Variety, 28 April 1838; “Bird’s Eye View in 1843,” Belfast Newsletter, 27 October 1843; “Miss Martineau’s Bird’s-Eye View of Cairo,” The Lady’s Newspaper, 20 May 1848; “Bird’s-Eye View of Cronstadt,” Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 5 August 1854; “Bird’s-Eye View of Turin,” The Lady’s Newspaper, 28 May 1859. 22. George Henry Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 3rd Series, vol. 1 (Boston, Mass.: Houghton, Osgood, and Company, 1879), 153. 23. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, vol. 1, 153. 24. Michel de Certeau, “Psychoanalysis and its History,” in Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. Brian Massumi, forward by Wlad Godzich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), 4. 25. de Certeau, “Psychoanalysis and its History,” 4. 26. de Certeau, “Psychoanalysis and its History,” 4.



27. This has similarities with the politics of focus analysed by Lindsay Smith in The Politics of Focus: Women, Children and Nineteenth-Century Photography (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998). Smith examines the problematic relations between photographic focus, painting style, and “the authority of a geometric model of documentary” (which are all aligned, in some way, with concepts of objectivity) (13). 28. Isobel Armstrong provides a valuable examination of these kinds of temporal and visual movements and the attendant forms of “mediation” (between image and after-image, as well as the temporal “nows”). See Armstrong, 378–383. 29. Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx: The State of Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf, intr. Bernd Magnus and Stephen Cullenberg (London: Routledge, 1994), 104. 30. T.H.  McAllister, Catalogue of Stereopticons, Dissolving View Apparatus, Magic Lanterns […] for sale by T.  H. McAllister (New York: E.  Bartow, 1867), 10. 31. Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, ed. Samuel Palmer and Clarkson Stanfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 329. 32. Flint links the technological inferences and self-consciousness of Dickens’ visions in Pictures from Italy with a more material “archaeological blurring of past and present” generated by the physical architecture of Rome. The overall effect is a kind of temporal disorientation in which present and past coincide. See Flint, 145–150. 33. Max Nordau, Degeneration, Translated from the Second Edition of the German Work, 7th ed. (New York: D. Appleton, 1895), 42; 21. 34. Anon. “Comte,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, March 1843. 35. Thomas Carlyle, “Thoughts On History,” Fraser’s Magazine, November 1830, 416. 36. Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in NineteenthCentury Europe (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1973), 148. 37. James Anthony Froude, “The Lives of the Saints,” Eclectic Review, 1852, repr. in Froude’s Essays in Literature and History, introduction by Hilaire Belloc (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1906), 131. 38. James Anthony Froude, “The Science of History: A Lecture Delivered at the Royal Institution, 5 February 1864,” in Short Studies on Great Subjects, 2nd Edition (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1867), 1–26; Henry Thomas Buckle, History of Civilization in England, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (New York: D. Appleton, 1884), 5. 39. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 439. 40. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 439. 41. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 442. 42. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 457.



43. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 441. 44. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 440–441. 45. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 439. 46. Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” 439. 47. George Eliot, “The Lifted Veil,” in George Eliot, The Lifted Veil and Brother Jacob, ed. and intr. by Helen Small (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 9. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 48. This idea is taken from de Certeau who draws on Freud to argue that literature is to history what theory is to science, delineating a “theoretic space, protected as is a laboratory, where the artful practices of social interaction are formulated, separated, combined, and tested.” See Michel de Certeau, “The Freudian Novel: History and Literature,” in Heterologies, 23. 49. Anon. “Popular Literature,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, January 1859, 105. 50. Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 5. 51. Charles Dickens, “Dedication and Preface to the First Volume Edition” (1859) repr. in Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, ed. and intr. by Richard Maxwell (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), 397. 52. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, preface to the 1848 edition, in Rienzi, the last of the Roman tribunes (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1874, repr. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library, 2005), xi. http://name. umdl.umich.edu/ABA6394.0001.001. 53. Readers seemed attuned to this effect. One review of Bulwer-Lytton’s historical romance Harold: The Last of the Saxon Kings (1848) wrote: “we scarcely know a history which teaches so well what history ought to teach, as this work of fiction.” Anon. “Novels,” Illustrated London News, 26 May 1849. 54. Castle, The Female Thermometer, 140–141. 55. Carlyle, The French Revolution, vol. 2, bk. 5, Chap. 9, 249. 56. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Zanoni (London: Chapman and Hall, 1853), 115. 57. Bulwer-Lytton, Zanoni, 46. 58. Carlyle, The French Revolution, vol. 1, bk. 1, Chap. 2, 6. 59. For examples, see Samuel Bailey, “Berkeley and Idealism,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, June 1842; James F. Ferrier, “A speculation on the senses,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, November 1843; Anon. “The Visible and the Tangible: A Metaphysical Fragment,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, May 1847; Anon. “Reid and the Philosophy of Common Sense,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, August 1847. For critical discussion of these debates, see Roger Smith, “The Physiology of the Will: Mind, Body, and Psychology in the Periodical Literature, 1855–1875,” Science Serialized, 81–110.



60. Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 5. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 61. This distinction is made clear, to some extent, by David D. Marcus’ analysis which considers the novel as an exploration of the relation between individuals and socio-historical system. David D. Marcus, “The Carlylean Vision of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’,” Studies in the Novel, 8, no. 1, (1976): 56–68. 62. See Hayden White, “‘Nineteenth Century’ as Chronotope” (1987) repr. in Hayden White, The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature, and Theory 1957–2007, ed. Robert Doran (London: John Hopkins University Press, 2010), 237–246. 63. In his introduction, Richard Maxwell describes such movements as historical and narrative “condensations” which distinguish this novel from Dickens’ other works. See Maxwell, introduction to A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, x–xiv. 64. George Macaulay Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782–1901) (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1922), xiii. 65. Lewes, “A Theory of Dreaming,” 112. 66. This is a striking contrast to the “bird’s-eye views” which tended to present factually oriented descriptions of places. See Anon. “Dissolving Views,” All the Year Round, 25 August 1866. 67. Nordau, Degeneration, 42. 68. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, ed. Frederic L. Bender (London: Norton, 1988), 54. 69. John Hollingshead, “A Night at the Monument,” Household Words, 30 January 1858, 148. 70. Anon. “The Magic Lantern in Church,” Evening Telegraph, 25 March 1879, 2. 71. Anon. “Dissolving View Beds,” Nottinghamshire Guardian, 2 July 1880, 2. 72. Anon. “Dissolving View Beds,” 2. 73. Interestingly, there was at least one instance where the magic lantern was directly involved in political subversion. In 1890 Nationalist MPs who “identified themselves with the Tipperary agitation” used a barge to project lantern slides to MPs dining on the terrace of the House of Commons. See Anon. “A Political Magic Lantern,” Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, 28 June 1890, 4.


Visions of Thought: Mid-century Science and Visual Knowledge

The Train Without a Destination: Wayward and Teleological Imaginings If, as discussed in Chap. 3, Lewes conceptualised dreaming as series of trains of thought which, adhering to a consistent internal logic, are inaccurate because they depart from wayward stations (having arisen from isolated and uncorroborated sensory stimuli), others adopted a similar conception for the imagination itself. Instead of inaccuracies arising from the point of departure, however, these trains of thought were problematic because of their wayward destinations (or lack thereof). In 1829, for example, James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill and an influential historian and philosopher in his own right, defined imagination as a train of thought without a purposeful destination. Imagination, he contended, is the name given “wherever there is a train which leads to nothing beyond itself, and has any pretension to the character of pleasurable (the various kinds of reverie, for example).”1 To Mill, who had studied under Dugald Stewart at Edinburgh, imagination is a teleological deficiency in which “the trains and constructions of the Imagination are their own ends, and not a means to farther ends, as in the constructions of science and of the industrial arts” (195). This conception of the imagination was widespread throughout the nineteenth century; for those who were alarmed at the logical conclusions of Humean scepticism, the causational logic and tangible physicality of inductive scientific reasoning were a welcome relief. © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_5




Considered from the vantage point of “the constructions of science” and “industrial arts” which were so successful in this period, the imagination appears to be wayward, purposeless, and perhaps even dangerous. Indeed, in the previous chapters, it has been shown how such waywardness might disrupt comfortably ordered versions of reality. Compare, for instance, Mill’s description of the imagination with that given by Sir Benjamin Brodie, president of the Royal Society, in an address to members 30 years later in 1859: physical investigation more than anything besides helps to teach us the actual value and right use of the Imagination—of that wondrous faculty, which, left to ramble uncontrolled, leads us astray into a wilderness of perplexities and errors, a land of mists and shadows; but which properly controlled by experience and reflection, becomes […] the instrument of discovery in Science […].2

Imagination, in its “right use”—guided and “properly controlled” by the inductive laws of natural science—is itself an “instrument” with a purpose. Imagination, in this form, is defined in opposition to the “uncontrolled” rambles into “mists and shadows” which, as has been seen in previous chapters, was the language of abstracted irrationality associated with balloon flights, magic lantern shows, and dreams. Brodie’s emphasis on instrumentalised imagination is reiterated elsewhere—for example, in John Tyndall’s address to the British Association at Liverpool in 1870: “Bounded and conditioned by cooperant Reason, imagination becomes the mightiest instrument of the physical discoverer.”3 The intellect, in providing the capability for inductive logic, and as the “reflection” side of the “experience and reflection” equation which Brodie posits, acts as a guide for the speculative power of the imagination. In the mid-century, attempts were increasingly made to reconcile the inductive logic of physical science (along with the obvious teleological practicality of materialism) with the inward-looking abstractions of metaphysical and psychological theories of the mind. Whereas Dugald Stewart’s hugely influential work from the late eighteenth century discussed the imagination in terms of literary and artistic endeavour, drawing examples from the arts as “the most intelligible and pleasing exemplifications,” from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Lewes, Bain, and Spencer sought to reconcile the physiological understanding of mind with the psychological.4 This attempted reconciliation aimed to remove the imagination from an



abstract and metaphysical realm and firmly position it within the physical bounds of the human body and natural science. The inductive laws of science, thus applied, sought to understand imaginative cognition in the terms of causation and teleological purpose. The imagination therefore becomes a teleological “instrument” in a physical, causational world. Such a shift did not necessarily reduce or constrain the conception or use of the imagination, however. Indeed, these writers make great efforts to alleviate and overcome the concerns of readers who may be alarmed by a perceived encroachment of over-zealous materialism. Lewes, for instance, tells us that the relation is not really cause and effect as we might understand it since, regarding mental phenomena at least, “the relation between cause and effect is simply the relation between two modes of viewing a certain event.”5 It is merely a matter of switching, or combining, different perspectives. Importantly, such reconciliations between the psychological and the physiological are also rationalisations of the mysterious and miraculous into an ordered understanding that obeys the rule of causality (one might compare it with, for instance, the seventeenth-century idea that the transition of physical perception into mental perception was the result of a continuous miracle of God).6 In the previous chapter, the cyclical repetition of the dissolving view was seen to operate as a metaphor for non-teleological historical thought. Yet, this was not always the case. One of the major texts of mid-century science was Alexander Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect (1855), in which Bain seeks to account for both physiological and psychological theories of mental phenomena. Bain presents two fundamental processes of the mental ordering of perception: contiguity and similarity.7 The first of these “joins together things that occur together, or that are, by any circumstance, presented to the mind at the same time”; the second is a “link of reproductive connexion” so that one thing will “recall another separated from it in time, as when a portrait recalls the original.”8 At first glance, these seem rather like the distinctions between the simultaneity of panoramas and the subjective associations of magic lantern shows that I discussed in earlier chapters. Certainly, Bain was alert to the kinds of spatio-temporal ordering that was involved in these two kinds of visual experience. In relation to the historiographical metaphor of the dissolving view, however, one of Bain’s most striking arguments is that similarity and contiguity lessen the effort expended in learning new things (what he calls “acquisition”). In “acquisition,” new things are related to old things through their similarities and differences so that only the differences need



be learned as entirely new. This process can be used to construct an individual’s subjective understanding of history in which “there is so much of repetition, that a new history is in reality a various reading of some old one,” “not to mention how much each nation repeats itself through it successive epochs” (543). Given this repetition, one is enabled “to retain large masses of narrative, at a small expense of adhesive acquisition” through a simple “keen-sighted attraction for every vestige of recurring likeness” (543). Similarity, the identifying feature of repetition, thus allows an individual to recall and narrate historical detail with less effort, only occasionally relying on difference for specific localised details. In this way, similarity furnishes the structure of historical knowledge, while difference accounts for the singularity of events—a process by which chronology suppresses the singular in favour of the sequential. The repetitions of history, indeed the similarities that exist between any new phenomenon and its antecedents drawn from personal experience, are therefore a p ­ ractical asset with a useful end rather than a disruption of teleological chronology (what we might consider “progress”). Lewes extrapolates from a technical discussion of physiological and psychological phenomena, to argue that the individual mind is a constituent part of a broader social consciousness, which too can be understood using these principles. According to Lewes, terms like “spirit of the age” or “collective consciousness” make an important distinction of “something over and above the individual mind, transcending its limitations and correcting its infirmities.”9 As a result, Lewes posits a “General Mind” which is “the residual store of experiences common to all” (161). This socio-cultural formation can be viewed across history as going through a series of evolutions: History discloses how the mind passes from wonderment at the miraculous to the discernment of order, from sorcery to science […] how the mind begins with a vague conception of universal Animism, or the presence of a separate Will in each subject, with consequent belief in the capriciousness of events, leaving the imagination free to picture the past and the future in any combinations it pleases; how this belief gradually becomes troubled by doubts, as experience presses on man the conviction that events are causally and not casually determined, till at length the law of Causality is conceived, and the order of events is recognised as inexorable. […] All our experiences and all our explanations are now dominated by a steady faith in a fixed order, and our efforts are directed towards the ascertainment of what that order is. (155)



Lewes’ affirmation of the causational chronology of conventional historiography seeks to incorporate psychosocial processes, such as Carlyle’s ideological osmosis (discussed in the previous chapter), into a scientific world view. Lewes is clear that a common fallacy of such psychosocial conceptions, dealt with on a societal or cultural scale as a kind of “General Mind,” has been a tendency to detach them from physical reality, to consign “the World-process” to “a Soul of the World” (162). Lewes’ theory of a common consciousness thus seeks to root itself in empirical observation. We can see here a strong correlative in the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels which, too, sought to reconcile ­metaphysical and physical perspectives. In the late 1870s, for instance, we find Engels arguing against too strict a confinement imposed by an ideologically driven form of empiricism. Since it is impossible to understand the connections between facts without some form of “theoretical thought,” Engels argues: “contempt of theory is evidently the most certain way to think naturalistically, and therefore incorrectly.” He goes further: “the empirical contempt for dialectics is punished by some of the most sober empiricists being led into the most barren of all superstitions, into modern spiritualism.”10 Engels’ argument for theory hinges on the merging of empirical materialism and Hegelian dialectics which both he and Marx developed over the course of their work. The division here between teleological and empirical materialism, on the one hand, and abstracted and imaginative cognition, on the other, is, for instance, renegotiated in Marx’s well-known figure of the camera obscura in The German Ideology.11 Whereas Engels argues “natural facts” cannot be understood without theory, Marx argues the other way to make the case that abstract thought (ideology in this instance) cannot be properly understood without also considering historical (i.e. real-world) processes: “If in all ideology men and their relations appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.”12 This is a revision of Hegel’s comment: “[…] man stands on his head—i.e. on thought—and that he constructs actuality in accordance with it.”13 Marx’s appropriation of the metaphorical image from Hegel renegotiates the interface between self and external reality along similar lines to Lewes and Bain (although they obviously differ in their specific content and aims). These varying examples show the ways in which imaginative cognition, conceptualised from the perspective of empiricist scientific reasoning, was



“bound” and “controlled” to prevent wayward and directionless thinking. In doing so, they all make use of spatio-temporal metaphor for the abstracted notion of thought or imagination: imagination becomes a conveyance rather like a balloon, prone to aimless drifting, or it is a scientific “instrument” with a set purpose like, perhaps, a microscope or telescope. Concrete metaphor is, as ever, a vital part of the conceptualising process and the metaphors and devices of mid-century scientific rationalist accounts of imagination operated in distinct and important ways. While metaphors were often divergent and individual (Lewes uses both a printing press and a garden as metaphors for the human mind, for instance), there were also broader cultural metaphors that operated across texts and contexts.14 These broader metaphors act as intersections of the many semantic trajectories of individual texts. A cluster of texts might use the same metaphor or figure, but the interests and the array of meanings that are singular to each text move along different trajectories of thought. For this reason the parameters of a shared metaphor might shift as it is understood within different texts and contexts. There has been significant work in recent years on mid-Victorian science, particularly from historians of science seeking to uncover the ways in which scientific ideas were disseminated via popular media.15 However, we have not yet arrived at a clear understanding of the complex relations between scientific dissemination and broader cultural trajectories involving perception and philosophy. The next section explores the shifting cultural positions of the magic lantern, the kaleidoscope, and the oxyhydrogen microscope in particular—three scientific instruments that were showcased to the general public in popular lectures, exhibitions, and science-­ based shows, but which were also, sometimes at the same time, given subjective and imaginative meanings. These examples will be detailed within discourses of mid-century scientific and philosophical and popular thought. It will be seen how metaphors drawn from such technologies were used to conceptualise the imagination within a continuum that ranged from waywardness to controlled purpose. The transition of this conception from intellectual scientific and philosophical accounts (Lewes, Bain, Spencer) into popular contexts is not straightforward. Many of the nuances were subject to debate in popular periodicals—in particular Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine but also Ainsworth’s Magazine, the Westminster Review, and others—and Lewes, Bain, and Spencer all wrote and worked across popular and scientific contexts. Popular literature, too, was not afraid to get embroiled in abstract philosophical detail



as will be shown in the final part of this chapter which explores how, in his 1862 novel, A Strange Story, Edward Bulwer-Lytton attempted to create a form of philosophical novel which would incorporate the latest intellectual developments of the time within a fictional narrative. The fictional elements of the novel were not intended simply as aesthetic adornments or entertaining additions but were intended to perform a specific function that would help circumvent difficulties of more objective modes of thinking and writing. Bulwer-Lytton’s A Strange Story can thus be considered as a work of the guided imagination that attempts not simply to reflect or explicate philosophical and scientific thought but to meaningfully contribute to it from the pages of Dickens’ popular periodical All the Year Round.

Intersections: The Lectures and Spectres of Scientific Rationalism The shift in how the imagination was conceived can be seen by comparing a famous passage from the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant with a passage from the nineteenth-century optical ­scientist David Brewster. Kant remains influential to this day, and in the pages of mid-nineteenth-century periodicals, his proposed relations between subject and object, and his conjecture that space and time are mental constructs, were well-rehearsed ideas, either as foundational assumptions or as supposedly common errors to be excoriated at length.16 Concluding Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Kant wrote: Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense and extends my connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude with worlds upon worlds and systems upon systems, and moreover into the unbounded times of their periodic motion, their beginning and their duration. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and presents me in a world which has true infinity but which can be discovered only by the understanding, and I cognize that my connection with that world (and thereby with all those visible worlds as well) is not merely contingent, as in the first case, but universal and necessary.17



Kant’s profound connection between the visible “world of sense” and his “invisible self,” articulated in the framework of his philosophy, places both visible and invisible worlds in a dialectical relationship: across the ­relational boundaries between the visible world and the “invisible self,” Kant finds “the consciousness of my existence.” The dialectic is a dialectic of seeing, in which the relation between subject and object is a key part of the conscious self. In comparison, 46 years later, David Brewster, engaging in the process of scientific rationalisation that characterised much of the nineteenth century, examined optical illusions in order to educate readers in how to see accurately without being deceived. Brewster begins his introduction by describing how illusions have been used for centuries to convert believers of what he considers false religions. He writes: Of all the organs by which we acquire knowledge of external nature, the eye is the most remarkable and the most important. […] the eye enjoys a boundless range of observation. It takes cognisance not only of other worlds belonging to the solar system, but of other systems of worlds infinitely removed into the immensity of space; and when aided by the telescope, the invention of human wisdom, it is able to discover the forms, the phenomena, and the movements of bodies whose distance is as inexpressible in language as it is inconceivable in thought […] This wonderful organ may be considered the sentinel which guards the pass between the worlds of matter and of spirit, and through which all their communications are interchanged […] when the eye in solitude sees before it the forms of life.18

Whereas for Kant the “invisible self,” connected to all “visible worlds,” is a source of truth, Brewster uses visibility to confine knowledge within empirically physical bounds—indeed, between his description of the “immensity of space” and his ensuing introduction of supernatural delusion, Brewster gives a physiological account of the human eye. Whereas for Kant, invisibility is not a problem, for Brewster it is a sign of delusion. The eye itself is presented as a physical and perceptual “sentinel” which guards against abstracted delusion, a kind of tangible mediator of intangible cognition. The “immensity of space,” too, is mediated using the geometrical laws of visual scientific instrumentation—in this instance, the telescope extends human vision to such a distance as to be “incomprehensible in thought.” Even in his introduction, then, Brewster hints at a tension in the assumed overlap between vision and knowledge: vision extended by instruments offers knowledge that is effectively unknowable.



Not only that, but this knowledge is also “inexpressible in language,” so that vision itself becomes the only way to articulate it. Visibility has, for Brewster, become a method of guarding rational reality from delusion and abstraction, actually surpassing language in its ability to express and comprehend that reality. If the expanded knowledge of science is both visually mediated and so expansive as to be inexpressible outside of vision, it follows that science must rely on visual demonstration to explain its wonders. In this sense, rather than being expressions of wayward imaginings, visual illusions were repurposed as scientific tools for conveying knowledge. As a result, a new kind of show developed that combined popular science with seemingly supernatural delusions which science could then debunk. These shows, for many in the general public, may well have been one of the most engaging ways of understanding scientific discoveries and the most appreciable example of rationalised perception and imagination. Just as metaphors are a useful way of giving familiar shape to abstract or unfamiliar ideas in a text, popular science shows gave audiences an experiential understanding of scientific ideas. This understanding, clearly, could not be particularly intellectually comprehensive or nuanced, but it was effective in aligning cultural perceptions with scientific thinking. One of the most prominent examples of this type of show was John Henry Pepper’s ghost show, also known as the “Dircksian Phantasmagoria,” which in 1863 began drawing large crowds at the Royal Polytechnic in London.19 Pepper’s show, as with many such shows at the Adelaide Gallery (opened in 1832 on the Strand), the Royal Polytechnic Institute (which opened in 1838 on Regent Street), and at countless theatres and lecture halls, was a curious hybrid of scientific explanation and visual illusion. This commercially successful mix of lectures, demonstrations, and exhibitions catered to a public demand for a kind of supernatural entertainment along the lines of that of Robertson’s phantasmagoria but tempered by the industrialised, rational gaze of scientific enquiry.20 The development of magic lantern shows from the supernatural spectacle of the ­phantasmagoria to the knowing gaze of the popular science lecture is indicative of broadly changing attitudes to visual knowledge.21 If the phantasmagoria used illusion to show the unreliability of vision as a gateway to the supernatural, then the lectures of the Royal Polytechnic appealed to the educated spectators’ ability to reliably see through illusion and deception.22 An illusion like Pepper’s ghost with its accompanying lecture (which did not share everything about how the illusion was performed) brought the supernatural



realm of the phantasmagoria, with its ghosts and spectres, within the explainable limits of nature. Or to put it another way, it extended the laws of science beyond the realms of what was already understood as natural and applied them to what appeared to be supernatural. It reconfigured the magic lantern to perform an epistemological function for the demonstrable knowledge of positivist science. In a sense, the illusions and engineered wonders of popular science shows trained the audience to accept rational scientific explanation even when their eyes led them towards the irrational. Here, the universal law of science must be upheld even when experience might seem to contravene it: the observer must be educated in how to properly interpret perceptual experience in order for inductive reasoning to make sense of the world. The key to this rationalisation of popular visual spectacle was the ability of the viewer to recognise and understand the illusion. The integration of scientific rationalism made the audience knowingly complicit in the illusion while still offering the entertainment of the illusion itself. Building their attraction on the apparent triumph of physical science in determining universal laws, in a manner corresponding with Brewster’s aims in his letters, such shows gave viewers the sense of being able to objectively see through the deceptions of optical illusions—the audience was expected to simultaneously marvel at the visual credibility of the illusion and their own ability to recognise it as, simply, a mere illusion. The illusion was the result of physical or mathematical laws and thus a visual sign of the triumph of inductive reasoning. Science had found a popular stage on which it could demonstrate its new forms of knowledge while training viewers in teleological forms of imagination. The speeches of Brodie and Tyndall discussed earlier formulate imagination as a powerful driver of scientific discovery. This teleological repurposing of the imagination was a fundamental part of the edification audiences derived from the show. Pepper’s ghost illusion, for instance, placed its audience in the role of the speculative scientist, aware that what they were seeing must conform to natural laws but also excited and entertained by the imaginative speculations it prompted. It was an illusion of a ghost partly because this carried with it the cultural weight and attraction of imaginative nightmares and folktales. As The London Review put it, “Science at the Polytechnic requires the aid of ghosts, music, and drums” but is no less science just as “Dioramas, cycloramas, and theatrical scenery [at the Colosseum], although painted for the gratification of holiday folk, are not the less works of art, and high art too.”23 Using imaginative subject



matter, these shows instilled a scientific sense of the law of causality. “In the brains of our time,” Bulwer-Lytton writes in his preface to A Strange Story, “the faculty of Causation is very markedly developed. People nowadays do not delight in the Marvellous according to the old childlike spirit. They say in one breath, ‘Very extraordinary!’ and in the next breath ask, ‘How do you account for it?’”24 An illusion of a ghost might prompt the first reaction, but the knowledge that this was an illusion performed using scientific methods prompts the second reaction, seeking the underlying cause of the illusion. In this manner, these shows operated as a way of visually experiencing scientific reasoning itself, even if one did not fully understand the detailed technical workings of that reasoning. Alongside popular science shows, individual optical devices also showcased new scientific knowledge. David Brewster was closely involved in two key examples: his version of the stereoscope (discussed in the next chapter) and his own invention, the kaleidoscope which he patented in July 1817. By the time of the kaleidoscope’s invention, Brewster was already a respected physicist known for his work in optics, having been elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1808 and elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1815 (he won the Copley Medal in 1815 and later the Rumford Medal in 1818). Upon its invention and widespread sale as an optical toy, the kaleidoscope (a compound name from the Greek words meaning “to see,” “form,” and “beautiful”) quickly garnered wide praise for its “infinite variety of beautiful forms”25 and its ability to present “order out of chaos.”26 Although Brewster’s patent theoretically prevented sales of unauthorised kaleidoscopes, the simplicity of the design meant that many newspapers published instructions on how readers could make their own. With this in mind, it is even more impressive that over 200,000 kaleidoscopes were sold in Paris and London within three months.27 Clearly, the device’s initial popularity is difficult to overstate. A local newspaper in Hull claimed that by June 1818, “[t]his amusing instrument is now in the hands of every person, and also the subject of general conversation.”28 While the initial hype may have diminished, the device’s popularity endured, and for Christmas 1844, the kaleidoscope was adapted for presentation to large audiences via the magic lantern. The adapted device, which was called the chromatrope, consisted of two painted glass discs which were rotated in opposite directions in front of a lantern so that the changing image of their overlapping painted patterns was projected onto a screen.29 The result was not truly kaleidoscopic, however, in that it created a repeating pattern.



The kaleidoscope was often used as a metaphor for the mind as a kind of ordered chaos, built of fragments from which a coherent image is formed.30 Although the result is ordered, the metaphor necessarily implies a chaos of perception from which such order must be imposed or derived. This relation between perceptual order and chaos becomes increasingly problematic at the end of the century (as will be shown in Chaps. 7 and 8), but even in earlier texts, such underlying primordial chaos threatens to dispel cognitive and perceptual order. In Barnaby Rudge (1840), for instance, Dickens writes that even a sober man may “mingle up” unconnected circumstances and so “confound all consideration of persons, things, times, and places,” creating a “jumble” of “disjointed thoughts” that combine “in a kind of mental kaleidoscope, producing combinations as unexpected as they are transitory.”31 In the mid-century, such notions of jumbled and chaotic perception tended to be followed by enjoinders for readers to be self-aware, educated viewers who, applying scientific logic, might detect illusion and correctly order and control the chaotic multiplicity of visual knowledge. To this end, the conception of the educated subject as a knowing participant in illusion was a common feature of discourses within the periodicals of the period. The conceptual and perceptual processes ingrained at a science show were often applied to other situations and phenomena. An article on “Berkeley and Idealism,” for instance, summarised rationalist speculation thus: “[…] speculation is not the art of devising ingenious hypotheses, or of drawing subtle conclusions, or of plausibly manoeuvring abstractions. Strictly and properly speaking, it is the power of seeing the facts, and of unseeing false ones.”32 Similarly, Lewes tells us in Problems of Life and Mind that the difference between the psychologist and the physiologist is simply one of visual perspective, that they are merely “two modes of viewing a certain event.”33 In an invective against spiritualism, he informs the reader: “it is one thing to believe what you have seen, and another to believe you have seen all there was to be seen.”34 In a process analogous to the inductions of science, these articles draw on readers’ knowledge and experience of rational ways of looking, ingrained at shows and exhibitions as well as in texts like Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic, in order to dispel other, wide-ranging illusions, both visual and conceptual. The public appetite for rational entertainments that showcased scientific and technological discoveries was not, of course, universal, and some authors seem to simultaneously praise their virtues while lamenting the loss



of earlier kinds of imaginative entertainment. Albert Smith, for example, writes about the “sports” of England disappearing to the “march” of science, predicting that the magic lantern would be replaced by the gas microscope: its various illusions “will at last vanish away to nothing […] before the magnified attractions of the claws of the Dytiscus Marginalus, the wing of the Libellula, or the wriggling abominations of a drop of dirty water.”35 The oxyhydrogen microscope, to which Smith refers, was essentially a microscope adapted with a magic lantern so as to exhibit a range of animate and inanimate objects at high magnification to a large audience.36 Oxyhydrogen microscopes were exhibited at both the Adelaide Gallery and the Royal Polytechnic Institution from the 1830s onwards. Whereas the magic lantern image appeared to dissolve the tangible world, the gas microscope visually instilled a sense of empirical truth and universal scientific laws.37 Caught in a discursive formation connoting the irrational, exotic, and uncanny, the lantern vanishes like one of its own illusions, to be replaced by a more obviously scientific instrument. By the time of Smith’s prediction, the gas microscope had already proven very popular. An advertisement in The Times in 1834, for example, claimed that an oxyhydrogen microscope exhibited at Stanley’s Rooms in Old Bond Street, which could magnify an object up to 3,000,000 times its original size, had been visited by 60,000 people in the previous season.38 Later that year, a correspondent was invited to a private showing of an oxyhydrogen microscope and recounted how, with “singular accuracy,” the “instrument defines and renders distinct every part of the object or objects presented on the disc.”39 The reporter from The Times does not consider the images of the oxyhydrogen microscope as part of a simple empirical realism, however, but instead praises the effect of spherical aberration which “causes the illusion by which the mere shadows of the objects pass for the actual objects themselves,” an illusion which has never been “so perfectly effected before upon so large a disc.” The report then recounts some of these aberrant images: Among the most curious phenomena presented to the eye are the aquatic larvae, in some of which so pellucid is the whole internal structure, that the intestinal canal and the peristaltic motion are clearly perceptible […] Drops of water are magnified in such a manner that the most fantastic and horrible animalculae are developed in eager pursuit of their prey. A flea is rendered much larger than the largest elephant. A nation is shown to exist in the atomic crumbs of a Cheshire cheese […].



The kinds of things being magnified expanded visual boundaries into the infinitesimal so as to find vast scope in even the smallest of objects—a whole “nation” exists in “the atomic crumbs” of everyday life. Not only do these shows give the audience a sense of their own power of perception, suggesting the power to see into the invisible interiors of things, but their images, “mere shadows” passing for actual objects, are open to imaginative (and, from a scientific perspective, aberrant) interpretation.40 No longer do conventional categories apply: fleas are larger than elephants, atomic crumbs contain entire nations, and animalcula are “developed” within a drop of water. Despite the transition towards the  rational empiricism which the gas microscope represented, there is still a tendency towards destabilisation. The description from The Times draws attention to spherical aberration not as a flaw in the projection of objective reality but as an interesting optical effect in its own right. The writer seems to enjoy the illusory nature of the image—the shadowiness and the suggestion of remove from the object— as much as its accuracy and scientific significance. The image suggests thresholds within thresholds, between tangibility and intangibility, animate and inanimate, macroscopic and microscopic, substance and absence, visibility and invisibility. It is the instrument’s ability to traverse, penetrate, conflate, and obscure these boundaries and thresholds which forms its greatest appeal. Underlying these divisions remains a visual dichotomy of objective and subjective vision. On the one hand, there is the vision presented by the instrument, perception extended and transfigured within an ostensibly objective and scientific visual mode, but on the other hand, there is the subjective vision of the individual reviewer in which the images, abstracted from the actuality of their objects, are imaginatively interpreted. On the surface, this kind of show, rather like the panorama, seems to order and make sense of reality, yet the subjective imagination of the viewer remains free to interpret and embellish as it chooses.41 Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863) provides an illustrative fictional example of the way in which the imagination might be prompted by such sights as those shown in the microscope.42 Kingsley makes a case for the existence of water babies, advising that the reader should ask any doubters “where his microscope has been? […] till you know a great deal more about nature than Professor Owen and Professor Huxley put together, don’t tell me what cannot be.”43 Later Kingsley writes of his description, “And, if that is not all, every word, true, then there is no faith in microscopes, and all is over with the Linnæan Society” (192).



In Kingsley’s story, science—rather than serving as the grounding element that tethers the knowable to the empirically observable—becomes a “great fairy […] who is likely to be queen of all the fairies for many a year to come” (85). The incompleteness of the understanding provided by shows and demonstrations thus makes space for a counter-rational discourse in which science becomes a substitute for magic without actually dispelling the irrationality of its predecessor. A solution to this variance and the potentially false directions of the imagination was offered by Pepper in his show as he provided (in accordance with many other nineteenth-century showmen) an accompanying lecture which guided his audience through the illusions.44 Pepper’s lecture attempted to remedy the subjective unreliability of vision and the wildness of imagination; after all, if one was correctly educated, one could see through visual deception and access truth. The implication is that knowledge of physical, solid reality, seemingly disrupted by the abstractions of magic lantern shows and philosophy, is attainable to the gaze that has been disciplined by science. Yet this was more equivocal than it first appears. An account from 1864 describes Pepper’s ghost as a kind of scientific magic: “Science is the spell: a simple application of philosophical principles, and the shadowy ghosts are raised, and before the eyes of the spectator, assume solidity, until the most acute observer cannot detect the difference between the substance and the shadow placed side by side.”45 The anonymous writer goes on to explain how the illusion is performed, as “nothing more than the simple application of the laws of optics,” but the good-humoured tone belies a general uneasiness about the inability to tell “substance” from “shadow.” It is striking that the confident, positive language of empiricism gives way to the language of the irrational and indistinct with which the magic lantern was traditionally associated. This tension between rational and irrational language reflects inescapable tensions between the (ostensibly) objective reality presented by empirical means and the potential for any individual to imaginatively embellish, distort, or misinterpret. Questions about the relation of the senses to a disputed objective reality were being asked through much of the nineteenth century, and scientific empiricism was only one methodological approach available. Although Lewes, Bain, and Spencer all try to reconcile scientific materialism with metaphysical thought, this was not universally accepted. Even within these shows and technologies, which were at least partly intended to showcase scientific observation, perceptual ambiguities and tensions arose.



Pepper offered his audience an approach that emphasised the importance of physical laws in determining what had previously been understood as spiritual or psychological phenomena, and he did so through the loose framework of a fictional narrative. Conversely, literary authors— including Dickens and Bulwer-Lytton, from whom Pepper borrowed material—offered approaches that often placed greater emphasis on psychological theories and ideas. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel A Strange Story involves itself in precisely this division, discussing in detail the perceived conflict between materialism and psychological, philosophical, and religious ideas. In the following section, I show how Bulwer-Lytton sought to use the novel form as an expression of the scientifically guided imagination in order simultaneously to circumvent the objective limits of empirical science and to articulate complex ideas in an accessible format. Although this work is largely  unfamiliar to modern readers, it is worth remembering that Bulwer-Lytton was one of the bestselling authors of the Victorian era as well as a successful politician.

Bulwer-Lytton and the Epistemological Ghost Story Bulwer-Lytton’s A Strange Story first appeared in Dickens’ journal All the Year Round from August 1861 through to March 1862. It was an unusual addition to these pages with its prolific footnotes and extended scientific and philosophical discussions conducted in essay-like dialogues. Ostensibly a fantasy novel, A Strange Story presents a supernatural storyline from the perspective of a first-person narrator, Fenwick, a “stern materialist” who is writing an ambitious physiological book that will define humanity within strict materialist limits that discount the possibility of the existence of the soul. The central movement of the novel follows Fenwick as his views are shaken, and he is gradually converted to a belief in the human soul. This conversion encompasses an impressively wide-ranging debate between the narrator, Fenwick, and his mentor, Julius Faber. Both Fenwick and Faber, as physicians, act as representatives of modern scientific thought. The story begins when Fenwick encounters the mysterious and eccentric Margrave, a newcomer to town who seems to entrance all who meet him. As the novel unfolds, it is increasingly hinted that Margrave may be a soulless occultist who is literally entrancing the people around him through some kind of mesmeric action. Margrave, it is revealed, is on a hunt for the elixir of life which, he hopes, will grant him immortality. To complete this quest, he enlists Fenwick, initially through coercive



persuasion and then through threats to Fenwick’s love interest, Lilian. Various supernatural events ensue, including multiple instances of the spectral image of Margrave’s face appearing to Fenwick and a trance state in which Fenwick experiences hallucinatory visions. But, seen through the sceptical and equivocating lens of Fenwick’s narration, the reality of these events is often left in doubt. Eventually, the story culminates in Margrave’s death in Australia as he tries to drink the spilt remnants of what may or may not be the elixir he has spent the novel trying to acquire. Seen through Fenwick’s eyes, even the true nature of this dramatic conclusion is left open to readers’ interpretations. The reader of A Strange Story, like the audience of Pepper’s “A Strange Lecture” which took its name from the novel, must try to decipher what is illusion and what is true reality, but unlike Pepper’s commentary, Fenwick’s narrative seems to offer only hints rather than clear guidance. The novel was unusual not only for its lack of clear interpretive direction but also in that it featured a highly detailed engagement with a broad range of sophisticated philosophical and scientific texts, many of which were likely to be largely unfamiliar to non-specialist readers. The array of citations can be bewildering. Footnotes refer readers to works by relatively famous thinkers such as Dugald Stewart, Alexander Bain, David Brewster, William Hamilton, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. But alongside these notes are allusions to intellectuals known mostly to specialists: the German chemist Justus von Liebig, the German physiologist Johannes Peter Müller, seventeenth-century Dutch chemist and physician Jan Baptist van Helmont, French physician Claude-Charles Pierquin de Gembloux, and British physician Henry Holland, among others. To ­contextualise the intellectual ambition of this footnoted novel, its publication in All the Year Round was immediately preceded by Dickens’ serialisation of Great Expectations (1861). Bulwer-Lytton was aware of the obscurity and inaccessibility of his novel’s scope and form, and, in his preface to the book version, he was defensive about his intellectual ambitions. If he is seen to have “presumed to borrow from science,” he writes, “such illustrations from the masters of Thought were essential to the completion of the purpose which pervades the word.”46 In fact, he insinuates that any reader who takes issue is neither a “thoughtful reader” nor a “true son of science.”47 Here, the causative relations used by empiricism to circumscribe the physical world are seen by Bulwer-Lytton to have clear value for fiction or, as he calls it, “romance.” Yet this is a book in which the supernatural and the spiritual are combined



with the material. To this end, Bulwer-Lytton suggests that this is a philosophical text: “Romance, through the freest exercise of its wildest vagaries, conducts its bewildered hero towards the same goal to which Philosophy leads its luminous Student.”48 In the same way in which Bulwer-Lytton sought to apply fictional narrative to history writing in his earlier work (see Chap. 4), here he attempts to combine science and philosophy with a supernatural romance. This hybridisation is on a much more ambitious scale than earlier works which also featured philosophical thinking.49 Personally, Bulwer-Lytton considered the novel his “best work of imagination”: “it deals with mysteries within and without us wholly untouched as yet by poets.”50 But he also worried about its reception and “how far it is necessary to anticipate the objections of those who don’t think.”51 On the strength of Harriet Martineau’s explanatory notes which were appended to “the popular editions” of his earlier novel Zanoni, he even considered adding a “supplementary chapter,” in which Mrs Poyntz returns with Mr Vigors and “some third person, a friendly critic, giving the key suggested above.”52 John Forster advised Bulwer-Lytton to write this explanatory chapter with the philosophising of a Berkeley and the sparkling wit of a Voltaire—clearly, no easy feat, but Forster reassured him by adding: “you only man living to whom such a task could be proposed.”53 The novel may not have quite achieved such heady heights, but Forster’s advice gives some indication of the level of its ambition, not just for Bulwer-Lytton but also for its early readers. Such a supplementary chapter was never added, although Bulwer-Lytton did add an explanation in a preface to the book publication of the story.54 The novel, although popular, was not well received by critics, however, to the extent that after its publication Bulwer-Lytton considered that given the choice again he would not have published it, although he still considered it his “highest” work of prose fiction.55 An evaluation of his literary legacy in 1872 was not unusual among critics in considering him to be a wholly unoriginal author, denouncing A Strange Story as “pseudo-­science and bastard psychology.”56 Despite the criticism, the novel was a commercial success—according to Dickens, the novel helped increase circulation of All the Year Round by 1500 copies per week.57 Bulwer-Lytton’s popularity and influence had long confounded his critics, and for all its apparent flaws, A Strange Story is historically significant as a philosophical popular novel.58 The problem, as Bulwer-Lytton saw it at least, was that the novel’s core interest was being missed by its readers. The “key” Bulwer-Lytton gives in his letter to Dickens divides the self into three parts—body, mind, and



spirit—with the novel’s characters representing different configurations of these: Margrave is the sensuous material principle of Nature. […] Fenwick is the type of the intellect that divorces itself from the spiritual, and disdaining to acknowledge the first cause, and the beliefs that spring from it, is cheated by the senses themselves, and falls into all kinds of visionary mistakes and illusions, similar to those of great reasoners, like Hume, La Place and La March. Lilian is the type of the spiritual divorcing itself from the intellectual, and indulging in mystic ecstasies which end in the loss of reason. Each has need of each other, and their union is really brought thro’ the heart […].59

Like Brodie and Tyndall, who attempt to reconcile imagination with scientific rationalism, Bulwer-Lytton tries to find a position which unifies the contrasting arguments of metaphysics, science, and religion. His position is strikingly similar to Lewes’ contention: “there will never be a Philosophy capable of satisfying the demands of Humanity, until the truth be recognised that man is moved by his emotions, not by his ideas: using his Intellect only as an eye to see the way.”60 Both Bulwer-Lytton and Lewes, in their respective ways, are attempting to resolve the opposing sides in a debate about self and reality that tended to rely on visual metaphor and visual evidence. Bulwer-Lytton seems to be aiming for a dialectical model in which the apparent dichotomy of material presence and psychological or spiritual being is resolved as two parts of a single whole. In a sense, he is seeking to resolve the visible with the invisible. The philosophical position of A Strange Story deliberately creates a place for theism in this dialectic. Scientific developments and metaphysical scepticism (principally expressed through recurring references to Hume) are, in Bulwer-Lytton’s view, valuable additions to human enquiry but contain important and inherent limitations. If one were to label the philosophy of A Strange Story, it would be as a kind of theistic empirical conservatism. In this manner, Bulwer-Lytton’s thinking surrounding A Strange Story would seem to be a response to the philosophical and scientific advances of thinkers like Comte and Darwin who, in different ways, were eroding the foundations of mainstream religious belief through the application of empirical methods. In Bulwer-Lytton’s conception, the universe is duly expanded to encompass scientific advancement, but even with this scientific expansion into supernatural realms or perhaps rather the apparent reductions of supernatural to natural and human to animal, the spiritual possibilities of theism remain intact. The concept of Gödel limits



had yet, of course, to be developed, but something of this kind seems to be what Bulwer-Lytton is hinting at—that rational logic must hit a limit at which point other kinds of explanation are required. Given the tension between psychological, or in some cases spiritual, accounts of the mind and the materialist understanding, it is interesting that A Strange Story, like Zanoni, was purportedly first inspired by a dream. Bulwer-Lytton, like many of his contemporaries, was himself interested in developing ideas about the nature of dreams. In an earlier essay, Bulwer-Lytton had described dreams as “the mirrors of such thoughts as lie half-shaped and embryo in the mind—thoughts that we should not recognise as our own but for those spectral reflections.”61 In his configuration, dreams are psychological spectres which exist in “haunted palaces” from which we “return to this world” each morning. Later, in a letter to John Forster, Bulwer-Lytton presented the cognate inversion: “spectral phenomena are dreams turned inside out.”62 Bulwer-Lytton’s concept of dreaming sheds light on the role that fiction might play in overcoming the limits of rational logic: while a book is tangible enough, the story it contains, having been suggested to Bulwer-Lytton by a dream, is itself a “spectral reflection,” a phantom image produced from an unconscious thought. If Bulwer-Lytton conceived of fiction as a way to explore extra-­ rational forms of historiography (as discussed in Chap. 4), here fiction appears to operate in a similar manner for science, facilitating irrational or unconscious forms of thought. The intellectual heart of the novel is chiefly formed by the “Faber dialogues”: scholarly discussions between Fenwick and his mentor which Bulwer-Lytton considered “essential to the very design.”63 Fenwick is a “stern materialist,” holding that all of reality, including consciousness, has a physical basis.64 He so emphatically places himself within the conceptual space of an object-driven reality that he denies the existence of the soul or an afterlife—a contentious point for Victorian Britain, especially in the post-Darwinian period of the 1860s. Much of the novel’s imagery is imbued with unease about humanity’s place alongside the animal kingdom—Margrave, the man without a soul, is animalistic (and possesses a powerful kind of animal magnetism), and bestial imagery appears at key moments, most notably during a trance when the dead animals of a museum collection are reanimated.65 The alarm caused by the On the Origin of the Species (1859) could not help but reinvigorate the debates about religion and spiritualism into which epistemological questions about reality and perception inevitably fed. Fenwick, adhering to his materialism, begins



the novel by ruining the career of a rival physician, Dr Lloyd, who scandalously is “not only an enthusiastic advocate of mesmerism as a curative process, but an ardent believer of the reality of somnambular clairvoyance” (20). Lloyd scornfully defines the limits of Fenwick’s rationalism succinctly when he says: “In your shallow presumption you have meted the dominions of nature, and where your eye halts its vision, you say, ‘There nature must close’” (24). Just as in shows like Pepper’s, vision—understood as a fundamentally physical process—is the primary conveyor of knowledge, and so what Fenwick cannot see, he cannot believe. In Pepper’s lecture, this would seem to generally hold true as apparent wonders are reduced to an illusion comprehensively accounted for by science. Yet by the end of the novel, the story’s apparently supernatural events have pushed against the limits of Fenwick’s materialism, forcing him to renegotiate their parameters. Unlike a carefully controlled science show, empiricism in the novel is brought into question as Fenwick’s science struggles to account for all he sees and experiences. While Fenwick’s materialism is distinctly different from Hume’s general epistemological theory, his concept of the mind as a collection, or organisation, of impressions and perceptions takes its cue from Hume (who, according to his son, Bulwer-Lytton read “eagerly and carefully at Cambridge”).66 In his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume explains the mind: “I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”67 Yet a definition of the mind as a collection of perceptions lacks the concrete containment within physical reality that is demanded by materialism—Hume’s philosophy, after all, famously relegated physical reality to a mental construct. To mitigate this problem, Fenwick, in keeping with other mid-century writers who utilised the ­metaphor of a kaleidoscope, seeks to contain and ground his conception of mind within the physical body. Fenwick writes: “the mind was as clearly the result of the bodily organization as the music of the harpsichord is the result of the instrumental mechanism” (18). Like a kaleidoscope which forms complex, intangible, but ordered images from the physical principles laid out by Brewster, the mind to Fenwick is the result of a multitude of complex physical processes. The analogy of the harpsichord mirrors many of the announcements of the invention of the kaleidoscope which, borrowing wording from Brewster’s patent, suggested the device realised “the idea of an ocular harpsichord.”68 The kaleidoscopic image and the



mind are thus intangible entities related to—but are not in themselves— physical processes, which materialism would seem to struggle to accommodate within tangible reality. Instruments like the harpsichord and the kaleidoscope help to ground this intangible concept within the parameters of a strictly physical reality.69 Hume, too, finds recourse in metaphor, though his is arguably less physically grounded. Hume describes the mind as “a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-­ pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.”70 But, he hastens to add, the “comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the place, where these scenes are represented, or of the materials, of which it is composed.”71 Hume’s theatrical analogy is perhaps most reminiscent of nineteenth-­century comparisons of the mind with the magic lantern, such as Dickens’ memories which “would dissolve, like a view in a magic-lantern.”72 One wonders if, had Hume been writing a hundred years later, the theatre might have been replaced by the lantern in his explanation. Not least as the theatre seems a self-consciously inadequate metaphor as it suggests a clear notion of place (the stage) and materials (actors, scenery, etc.—all of which connote tangibility). The lantern image on the other hand is not as clearly defined in its spatial and material composition and, importantly, offers only an ambiguous sense of presence and physical solidity which would be in keeping with Hume’s clarification. The magic lantern was employed for just this purpose by other philosophers—for example, in his lectures on nature and spirit, Hegel talks of “the night, the inner of nature […] pure self” in terms of “phantasmagorical presentations” in which “it is night on all sides.”73 There is clearly a distinction to be made here between the ephemerality of the magic lantern image and the materiality of kaleidoscopic vision, in which the observer was usually required to physically hold the device. The perceived extremes of Hume’s empirical scepticism made him a natural enemy to nineteenth-century scientific materialism, which required the basic assumption that an accessible objective reality was possible. For this reason, Bulwer-Lytton’s characters devote a large amount of time to refuting Hume. The problem the characters find with Hume is the same problem many commentators in the periodical press found with “stern materialism”—these two extremes seem either to dissolve physical reality or eliminate the thinking self. Thomas Reid, a contemporary opponent of



Hume’s whose ideas were discussed well into the nineteenth century, for instance, objected that if Hume was correct “then it turns out that I have merely been in an enchanted castle, deceived by spectres and apparitions. […] I see myself, and the whole frame of nature, shrink into fleeting ideas which, like Epicurus’s atoms, dance about in emptiness.”74 This critical reading of Hume was shared by other mid-century writers, who used anecdotes drawn from practical experience to evoke a common-sense notion of physical reality.75 It is unsurprising, then, that Faber anxiously asserts himself as a distinct presence in a tangible world. One way of asserting himself is through writing which, for Bulwer-Lytton’s characters, is an ontologically important act that, like a kaleidoscope, has the potential to bridge the divide between psychological intangibility and physical presence. Towards the end of the novel, Faber describes Hume as having reduced himself to less than a “ghost,” indeed as having refused to believe in the existence of the self. This, Faber implies, is an absurdity since even at the moment Hume “gets rid of himself” he is “in the act of writing” (399–400). The inference being that one must exist as a coherent entity in a physical universe if one is able to write. Elsewhere in the novel, having been thrown into confusion by the supernatural events around him, Fenwick rereads the incomplete manuscript of his book: As I went over what I had before written, each link in its chain of reasoning seemed so serried, that to alter one were to derange all; and the whole reasoning was so opposed to the possibility of the wonders I myself had experienced […] But the work was I myself!—I, in my solid, sober, healthful mind, before the brain had been perplexed by a phantom […] in returning to my Book, I returned to my former Me! (422–423)

The production of the text—and indeed, his production of the novel since it is first-person narration—is used as a testament of his own solidity within an empirically understandable physical reality. Writing is thus conceived as a concrete way of ordering and affirming the chaotic “bundle of perceptions” that constitute the mind. Fenwick’s materialism has been carefully constructed “to immure the swathed form of material philosophy from all rays and all sounds of a world not material,” but, following it to its “strict and completing results,” he finds materialism “resolve[s] my own living identity, the one conscious



indivisible me, into a bundle of memories derived from the senses which had bubbled and duped my experience” (401–402). Yet ironically, the text itself, as Faber points out in his criticism of Hume, is evidence of Fenwick’s material presence. In writing his narrative, Fenwick enacts the process of perception: the act of forming a coherent (and linear) narrative being also a conscious mirroring of the act of resolving kaleidoscopic sense-data into coherent images. In such moments of doubt, Fenwick questions his own physical presence, leaving only his textual presence in a position of certainty; having followed Hume’s logic to its endpoint, he becomes a ghost haunting his own narrative. By turning back to his book and re-engaging with the act of writing, Fenwick reinstates his sense of self. Faber’s and Fenwick’s respective arguments hinge on a language of spectrality in which ideas are weighed against material experiences. The spectral, in this way, is defined by what does not fit within practical experiences of physical reality. Fredric Jameson’s definition of spectrality is helpful here, since it draws our attention to the instability of “common-sense” views of a stable reality: “Spectrality is not difficult to circumscribe, as what makes the present waver: like the vibrations of a heat wave through which the massiveness of the object world—indeed of matter itself—now shimmers like a mirage.”76 Jameson goes on to assert its philosophical nature, noting that belief in a stable physical reality is “little more than common sense itself” and it is this belief which spectrality “challenges and causes to waver visibly, yet also invisibly, as when we say ‘barely perceptible,’ wanting to mean by that perceptible and imperceptible all at once.”77 It is exactly this kind of spectrality which causes anxiety, not just in A Strange Story but also to writers like Lewes and Carlyle—it is the apparent instability of the reality that common sense takes for granted. Yet at the same time that Fenwick’s sense of reality wavers, he reasserts his presence as the novel’s first-person narrator: the reader is aware of a seemingly concrete and cohesive entity, identified as Fenwick, through whom the story is told. The difficulty Fenwick has seems to be caused by his embeddedness within his reality. As Vrobel explains, we are all “endo-­ observer-­participants, embedded in the system we describe”: “the ­difference between the endo- and exo-perspective reveals itself in the fact that our Nows manifest as very private event horizons, generated by the microscopic movements within the observer. And the Now is our only access to the world: What we see is our interface reality.”78 Fenwick is unable to gain an objective, external perspective from which to assess his sensory experiences, just as any individual observer is faced with the problem of being



embedded within the reality they observe. However, in a way, fiction allows us to achieve a conceptual exo-perspective. The fictional world functions as an artificial system designed to replicate aspects of reality. The reader exists outside of this artificial system and is thus granted an exo-­ perspective (at least, to the extent that meaning is present in the text itself). The effect in this case is that despite Fenwick’s epistemological and ontological uncertainty, his readers are in a better observational position and thus are enabled to make judgements with a greater degree of certainty. Such certainty obviously has limitations, for example, in that readers only have access to Fenwick’s account and so must grapple with his uncertainty one way or another, but their external vantage point allows greater room for reflection at a remove from physical, emotional, and intellectual participation. That said, despite his self-doubt, Fenwick, situated as the narrator, does not “shimmer” in a spectral sense in the way that, say, George Eliot’s first-­ person narrator Latimer does in The Lifted Veil (see Chap. 4). But Fenwick’s world does become more remote and less understandable to him; his (and thus the reader’s) view of the novel’s reality does indeed waver between the visible and the invisible, as his interpretations of events oscillate from the natural to the supernatural. For example, Fenwick feels shame after his trance experience with Sir Philip Derval: […] shame that I, who had scoffed at the possibility of the comparatively credible influences of mesmeric action, should have been […] so morbidly impressed by phantasmagorical illusions; indignation that, by some fumes which had special potency over the brain, I had thus been, as it were, conjured out of my senses. (178)

During his actual experience of the trance, Fenwick (and the reader) has no doubt that it is real. But once it is over, rational materialist arguments begin to disrupt the narrative certainty, and both Fenwick and the reader are left in doubt—the reality of the experience wavers under the weight of sceptical re-evaluation. Ultimately, the novel ends with Fenwick converting, under Faber’s persuasive influence, to a belief in the soul. Faber takes from Kant the idea that all ideas prompted by sensory experience require some kind of a priori faculty within the mind to receive them, and he uses this idea to imply that man’s a priori ability to “receive the ideas of a God, of Soul, of Worship, of a Hereafter” is evidence of their existence (413). To Faber, the soul is



distinct from the kaleidoscopic, chaotic organisation that forms the mind— it exists outside the visible or the sensible. Conversely, Fenwick’s intellectual move from denial to acceptance hinges on his experiences with Margrave. That is, he is convinced of the existence of what supposedly exists outside the realms of the senses (and thus the knowable) through experience. Margrave shakes Fenwick’s materialism because he extends vision beyond the visible so that Fenwick sees things he cannot reconcile with the world of ordinary sense experience. On the one hand, he tries, as he does after his trance in the museum, to deny his experiences using the rationales of his materialism. But, on other hand, this denial becomes increasingly difficult as the story progresses. Bulwer-Lytton wrote to Dickens: “the supernatural resolves itself into the natural when faced and sifted.”79 This is also an apt description of Fenwick’s view, as he gradually accepts the supernatural events taking place around him. If the idea of the supernatural resolving into the natural once it is considered from a suitably open-minded scientific outlook is the final message of A Strange Story, then it more or less coincides with the message of Pepper’s ghost show. But the novel diverges from conventional views in what it considers an appropriate scientific viewpoint. Fenwick’s materialism is based on experiment and empirical observation, but it fails to account for all of his experience, and he therefore is left in the troubling situation of questioning which experiences are “true” experiences and which are spectres of his own mind. Faber’s argument for the existence of the soul abandons experimental science and makes use of, among other things, Kantian Idealism. Empirical observation takes it so far but the novel seems to require something else. In A Strange Story, contrary to Pepper’s “A Strange Lecture,” physical scientific explanations are only useful up to a point—a point at which transcendental theories must come into play. Both the novel and the show are about naturalising the supernatural, but Bulwer-Lytton’s narrative extends the natural to include the supernatural, whereas Pepper’s show removes the supernatural altogether by showing the ghost to be “nothing more than the simple application of the laws of optics.”80 The novel form allows Bulwer-Lytton to complicate the division between objective truth and subjective experience that popular scientific discourse so often sought to clarify. This division, used to train observers in empirical observation, was a basic premise not only in demonstrations of scientific instruments and displays that “explained” illusions and dispelled superstitions but also in the gamut of popular books that scientifically explained visual and



sensory phenomena, as discussed earlier. By filtering his fictional world through the subjectivity of a first-person narrator and contrasting these mediated perceptions with that narrator’s devotion to empirical science, Bulwer-­L ytton encourages his readers to question the newly clarified relationship between the two modes. What emerges from the novel ultimately is Bulwer-Lytton’s own version of how the problems of epistemology might be solved by locating a spiritual reality beyond the physical. Bulwer-Lytton’s solution and his method of communicating it might have been rather unique, but his terms and his basic idea were not. Outside fiction, the idea of transcendence beyond the physical world appears through multiple guises united in their opposition to a “stern materialism.” The transcendent role of the imagination is perhaps most familiar in Tyndall’s writing. In a lecture on radiation, for example, Tyndall concludes by expanding beyond his narrow subject to comment: “the study of natural science goes hand in hand with the culture of the imagination.”81 He notes that the imagination has sustained the “greater part” of his book since, during the lecture, his audience/readers have been “picturing” ­phenomena such as atoms and molecules which “eye has never seen nor ear heard.”82 Imagination, Tyndall argues, “is the faculty which enables us to transcend the boundaries of sense, and connect the phenomena of our visible world with those of an invisible one.”83 The words Kant used in Critique of Practical Reason echo down the century, as Tyndall, like Kant, looks for the connections between the worlds of visibility and invisibility, except that by the time of Tyndall’s writing, instruments like the telescope and the microscope had found new visibilities so that this was more complicated than ever. Interestingly, Tyndall finds recourse in the analogy of a musical instrument, in this case the piano. According to Tyndall, the “optic, the auditory, and other nerves of the human body being so many strings differently tuned and responsive to different forms of the universal power [of nature].”84 Once again, a musical instrument is used as a metaphor for an invisible, imperceptible process which is available only to the imagination. Concluding A Strange Story, Fenwick asks: “what Sage, without cause supernatural, both without and within him, can guess at the wonders he views in the growth of a blade of grass, or the tints on an insect’s wing?” (498). Such “wonders” cannot be humanly explained but “belong to the Infinite; and these, O Immortal! will but develop new wonder on wonder, though thy sight be a spirit’s, and thy leisure to track and to solve an eternity” (498). Even with an impossibly expanded vision—the sight of a



“spirit”—and an infinite period of time, rational “reason” is profoundly limited, according to this view. Fenwick’s attention to the miniscule, the “growth of a blade of grass, or the tints on an insect’s wing,” returns to the microscope as enacting a form of visibility that blurs the common-­ sense boundaries of physical reality (there being, after all, “nations” in even a drop of water). But rather than expanding the domain of science, this expanded visibility only increases “new wonder on wonder” as new phenomena are made available to contemplative observation. Fenwick’s statement is similar to other attempts to reconcile the supernatural and the natural. In 1859, for example, the physicist and Church of England vicar, Baden Powell, argued that theology and science could not be combined but were two separate, but equally valuable, forms of ­intellectual enquiry. Science, according to Powell, can “contemplate nothing but in connection with the order of nature—it cannot point to anything out of nature,” and so the truly supernatural can never be subject to scientific study.85 Fenwick’s conclusion points to a similar formulation as he suggests that “reason” cannot fully explain the “wonders of God.” For readers of All the Year Round, this conclusion may have been comforting since it leaves room for a Christian theology, but Bulwer-Lytton’s novel is not quite that straightforward. Proceeding from a narrative in which the antagonist has no soul and has seemingly managed to create the elixir of life, traditional Christian theology is not the most obvious framework for a conception of the “Infinite.” In this context, the “Immortal” to whom Fenwick refers might as easily be the human Margrave as the “God” of his previous sentence. The novel is deliberately ambiguous and this was partly Bulwer-Lytton’s worry. He wrote to John Forster in 1861 for advice, saying he thought the ending was “artistically” satisfactory, but worrying that it required “deep thought in the reader (which I have no right to expect) to see how far he has a viable solution before him.”86 Bulwer-Lytton’s novel might have contained its fair share of “pseudo-­ science and bastard psychology,” but it was also a genuine attempt to combine science, philosophy, and fiction as a serious intellectual contribution. If, as James Mill suggested in 1829, imagination had come to be seen as a train without a destination, Bulwer-Lytton’s novel aligns itself with Tyndall’s “scientific imagination” in seeking to harness the imagination in order to extend the limits of scientific reasoning, using a variety of techniques. The story is constructed so that readers extraneously view the chaotic and confusing effects of subjectivity even within the account of a “stern materialist.” The language itself often turns to spectrality, either in dismiss-



ing metaphysics or in portraying Fenwick’s experiences of the supernatural (his visions of Margrave, for instance, make use of lantern-­like imagery), so that material reality is open to question. And finally, the novel’s purported inception through a dream and subsequent appropriation for Pepper’s scientific supernatural show demonstrate its suggestively indeterminate position between science, the psychological, and the ­supernatural, from the perspective of both its author and its contemporary audience. According to Hankins and Silverman, a similarly uncertain and changing position on the boundary between empiricism and imagination was held by the magic lantern in its various guises and adaptations, from the chromatrope to the oxyhydrogen microscope to Pepper’s ghost.87 The lantern retained a cultural weight which suggested both the laws of the scientist and the dreams of the metaphysician. Its cultural adaptability and usefulness in generating destabilising and unstable images made it a unique instrument that implicitly threatened to dissolve the very thing it was displaying. In the 1880s, after a decade in decline, the Polytechnic was put up for sale, and Punch presented a “farewell by Pepper’s Ghost”:                                             

Our lectures now are ended. Our Directors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The Diver, Diving-bell, ingenuous modelling, Dissolving Views, and the Great Disc itself, Yea, all which it exhibits, shall dissolve: And like this insubstantial “Poly” faded, Leave not a rack behind.88

In applying the language of ghostliness and magic lantern dissolves to the financial transaction of a sale, Punch’s humorous poem brings to mind the spectral language of Marx and Engels and the famous line that “all that is solid melts into the air.”89 The spectral illusions blur the line between physical and imaginative dissolution one final time.

Notes 1. James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, with critical notes by Alexander Bain, Andrew Findlater, and George Grote, ed. John Stuart Mill, 2 vol., 2nd edn. (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1878) vol. 1, 243.



2. Sir Benjamin Brodie, “Address to the Royal Society,” 30 November 1859, as quoted in John Tyndall, “On the Scientific Use of the Imagination. A Discourse. Delivered Before the British Association at Liverpool, 16 September 1870,” in Victorian Science and Literature, ed. Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman, 8 vols., vol. 1 Negotiating Boundaries, ed. Piers J. Hale and Jonathan Smith, (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012), 150. 3. John Tyndall, “On the Scientific Use of the Imagination,” 152. 4. Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. 1, 236. 5. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 24. 6. Alexander Bain makes this exact comparison in an essay on “Errors of Suppressed Correlatives.” See Alexander Bain, Practical Essays (New York: D. Appleton, 1884), 54–55. 7. These, of course, relate to the contextualising features in Herbert Spencer and Dugald Stewart’s thinking which were discussed in Chap. 3. 8. Bain, The Senses and the Intellect, 451. 9. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 159. 10. Frederick [Friedrich] Engels, “Natural Science in the Spirit World,” in Frederick [Friedrich] Engels, Dialectics of Nature, trans. Clemens Dutt (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1934, repr. 1976), 60. 11. W.J.T. Mitchell provides a valuable account of Marx’s camera obscura metaphor, although, as Tom Gunning points out, the discussion does occasionally conflate multiple visual technologies. See Mitchell, Iconology, 170–172; Tom Gunning, “Illusions Past and Future: The Phantasmagoria and its Specters,” Media Art History http://www.mediaarthistory.org 12. Karl Marx with Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), 42. 13. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel from Lectures on the Philosophy of History, in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Political Writings, ed. L. Dickey and H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 214–215. 14. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 76; 18–19. 15. Popular formulations of science and entertainment, perhaps most famously exemplified in the Great Exhibition of 1851, have received considerable critical attention. See, for example, Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman, ed. Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences (London: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Bernard Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Iwan Rhys Morus, “Worlds of Wonder: Sensation of the Victorian Scientific Performance,” Isis, 101, no. 4 (2010): 806–816; Jeffrey A. Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999); Geoffrey Cantor, “Science, Providence, and Progress at the Great Exhibition,” Isis, 103, no. 3 (2012): 439–459; Marty Gould, “Anticipation,



Transformation, Accommodation: The Great Exhibition on the London Stage,” Victorian Review, 29, no. 2 (2003): 19–39; John R.  Davis, The Great Exhibition (Phoenix Mill: Sutton, 1999); The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. Louise Purbrick (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001). 16. An article in Blackwood’s, for example, proclaimed: “The perception of a material universe, as it is the most prominent fact of cognition, so it has given rise to the problem which has been most agitated by philosophers.” To this end, articles in the periodical press attempted to find resolutions to this problem of perception in a range of philosophers’ works, from Comte to Berkeley, or through German philosophers like Kant and Hegel. See Anon. “Reid and the Philosophy of Common Sense,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, August 1847. For discussion of these kinds of psychological debates within the periodical press, see Roger Smith, “The Physiology of the Will: Mind, Body, and Psychology in the Periodical Literature, 1855–1875,” in Science Serialized: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals, ed. Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004), 81–110. 17. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason (1788) in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 269. 18. David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic (London: Chatto and Windus, 1883), 95–97. 19. For a detailed account of the ghost illusion in relation to science, see Lightman, Victorian Popularizers, 167–218. For an account of the ghost illusion at the Royal Polytechnic, see Jeremy Brooker, The Temple of Minerva: Magic and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London, 1837–1901 (London: The Magic Lantern Society, 2013), 111–119. 20. Hankins and Silverman, 70. 21. One might think here of the long trend of texts on psychology and the supernatural, which includes Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic as well as less well-known books, essays, and articles, such as Catherine Crowe’s book The Night Side of Nature: or, Ghosts and Ghost Seers (1848), or the anonymously published “A Few Passages on Dreams, Night-noises, and Phantoms” which appeared across multiple articles in Ainsworth’s Magazine in 1844. Shane McCorristine gives a detailed account of this tradition of psychologising the supernatural in Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England 1750–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 43–52. 22. Of course, this was not limited to shows involving the magic lantern. Pepper’s ghost, as a prime example, used mirrors and glass as well as lanterns, but the aims and general effects of these various  shows were the same: to demonstrate both natural wonders and the ability of science to explain these wonders.



23. Anon. “Holiday Art – The Colosseum,” London Review, 22 August 1863. 24. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Preface to A Strange Story in A Strange Story and The Haunted and The Haunters. Caxton Edition (London: George Routledge and Sons, c.1884), viii–ix. 25. Anon. “The Kaleidoscope,” Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, 7 May 1818. 26. Anon. “The Kaleidoscope,” Liverpool Mercury, 24 April 1818. 27. Stuart Talbot, “The Perfect Projectionist: Philip Carpenter, 24 Regent Street, London,” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, 88 (2003): 17. 28. Anon. “The Kaleidoscope,” Hull Packet and Original Weekly Commercial, Literary and General Advertiser, 9 June 1818. 29. Brenda Weeden, The Education of the Eye: History of the Royal Polytechnic Institution 1838–1881 (Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2008), 46. 30. Both Iwan Rhys Morus and Nicole Garrod Bush have noted the metaphorical role of the kaleidoscope as a device that visualised harmony and sequential regularity. See Morus, “Illuminating Illusions, or the Victorian Art of Seeing Things,” Early Popular Visual Culture, 10, no. 1 (2012): 39; Nicole Garrod Bush, “Kaleidoscopism: The Circulation of a Mid-Century Metaphor and Motif ” [online], Journal of Victorian Culture, 20: 5 (2015): 509–530. https://doi.org/10.1080/13555502.2015.1090242 31. Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of The Riots of ‘Eighty’, ed. John Bowen (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), 32–33. 32. Bailey, “Berkeley and Idealism.” 33. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 24. 34. George Henry Lewes, “Seeing is Believing,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, October 1860. This idea was echoed by James Hinton: “Our propensity to error consists in this: that while our senses only show us part, we tend to trust them as if they showed us all.” James Hinton, “Seeing with the Eyes Shut,” Cornhill Magazine, July 1862. 35. Albert Smith, Comic Tales and Sketches (London: Richard Bentley, 1852), 106–107. 36. For an account of the gas microscope at the Royal Polytechnic, see Brooker, 46–49. 37. Debates revolving around scientists’ increasing ability to render the invisible visible through instruments like the microscope commonly followed this demarcation between empirical materiality and intangible psychology/ spirituality, especially from the 1870s onwards. For discussions of this, see P.M.  Heimann, “The ‘Unseen Universe’: Physics and the Philosophy of Nature in Victorian Britain,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 6, no. 1 (1972): 73–79; David B. Wilson, “The Thought of Late Victorian Physicists: Oliver Lodge’s Ethereal Body,” Victorian Studies, 15, no. 1 (1971): 29–48; Ann Scott, “‘Visible Incarnations of the Unseen’: Henry



Drummond and the Practice of Typological Exegesis,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 37, no. 4 (2004): 435–454. 38. Anon. “The Original Hydro-Oxygen Microscope,” The Times, 10 March 1834. 39. Anon. “Oxy-Hydrogen Microscope,” The Times, 20 November 1834. 40. This relates to the wider Victorian interest in the infinitesimal which Kate Flint explicates in The Victorian Visual Imagination (4–64). 41. Isobel Armstrong gives a useful account of some of the diversity of reactions to microscopes in “The Microscope: Mediations of the Sub-Visible World,” in Transactions and Encounters: Science and Culture in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Roger Luckhurst and Josephine McDonagh (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 37. 42. There was a whole genre of fiction inspired by scientific ideas. For examples, see Science as Romance, ed. Ralph O’Connor, vol. 8 of Victorian Science and Literature, ed. Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012). Particularly notable of the examples included here is the naturalist Agnes Catlow’s long poetic epigraph to her book, Drops of Water; their Marvellous and Beautiful Inhabitants Displayed by the Microscope (1851) which talks of worlds “by some magic spell revealed” in the “glass/Of wizard science!” in Science as Romance, 275–276. 43. Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (London: Penguin, 1995), 75–76. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 44. See Morus, “Illuminating Illusions,” 48. 45. Anon.  “Christmas Ghosts and Scientific Ghosts,” Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper, 2 January 1864. 46. Bulwer-Lytton, Preface to A Strange Story (1862), viii–ix. 47. Bulwer-Lytton, Preface to A Strange Story (1862), viii–ix. 48. Bulwer-Lytton, Preface to A Strange Story (1862), v. 49. Of The Disowned (1829) and Devereux (1829) in particular, Bulwer-Lytton writes that these were “in the midst of metaphysical studies and investigations, varied and miscellaneous enough, if not very deeply conned. At that time I was indeed engaged in preparing for the press a Philosophical Work which I had afterwards the good sense to postpone to a riper age and a more sobered mind. But the effect of these studies is somewhat prejudicially visible in both the romances I have referred to; and the external and dramatic colourings which belong to fiction are too often forsaken for the inward and subtle analysis of motives, characters, and actions. The workman was not sufficiently master of his art to forbear the vanity of parading the wheels of the mechanism, and was too fond of calling attention to the minute and tedious operations by which the movements were to be performed and the result obtained.” See Bulwer-Lytton “Dedicatory Epistle” (1835) in Devereux: A Tale (New York: Belford, Clarke, and Co., 1835), 6.



50. Bulwer-Lytton, letter to his son Edward Robert, 14 September 1861, in Victor Alexander George Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Earl of Lytton, The Life of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, First Lord Lytton, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1913) vol. 2, 345. 51. Bulwer-Lytton, letter to Charles Dickens, undated but either from the end of 1861 or beginning of 1862, in Victor Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 2, 345. 52. Bulwer-Lytton, undated letter to Charles Dickens, in Victor BulwerLytton, vol. 2, 346–347. 53. John Forster, unpublished letter to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 11 December (Hertfordshire County Record Office ref. D/EK C14) quoted in Brown, “The ‘Supplementary Chapter’ to Bulwer Lytton’s A Strange Story,” Victorian Literature and Culture, 26, no. 1 (1998), 160–161. 54. The chapter was, however, drafted, and this was eventually published in 1998 with annotations and introduction by Andrew Brown. See Brown, 157–182. 55. Bulwer-Lytton, letter to his son Edward Robert, undated, in Victor Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 2, 351. 56. Justin McCarthy, Modern leaders: being a series of biographical sketches (New York: Shelden and Co., 1872), 160. 57. The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Walter Dexter, 3 vols. (London: Nonesuch, 1938) vol. 3, 234 cited in Brown, 164. 58. It was with bemused humour that Joseph Conrad commented in 1897: “The popularity of Bulwer Lytton in the forecastles of Southern-going ships is a wonderful and bizarre phenomenon.” Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, ed. J.H. Stape and Allan H. Simmons, intr. Gail Fraser (London: Penguin Classics, 2007), 7. 59. Bulwer-Lytton, in Victor Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 2, 346. 60. George Henry Lewes, Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences: Being an Exposition of the Principles of the Cours de Philosophie Positive of Auguste Comte (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), 5. 61. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “An Essay On Breakfasts,” New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, August 1833, 434. 62. Bulwer-Lytton, quoted in Robert Lee Wolff, Strange Stories and other Explorations in Victorian Fiction (Boston: Gambit, 1971), 314. 63. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, letter to his son Edward Robert, 15 April 1862, in Victor Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 2, 348. 64. Bulwer-Lytton, A Strange Story, 18. All in-text page numbers for A Strange Story refer to the Caxton edition. Materialism places a stronger, less ambiguous emphasis on tangibility than terms like “empiricist,” which is open to Hume’s denial of all reality, or “positivist,” which might imply Comte’s interest in social structures, yet the term was often used pejoratively. Bernard Lightman writes: “even in the 1870s, the charge of



materialism was a serious one” which, in the case of John Tyndall, “grouped Tyndall together with lower-class atheists, casting aspersions on his status as a member of the intellectual elite.” See Bernard Lightman, “Scientists as Materialists in the Periodical Press: Tyndall’s Belfast Address,” Science Serialized, 202. For a discussion of the difficulties with these and similar terms, see Turner, Between Science and Religion, 10–11. 65. Joseph Fradin contended: “some of the melodramatic excesses of A Strange Story seem to be the result of Bulwer-Lytton’s intense reaction to evolutionary theory – a kind of nervous anxiety which splashes disconcertingly over the surface of the novel.” See Joseph I.  Fradin, “‘The Absorbing Tyranny of Every-day Life’: Bulwer-Lytton-Lytton’s A Strange Story,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 16, no. 1 (1961): 5. 66. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 1, 98. 67. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 252. 68. See, for example, Anon. “The Kaleidoscope,” Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, 7 May 1818. For a history of the ocular harpsichord, see Hankins and Silverman, 72–85. For a general discussion of the concept, see E.H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1979), 286–305. 69. Similarly, a theory of light promoted by Tyndall claimed that light travelled through an unknown substance, “ether,” in the manner of sound vibrating through air. For examples, see John Tyndall, “The Constitution of the Universe,” Fortnightly Review, 1 December 1865; C.K. Akin, “New Views on Light,” Fortnightly Review, 15 April 1866. 70. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 253. 71. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 253. 72. Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 329. 73. Hegel, quoted in Stefan Andriopoulos, “Kant’s Magic Lantern: Historical Epistemology and Media Archaeology,” Representations 115, no. 1 (2011), 43. Andriopoulos makes a case that in Kant’s theory of transcendental illusion the magic lantern was not merely illustrative but was constitutive. 74. Thomas Reid, An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, 4th ed., ed. Derek R.  Brookes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981), 22. 75. In comparison, in his account of theories of the soul/mind, Alexander Bain mentions Hume only in discussing Dugald Stewart as a “fair representation of metaphysicians,” although Bain’s essay follows a similar divide between the “two sides” presented by competing mental and physical philosophers. Lewes, too, is dismissive of Hume in his history of philosophy. This suggests that perhaps Bulwer-Lytton, among others in the popular press, was wrestling with ideas that were already considered outdated by



those at the forefront of the debate (e.g. Bain, Spencer, Lewes). See Alexander Bain, “A Historical Overview of the Theories of the Soul,” Fortnightly Review, 15 May 1866; George Henry Lewes, The History of Philosophy, from Thales to Comte, 4th ed. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1871), 335. 76. Fredric Jameson, “Marx’s Purloined Letter,” Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, ed. Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 1999), 38. 77. Jameson, “Marx’s Purloined Letter,” 38. 78. Susie Vrobel, Fractal Time: Why a Watched Kettle Never Boils (Singapore: World Scientific, 2011), 76. 79. Bulwer-Lytton, undated letter to Dickens, in Victor Bulwer-Lytton, vol. 2, 345. 80. Anon.  “Christmas Ghosts and Scientific Ghosts,” Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper, 2 January 1864. 81. John Tyndall, “On Radiant Heat in Relation to the Colour and Chemical Constitution of Bodies” (1866), repr. in John Tyndall, Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses, and Reviews (London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1902) vol. 1, 71. 82. Tyndall, “On Radiant Heat,” 71. 83. Tyndall, “On Radiant Heat,” 71. 84. Tyndall, “On Radiant Heat,” 72–73. 85. Baden Powell, The Order of Nature Considered in Reference to the Claims of Revelation (London, 1859), 231–232. 86. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, unpublished letter to John Forster, 5 December 1861, quoted in Brown, 160. 87. Hankins and Silverman, 70. 88. Anon. “A Dissolving View of the Polytechnic,” Punch, 19 March 1881, 132. 89. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 54.


“Hocus Focus”: The Stereoscope and Photography

The efforts of mid-century science to contain and control imaginative processes had complex effects. At the level of everyday techno-visual and imaginative experience, the autonomy of the observer retained its individual imaginative, irrational, and counter-productive faculties. These complex interactions between techno-visual, socio-cultural, and individual forces are exemplified by the cultural position of the stereoscope, as well as its physical presence within Victorian homes. Through specific examples, such interactions acquire the concrete actuality of real life so that we might gain some understanding of how Victorians translated broad abstract conceptions of imagination and science (as in the formulations of the last chapter) into the specificity of everyday experience. Such an understanding is necessarily always incomplete, and any attempt at or claim to account for individual experience is perpetually open to criticisms of reductionism and generalisation, on the one hand, and tedium and irrelevance, on the other hand. The aim of this chapter is to examine popular short stories that give imaginative accounts of everyday stereoscopic experience in order to understand how these popular accounts compare with the accounts of technologically rationalised imaginative vision in the preceding chapter. In particular, this chapter considers the stereoscope’s position as an instrument that was experienced, and often re-presented, in relation to imaginative narrative processes of memory and fantasy.

© The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_6




Seeing Double The stereoscope’s inventor, Charles Wheatstone, conceived it as an instrument of scientific demonstration, able to show the effect of binocular vision. Although it was invented in 1838, it was only when it was adapted as an optical toy and combined with photographic images by David Brewster in the 1850s that the stereoscope became ubiquitously popular. Essentially, the stereoscope was a device that enabled each eye to view separately one of two images (usually, but not always, photographs) of the same thing from slightly different angles in order to create the impression of a single three-dimensional image. The device takes its name from this illusion of three dimensions—“stereoscope” being derived from a Greek portmanteau meaning “see solid.” The device became much more than the scientific instrument for demonstrating binocular vision that Wheatstone had originally intended. As an optical toy, the stereoscope entered thousands of homes, becoming a standard object of the domestic parlour. Indeed, its famous sales slogan proclaimed there was “a stereoscope for every home.”1 Different models and versions of the device were aimed at different markets and prices: in the mid-1850s, for example, prices ranged between 20 guineas and 2 shillings depending on the quality and type of set one bought.2 In terms of size, one could purchase small hand-held stereoscopes or large column stereoscopes which, as Plunkett puts it, were “more home-entertainment systems than cheap portable toys.”3 Such variety meant that while the basic technology was within the financial reach of a vast number of households, the market maintained an appeal to the middle and upper classes as a way of exhibiting their higher social status through larger, more extravagant versions of the device, as well as through its function as a device for viewing images. To go with these “entertainment systems,” photographic and painted slides were produced in an array of genres which helped maintain the stereoscope’s perennial appeal through to the first few decades of the twentieth century.4 The stereoscope did not just offer a vast array of viewable subjects but provided an intensely psychological viewing experience in the heart of the home. It was a technology of the imagination that facilitated, articulated, and even helped conceptualise the fantasies of the observer. It also held deep symbolic resonances with ideas surrounding psychological dualism and self-doubling. As will be demonstrated, this experience of the device was portrayed and reiterated in the fiction and non-fiction that appeared



in popular periodicals. There was, of course, an array of technologies (visual and otherwise) that intersected with everyday imaginative processes, and the issues raised by the stereoscope overlapped with those of other technologies. However, the stereoscope’s unique viewing properties, and prevalence within Victorian homes, gave it a special cultural resonance. The Victorian parlour in which the stereoscope was often located was a unique space in which objects, technologies, and media acquired symbolic roles. In a reading of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Gunning writes that the parlour was a “protective shell one fashions for oneself but also the locus of optical devices and philosophical toys of all sorts—the stereoscope, the kaleidoscope, the magic lantern—that seem to open the viewer’s gaze onto a different world, but only under the dominion of the image and semblance.”5 Optical devices turned parlours into protected spaces where mediated images opened the world to visual exploration. This was a place of show, in which social status such as affluence or respectability might be indicated by the objects exhibited, but also in the sense that a diverse range of images might be displayed through technological means. The stereoscope in particular functioned like a window, offering a seemingly endless variety of views of the world. It relied on a kind of realism in its images—unlike the magic lantern which was conceived in primarily abstracted and fantastical ways, the stereoscope utilised the accuracy and detail of the photograph, but it operated within a more carefully delimited visual space than a photograph album, partitioned from everyday reality by the eyepiece. As such, it could give a stronger sense of experiencing places as though physically transported. This imaginative-visual teleportation was similar to the panoramic sense of presence within a scene, but the experience was much more private and encouraged a more concentrated and intense gaze. In January 1852, the Illustrated London News published an article giving “first notice” of the stereoscope, in which it imagined “future galleries of […] the people as they were—not flat and framed, and hung along the walls, nor in cold marble, but round and real as they looked in life […].”6 The stereoscope, using photographic images, supposedly replaced the “flat,” unreal “fictions of painters” with the life-like and “real.” In adding three-dimensional depth to the flat realism of the photograph, the stereoscope not only drew attention to the inadequacy of painted portraits (their fictiveness) but also widened an underlying tension in photographic images which might appear just as “cold,” “flat and framed” as paintings.



In the case of the daguerreotype in particular, images are not only flat but silvered like a mirror. Looking into a daguerreotype image, one is as likely to see oneself as to see the photographic impression.7 The flatness of the surface is a key visual characteristic of photography. While photography brought an unprecedented sense of accuracy and detail to realist re-presentation, it was limited to the visual surface of reality and struggled to delve below this surface. As we have seen in Chap. 2, even overtly realist representations such as those relating to the panorama found occasional recourse in “romantic” or imaginative modes. The inescapable flatness of the photographic surface is what Barthes calls the flat death of photography—both its literal state of flatness and the photograph’s representational distance from our social and cultural experiences of reality, its inability to delve below visual surface.8 As a method of viewing photographs, the stereoscope would seem to circumvent such flatness by generating solidity, presenting an image that is “round and real.” In her discussion of John Ruskin’s visual theorisations, Lindsay Smith makes the point that, to Ruskin at least, monocular instruments (photographic cameras, telescopes, microscopes, the artist’s Claude glass or black mirror, etc.) were too confining in how they focussed on parts in isolation from a spatial whole. As such, they generated a self-conscious form of observation that was aligned, via its association with “geometrical perspective and its implicit optical mastery,” with “social, cultural, and political elitism.”9 In contrast, according to Smith, binocular instruments (and primarily the stereoscope) “facilitated a shift away from the self,” possessing the ability to “annihilate itself as medium.”10 Of course, this effect of binocularity might only further entrench the problems of photographic depiction, since the stereoscope could only give the optical illusion of depth and could not actually circumvent the semantic flattening of reality (this phenomenon will be discussed later in this chapter, but see also the discussion of the chromolithograph in Conrad’s novel Lord Jim in Chap. 8). However, as a popular viewing device that entered countless homes, the stereoscope brought the visual tensions between reality and unreality to the forefront of the domestic sphere and, therefore, everyday life. In a way that was highly accessible to the population in general, the stereoscope moved such fundamental properties of reality as space and depth into the psychological realm, showing how these might be perceived in instances where they were clearly not present. To this end, Crary points out that in the physical design of the stereoscope there was very



little pretence that the observer was viewing something as opposed to, simply, an illusion—especially in Wheatstone’s original design, which emphasised the role of the device itself in creating the vision. Yet when one looked through the scope, it did insistently look like a three-dimensional thing rather than the flat cards one knew it to be. The overall effect was a kind of cognitive dissonance that, perhaps, also demonstrated the ­importance of the kinds of contextualising sense-evidence that Lewes and Spencer discussed, as noted in the previous chapter. The viewing experience was in no respect straightforward. Crary’s description of the stereoscope, for instance, emphasises disparity and the “derangement of optical cues.”11 In Crary’s reading, the depth of the stereoscope has “no unifying logic or order […] The reading or scanning of a stereo image […] is an accumulation of differences in the degree of optical convergence, thereby producing a perceptual effect of a patchwork of different intensities of relief within a single image.”12 David Trotter builds on this idea, arguing that the unique perspectival character of stereoscopic images allowed for an observational absorption and disconnectedness that was suggestively analogous with early cinematic close-ups.13 The stereoscope, in Trotter’s account, uncovers elements wholly unexpected when one looks at the flat image of the visible—rather than being necessarily attracted to the central subject of the image, the eye might instead be drawn towards the objects of contingency which float towards the observer from the foreground. This effect, Trotter argues, was sometimes even deliberately emphasised by stereoscopic photographers. In essence, stereographs drew the viewer in, presenting visions which were potentially less hermeneutically cohesive or stable than conventional photographs, which seemed open to the physical grasp, and which were available for attentive and individual looking. The private gaze through the individual stereoscope, especially in the space of the home, generated a sense of stillness and timelessness conducive to psychological states of reverie. Such conditions focussed the glance one might give a photograph into an intense gaze imbued with imaginative power so that the stereoscope became a technological intervention into reveries and daydreams, acting as prompt, guide, or facilitator for imaginative self-expression. These kinds of viewing experiences were private, individual, and often irrational, contrasting strikingly with Wheatstone’s intention to exhibit openly the universal principles of binocular vision discovered by rational science. Modern scholarship has tended to understand the stereoscope in terms of the nineteenth-century religious and philosophical debates which used



the device to question the relationship between solidity and perceptual reality. In nineteenth-century philosophical and scientific discussions, the issues surrounding the stereoscope were epistemological and centred on its apparent creation of substance from nothing. Traditionally, when one viewed a depiction of a thing, one was alerted to this apparent creation by the flatness and materiality of the image. But in the stereoscope, one saw solidity even though, looking at the device itself, one knew there were only the two flat cards. For this reason, debates tended to be centred on the possibility of visually accessing any real depth or distance or whether vision is able only to perceive what one article calls “the visible signs of solidity.”14 Kant had argued that form and space were mental constructs, and the stereoscope would seem to have confirmed that. According to Plunkett in his examination of the differences between Wheatstone and David Brewster’s differing accounts of the stereoscope, scientific and popular discourse on the technology was “fissured between two contrasting approaches: one was broadly empirical, idealist and phenomenological; the other was nativist, material and geometrical.”15 On the one hand, there was the argument that depth and solidity could be perceived directly by the eye, and on the other hand, there was an argument that depth and solidity were perceived through psychological or metaphysical processes. As a result of this disjunction between physical and visual realities, the popular press tended to position the stereoscope somewhere between the material (and technological) and the imaginary. Popular accounts of the device engaged with issues similar to those raised by the more studious debates within philosophy, religion, and science, with descriptions of the device emphasising the uncanny and the supernatural. Morley and Wills, for example, begin their article on the stereoscope by speculating: Everyone has been told that the old priests of Egypt and of Greece were better skilled in optics than in necromancy; that many an awful ghost, riding upon a cloud, was the result of hocussing and focussing. Any commentator is entitled to suppose that an old form of incantation (said to have had a more sacred origin) has become slightly corrupted by the exchange of convertible letters in the lapse of time, and was in the first instance, really hocus, focus […].16

Here the stereoscope, as a link between modern optics and “necromancy,” is placed on a fluctuating epistemological border between the supernatural and the natural, between rational and irrational, and between science and



religion (the “priests” being “skilled in optics”). Indeed, such a conception of the device was not uncommon. For some commentators, the stereoscope probed the increasingly contentious boundaries between theology and science. As Hankins and Silverman describe, both scientific and popular accounts of the stereoscope were informed by a “network of natural theological presuppositions” which “established the human eyes as the ideal instrumentation for visual re-presentation.”17 Involved in this conception of the human eye was the belief of natural theology that the human eye’s supposed perfection was proof of God’s existence. The Philadelphia photographer John F.  Mascher, for example, proclaimed in 1855: “it is only the hand of Omnipotence that could have designed and constructed such a wonderful organ.”18 On this basis Mascher argued that camera lenses should be made the same size as the human pupil and that the distance between the lenses used to take the two stereoscopic images should be exactly two and a half inches to simulate the distance between a pair of human eyes. Mascher, like others, thus conceptualised stereoscopic vision as a simulation of human vision which, based on the supposition of its divine origin, he held as the ideal model of visual perception. However, this kind of metaphysical debate was only one aspect of the stereoscope’s cultural position. Alongside such philosophical and intellectual debates was an everyday experience of stereoscopic vision that tended to be domestic, private, and often idiosyncratically imaginative. An extract from a story in the British Mothers’ Journal suggests the way in which stereographs might be viewed within the home: After tea, when the conversation was beginning to flag a little, Mrs. Henwood brought out a very beautiful stereograph which had been sent to her from Australia, one of the kind denominated by amateur photographers a “glass positive” […] It was a beautiful picture […] and, perhaps, more beautiful to us, because our eyes were never likely to look upon the reality.19

Here we can sense the suggestiveness of the image—the affective power of the leisurely gaze upon an image never to be seen in life renders it still “more beautiful.” The experience is within a communal setting, but the act itself is inherently private—only one person can look through the stereoscope at a time. The viewing conditions allow for the gaze to be as concentrated and as extended as the viewer desires. The importance of such conditions is clarified by comparing them with the radically different



public stereoscopic experience of the Kaiserpanorama in the 1880s. In the Kaiserpanorama, up to 25 spectators could view different stereoscopic images which would be rotated every two minutes. According to Crary, it was: a space in which the physical and temporal alignment of body and machine correspond to the rhythms of factory production and to the way in which novelty and interruptions were introduced into assembly-line labour in order to prevent attention from veering into trance or daydream.20

In comparison, a “trance or daydream” is exactly the kind of state that might be attained when privately viewing a stereograph in a comfortable parlour during an hour of leisure after tea. Whereas the Kaiserpanorama imposes pre-set timings and viewing orders on the viewer, the stereoscope is always at the command of the observer, open to whim and the prolonged gaze of the daydream. The stereoscope’s appeal partly lay in its suggestiveness for imaginative and fictional narrative. Its technological process relied on the psychological composition of two images into one—a process which necessarily implies a fictional image since the thing one sees is not physically real. The suggestiveness of this process was often used for jokes, and, in one cartoon from Vanity Fair, it was even recast as a sexual coupling: a young gentleman explains to an apparently innocent young lady that the “principle of the stereoscope” is to “make two people into one.”21 More than simply a prompt for jokes or a metaphor for sexual fantasy, however, looking through the stereoscope was a narrative-building experience. A narrative quality was generated not only on the level of the stereoscope’s viewing conditions but also, in part, from its basic technological function. Morley and Wills in Household Words, for example, describe how the two images on the stereoscopic card created an entirely imaginary composite image. The images might, for instance, show two men fighting—each image showing a different figure: In looking at this group, and at the same time rapidly moving to and fro a small slide behind the glasses, which covers now one eye and now another, the two impressions run into each other and produce the appearance of an active sparring match.22

The narrative-building process, which Morley and Wills make explicit, was implicitly continued in the way an individual viewing a set of themed stereo-



graphs might collate the images into a narrative story. Unlike in the Kaiserpanorama, the viewer was free to arrange the images as they wished, viewing each one for as long as they wish, and different sets might be mixed up and new arrangements created. The autonomy of the viewer was such that an individual, viewing stereographs from a range of different themed sets or viewing amateur or individually purchased stereographs, could order and shape their own narratives. On the level of individual images, a basic imaginary narrative of movement could be created as Morley and Wills describe (some stereographs, as in Fig. 6.1, were designed with this narrative in mind). When multiple images were combined, more involved imaginative narratives were created, encouraged by the privacy of the gaze. The personal nature of the viewing experience itself was particularly conducive to the formation of imaginative narratives since, unlike technologies which were viewed as part of a show (such as the magic lantern or moving panorama), there was little or no direction given on how the image should be viewed (although some stereographs had a caption or brief description on the reverse side). In looking through a stereoscope, the individual was free to privately construct his or her own narrative around the images. One effect of this personal and imaginative way of looking was the stereoscope’s cultural association with illicit, subversive, and sexual narratives of daydreams and fantasies. Depending on the images one viewed, the stereoscope’s viewing conditions facilitated, as Lynda Nead contends, “the possibility of total immersion in semi-private sexual reverie.”23 A

Fig. 6.1  Stereoscopic card of two boys fighting. Unknown date. (Courtesy of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter)



short story from Sharpe’s London Magazine gives a useful indication of how these private visions might have been experienced. The story, simply titled “In a Stereoscope,” tells of the narrator’s romantic fling with a “little Spaniard” which, with unsettling and phantasmagorical language, is broken up by a mysterious masked man at a ball. If it were not for the title, the story would not necessarily be read as a fantasy (and would be all the uncannier for it)—it is only at the story’s end, when the narrator wakes up, that the narrator reveals it to be a dream prompted by a set of stereographs: Strange! I must have been dreaming; and if I have been talking in my sleep, there will be the deuce to pay with your aunt—though Heaven knows I never was in Spain, as sure as my name is Smithson Brown, and never kissed a black-eyed woman in my life. […] Here, take away the stereoscope, my dears, and the pictures that I fell asleep over, after they put so much folly into my old head. Put away the Spanish Girl, and Dressing for the Ball, and that foolish, Moonlit Balcony […] and never tell your aunt what nonsense your uncle talked in his sleep, after seeing your stereoscope.24

The conceit upon which the story turns is the stereoscope’s relation to the imagination. The observer, looking privately at a set of slides, has constructed a fantasy narrative around the images. The result of this private narrative  creation is profoundly uncanny as the fictional viewer unconsciously attempts to transcribe the unfamiliar into the familiar through his dream. That is, the dream narrative transcribes the stereoscopic images of unfamiliar subjects into something resembling memory—something that the narrator tries, at least, to ascribe to memory. Yet the narrator is unable to fully assimilate these false memories, and they retain a sense of the unfamiliar. For example, the narrator is unable to recognise his rival: ‘Didn’t you recognise him? Why, he knew you at once, in spite of your priest’s dress […] I suppose he looks like —’ Like whom? Why had I no strength to ask when she faltered and hesitated?25

The images repeat the past in ways which are both familiar and unfamiliar. Constructed into a dream narrative, they provoke a memory response, but, since the response is not tied to actual memories, the act of ­remembering cannot be completed and leads to confusion. If memory is itself a kind of psychological narrative process (experiences being



r­ econstructed with each remembrance), then to some degree, this is mimicked by this kind of stereoscopic looking.26 Imaginary narratives are formed around photographic stereographs which are a form  of archival evidence of the past (even if it is not a past personally experienced). In the story, the erotic potency of this kind of fictive memory-creation is such that, even though the narrator has not actually done any of the things the story describes, he is still anxious to denounce it as “nonsense” and hide it from his wife, lest there be “the deuce to pay.”27 The story obviously derives humour from this situation, but the joke masks an underlying tension about memory, desire, fiction, and reality. The stereoscope’s physical location within the Victorian home contains its own psychological significance since the home is a key locale for reverie, fantasy, reflection, and daydream. As Gaston Bachelard famously argued, the home is a space closely entangled with the daydream: “the sheltered being […] experiences the house in its reality and in its virtuality, by means of thought and dreams.”28 The stereoscope’s entrance into this space can be understood as both the physical arrival of an object of display into a familial exhibition space and as the intervention of a virtual technology into the psychological space of daydreams. The physical location, in this instance, corresponds with the virtual. The haptic quality of the stereoscopic image is important in this regard since it traverses these two aspects of domestic space. The implication of touch brings with it a set of virtual meanings, particularly in the domestic setting. Patrizia Di Bello argues that feminine culture “endowed women’s touch with almost magic powers”: objects were “re-made by the hands of the women of the house into freely bestowed gifts” and thus “cleansed of the alienating relationships engendered by the factory and the market place.”29 To this end, Di Bello notes that women’s magazines featured instructional articles on adding colour to photographs, using photographs to aid painting, and making photographic albums.30 Such handicrafts are all noticeably transformational activities which utilise touch (especially but not exclusively women’s touch) to turn machine-made photographs into what Di Bello calls “fetishes endowed with affective powers.”31 Touch and women’s handiwork, in this way, intercede between the material and the emotional. The stereoscopic image, intrinsically linked to touch through its suggestion of depth, came pre-endowed with this affective power in a way which surpassed that of the common photograph. One felt able to reach out and touch the image, and so, by gazing into the stereoscope, one was



invited into a virtual space that visually intertwined physical reality with the emotional and psychological dimensions of domesticity. Images could still be altered and given personal embellishments, but there was already an affective power in the stereoscope’s visual illusion of tangible reality. For commercial images of unfamiliar places and people, this kind of act integrates the technologically visualised external body with the imaginative, emotional qualities of memory and desire (a process which is fictionally demonstrated in “In a Stereoscope”). However, for images which already contain a powerful and personal emotional dimension, physical acts of embellishment and alteration could offer the viewer greater control over the image. As will be seen later, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for example, hand-coloured photographs not just to imbue virtual bodies with the ghosts of memory but also to alter and reshape his emotional connection to the images.32 Different models of stereoscope presented differences in viewing conditions, thereby altering the viewing experience. As Crary points out, Brewster’s version of the stereoscope—the version which first popularised it as an entertainment device—enclosed the two images and created a greater degree of illusion than Wheatstone’s stereoscope which was intended to demonstrate optical principles.33 By concealing the individual cards behind the lens, the combination of rational processes which create the image is hidden, and its absence allows for greater psychological ­suggestibility. The observer is placed at a remove from the physical reality of the images (their flatness, their unreality) and drawn further into the virtual reality of virtual subjects. Whereas traditional photographs might appear flat and lifeless, the stereograph appeared tangible and real, inviting the viewer into its illusive depth. Through this drawing into the image, the stereoscope possessed an ability to affect the viewer psychologically, provoke daydreams, stimulate the imagination, and acquire an emotional power, in ways which surpassed those of the ordinary photograph. The technological effect, reminiscent of the process Di Bello describes and closely linked to touch, had the potential to subvert traditional notions of domestic stability. Such subversion, along with a sense of psychological danger, is articulated in an 1859 short story published in the Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion. A young sailor, James, leaves his fiancée, Alice, to go to sea, after which, he promises, he will make no more voyages and they can be married. Before he goes, he views a stereograph of Alice, exclaiming “How like you this is […] I shall take this with me […] I know I shall catch myself talking to this



bit of glass, and trying to comfort it.”34 The stereoscope offers an image so life-like that it will act as a surrogate while he is away. Such life-like quality is reiterated when he looks at an image of himself and tells Alice, “As long as you see this lubber here look as strong and hearty as he does now, you may be sure, Alice, that I am all right. You must peep into this stereoscope as into a magic-glass.” At the story’s conclusion, the characters’ faith in the reality of the image has tragic consequences when a birthday party at Alice’s natal home features a children’s magic lantern show of traditional and well-known ghost stories. The lanternist, having run through the ghosts the children expect, projects the stereograph of James at the very moment the narrator (a family friend) is about to tell Alice of a bad storm that may have shipwrecked the real James: On the disc was gradually coming forth a great white face. The vivid colours of the old ghost picture died away as the livid hues of this face became stronger. The eyes seemed dead or closed, the outlines were undefined, the mouth was rigid. The face was of gigantic proportions, and was the most corpse-like and horrible picture I have ever seen; but it was the face of James. […] without thinking any evil, [the lanternist] had used the photograph of James as a slide for the magic-lantern. It was one of those transparent photographs on glass, so often used in stereoscopes.

The image causes Alice to collapse, and, in the final lines, we learn that James “had escaped the perils of fire and sea, and came back to find Alice dead.” The story plays on the expectations viewers might have as they transition between different visual modes. Looking through the stereoscope, the characters expect and comprehend a depiction of reality so convincing that it might, at least temporarily, stand in for the real thing. Looking at the projections of the magic lantern, they expect to see the fantastical images of ghosts and the supernatural that were traditional in the phantasmagoria. Combining these two visual modes creates a visual confusion which catches them unexpectedly. The viewing conditions of the show (the darkness, the screen, the audience, the showman, etc.) frame the visual experience and demarcate a remove from reality into a space in which supernatural events are not only plausible but anticipated. The suggestion is that, rather than having been trained by magic lantern shows to recognise illusions and tricks, they have been conditioned to see only ghosts within this context.35 Projecting the stereograph of James as part of



a magic lantern ghost show therefore throws Alice’s sense of safe remove into confusion and doubt. Put another way, looking at the photograph through a stereoscope allows a prolonged and involved gaze that facilitates a powerful imaginative and emotional connection between viewer and image. James encourages Alice to think of the image as his double so that when she sees him in the stereoscope looking “as strong and hearty as he does now, you may be sure, Alice, that I am all right” (note the fluidity between the “he” in the image and the personal “I”). Alice thus forms a narrative of safety and security around the image which becomes entangled in the deathly narrative of the magic lantern show with a profound and dramatic psychological effect. Melodramatic though it is, the story demonstrates the complex psychological dynamics involved in stereoscopic looking and in domestic visual culture more generally. In its focus on the romance between Alice and James, predominantly mediated by their stereographs of each other, the story continues the theme of romantic and sexual desire that we saw in the story “In a Stereoscope.” This association between stereoscopic viewing and sexual or romantic intimacy draws on the device’s affective and immersive experience. The stereoscope pulls the reader into its image, adding a sense of tangibility to the flatness of the photograph, and thus allows the viewer the teasing sensation of being able to reach out and touch the subject. In an 1859 essay on the stereoscope, the American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes states: The mind feels its way into the very depth of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable.36

The tactility of the image, the haptic quality, is the most prominent feature of the stereograph here. For Alice and James, the haptic quality forms a part of its appeal—the sense that one’s absent lover is within reach. In the story, Alice takes the portrait “up to her little room, and treasured it there,” and after James departs, Alice “retired in company with the portrait for most of the morning.”37 Her privately enjoyed surrogate of James is viewed frequently, and it becomes a source of comfort even “in the middle of the night, when she woke from some terrible dream.”38 There is an erotic charge in Alice’s not-quite-tactile image of her fiancé, viewed



privately through a stereoscope in her bedchamber. But, above all, there is a sense of emotional and imaginative intimacy: she looks at it in her bedchamber, the physical space of dreams, often in “the middle of the night” after dreaming. The apparent depth and tangibility in the image bridge the divide between the “terrible dream” and physical reality. The virtual image of the stereoscope combines not just the two physical cards but also the affective emotional power of the dream and the reassuring solidity of reality so that, in the story, the virtual stereoscopic James stands in for his physical self.

Being Double In the story discussed above, there are two versions of James: the real James and the James whom Alice imagines when she looks at his stereoscopic image. The relation between these two versions, subject and portrait, is a relation between self and re-presented self. According to an analogy employed in All the Year Round, such a relation is mirrored in the act of speaking to oneself, where one becomes split across two sides of a dialogue. Here doubling and self-re-presentation (the self to whom one speaks) are combined with narrative (the content of the speech act) in a fashion similar to the doubling and narrative involved in stereoscopic portraits. “Talking to one’s self,” the article argues, is the result of a “dualism of mind”: There are moments when we are conscious of having two selves, as it were; just as there are times when our bodily eyes see double: one self addresses itself to the other self, remonstrates with it, reasons, argues, or condoles with it. […] This, then, is a true conversation, and continues to be so, until the two intellectual halves of our nature converge and combine, like the double picture in a stereoscope, into one.39

The stereoscopic image of the self (as in the story about Alice and James) is a conjugation which appears whole but is actually separated from its true counterpart: it is a virtual image standing in for the actual self. Visually at least, the stereoscopic portrait appears to be a part of the self, a duplicate or an extension of the physical presence of the self. This sense of duplication or extension occurs in flat photographs but is intensified in the stereoscope, so that Alice is able to imagine that it really is the safe and healthy James she views. But the image is clearly separate from the subject, operating away from the real James so that they are only truly united at the



precise moment of separation when the image is recorded on the photographic plate. The stereoscopic portrait, like the photographic portrait, is the silent double that refuses any dialogue beyond the one-way discourse of a longing gaze, but in the stereograph, this gaze is intensified with greater psychological efficacy. This relation is problematic because of the narrative potential of the image—an issue of all images but intensified by photography and then again by stereographs, since the more “real” an image appears, the more problematic misrepresentation is likely to become. Once the image has been created, it stands in for the subject, and viewers form narratives around it. The real subject may have little or no part in these narratives, save for being the original of the image. Even though these narratives might then be transposed onto the real person in the mind of the observer, the person viewed is only a silent character in that narrative. Such transposition of image narrative onto the real subject was perhaps especially troubling for women for whom, as Di Bello points out, “accomplished femininity” might equally be “a pose to fashion oneself as desirable” or “a way to express oneself.”40 That is, portraits might offer avenues for self-­ expression, but they might also be viewed in contexts outside the subject’s control. This troubling circumstance is rather unselfconsciously demonstrated in a short story, “Her Face” (1858), by Charles Allston Collins (brother of Wilkie Collins and husband of Dickens’ daughter Kate—although this story was written two years before the marriage).41 Based upon the male narrator’s reaction to a woman’s photographic portrait, the story begins with the first-person narrator seeing “the sweetest face imaginable—and the most feminine” in “a cheap photograph […] in a street-door case, with a touter lying in ambush.”42 The narrator is then “haunted” by the face until, during a period of flâneur-like wandering through the city, he spies by chance the real young woman and follows her home. Strikingly, the narrator is himself paranoid about being observed: during a passage in which he stands outside her house, he notes all the other people on the street and is “obliged to take myself off, and leave my observers masters of the field” (260) (the phrasing here is not subtle in hinting at the power dynamics he imagines at work). Later, he attends a dance, believing she will be there, and feels threatened by young ladies who “took note of me, with covert whisperings and gigglings, to my soul’s confusion” (262). He is not put off when it becomes evident that the woman, named only as “Miss Fenton,” has detected him following her and is actively avoiding



him—when he knocks on the door of her residence and asks about her, she has instructed her servant to pretend she does not live there (he knows this to be false since he has followed her home). Instead of being deterred, he admires her more, for her attempts to avoid him “showed a modesty and difficulty of access, which was a good sign” (261). When they finally do briefly meet, she immediately recognises him and flees the room. The story ends with the arrangement of his marriage to her using her father as an intermediary, despite the fact they still have yet to engage in a single conversation. With only her father’s family name to identify her, and seen only through her would-be suitor’s eyes, “Miss Fenton” remains an elusive and almost entirely absent character. Having been introduced by her photograph, she is never characterised beyond the silent, static image, and the narrator never seems interested in anything more than what is contained in the image. The photograph is the sum total of the male suitor’s interest in her, and their complete lack of interaction (aside from his persistent stalking and her attempts to avoid him) is of little concern to him. One way of reading of this story would focus on the masculine gaze and the commodification of women through their images. Photographs were not unique in this respect. Isobel Armstrong points to instances where reflections in mirrors perform the same function as “a vicarious narcissistic consumerism,” in which person is reified into consumable object.43 But the prevalent dissemination of photographic images, and their fixed nature (as opposed to reflections which shift and change constantly), cemented a clear place for them in the new markets of images. Stereographs, alongside cartes des visites and other photographic images (variations on peep shows, for instance, remained popular), were commonly displayed in shop windows that, as a commodified form of display, visualised desire (both sexual and consumerist)—and often led to concerns of obscenity. Certainly, there was a link between stereoscopy, sexual desire, and gender roles as the examples above make clear. Colette Colligan discusses, for example, the explicit pornographic images that were prolifically produced and ­consumed.44 And within the bounds of legality and respectability, images of private moments and intimate domestic scenes featuring women were common. Such issues were clearly involved in the stereoscope’s cultural position. Indeed, the privacy and tangibility of stereoscopic viewing only intensified them. Among the many arrests for obscenity, one that stands out is that of Mr E. Clarke who stood before the police court in Cardiff in 1899. Mr Clarke



was accused with exhibiting obscene pictures “by means of the ‘autocosmoscope’ penny-in-the-slot machine.”45 The Cardiff-based newspaper, the Western Mail, reported the case under the provocative headline: “What is an obscene picture?” The case, the subheading declared, was a “delicate query.” In fact, despite the confidence of the head constable in bringing the allegation to the court, the newspaper reveals that the defendant actually had two shops—one in Cardiff and one in Swansea—both of which exhibited the same disputed images. Whereas the Cardiff shop was investigated by the police, the images in Swansea had all “passed the gauntlet” and bore the approving initials of the Swansea chief constable. In the end, the presiding stipendiary was clear in denouncing the images as “very bad taste” but declared: “I hesitate to say they are obscene.”46 Such difficulty in deciding which images constitute obscenity is a common theme in reports of such allegations, if only from the frequency with which defendants claimed not to know their images were obscene at all. Images might be looked at in a multitude of ways, and, just as one official might see obscenity where another merely sees poor taste, so might an individual’s self-portrait be viewed in unexpected and unwelcome ways. Rather than concentrating on the male narrator’s gaze in “Her Face,” I want instead to consider the relation between stereoscopes, sexuality, and gender, by thinking about the story from Miss Fenton’s perspective, focussing on the interplay of narratives and images. Miss Fenton is not permitted a narrative voice or, in fact, any voice at all but has been replaced by her silent image. She has, it seems, no control over the consumption of the image of herself or its meaning(s); within the fictional framework, there is, in effect, no dialogue between the real woman and her technological double. We are not told the history of her photograph before its appearance in the shop window, but it appears that, after the moment in which the image was taken, Miss Fenton has no input in shaping its reception or interpretation. Unlike a dualism of mind or the act of “speaking to oneself,” instead of a dialogue, here there is the silence of the severance between image and substance, between external body and psychological self. The image contains only the superficial external appearance, and not the psychological depth, of her presence. In this monologue-like interplay between subject and viewer, the viewer maintains narrative control over the subject. For Miss Fenton, any control or power to affect the meaning or interpretation of the image (which leaves itself dangerously open to meaning) was diminished or perhaps even removed entirely at the moment of its inception, after which it becomes a



commercialised object available to aggressive predatory narratives that silence self-expression. A narrative is formed around the image, but it sweeps along the actual Miss Fenton as a silent character without agency. If a chance glance at a photographic portrait in a shop window can have this effect, the power of prolonged, private attentions through a stereoscope becomes dangerous—such doubling is dangerous for the silenced young woman in “Her Face,” but it is deadly for the young woman in “The Photograph.” In “The Photograph,” the eroticism of Alice’s stereoscopic portrait of James is a mark of its imaginative power. But the falseness of the image makes this eroticism dangerous. It is not the young man who enters Alice’s bedchamber, it is simply his likeness. If ghosts are the re-embodiment of a past self (either one’s self or the self of another), then the photographic stereograph cannot avoid a spectral association. The photograph makes bodies from the past visible, and the stereoscope makes these bodies appear tangible. But it does so in a way that inverts the traditional notion of the ghost. Instead of a re-embodied spirit, photographs remove the spirit so that only the body remains; it is bodies from the past made visible, not spirits. “Her Face” is perhaps (to modern sensibilities at least) so chilling for this reason—the narrator’s obsession with a woman’s photograph presents her as a body which he can imaginatively (romantically and erotically) fill with his own desires, negating her selfhood entirely. The observer’s imaginative act of viewing thereby overpowers the ontological security of the observed. In Alice’s case this is more palatable because the narrative imposed by the viewer (Alice) corresponds with the self-narrative of the portrait’s original (James) who invited her narrative looking. However, because this is a relation between two psychological narrative processes (Alice’s desire to see and James’ desire to be seen by Alice), we might then ask whether the image Alice views in her bedchamber is a double of her fiancé or a double of herself—or both. It is his body that she sees, but it is her imagination that imbues it with spirit and makes the image so arresting. The viewing conditions of the stereoscope intensify the narrative and psychological elements of conventional photography, endowing images with greater narrative efficacy. However, the narrative power open to the viewer creates a potential dissonance between reality and imagination at the same time that it negates this divide. It is this dissonance which is so problematic for Miss Fenton, the silent subject of a misappropriated image, and for Alice, whose stereoscope-mediated fantasy narrative of James is dramatically contradicted by the same image viewed through another medium.



Organising Images: Similarity and Difference Given the dangers of photographic dissonance between self and image, it is perhaps not surprising that Morley and Wills considered the photographic studio a place of “execution” and the dark room the “very headquarters of spectredom,” exciting a “sense of the supernatural.”47 The daguerreotypes themselves become sentient beings in Morley and Will’s description, looking back out at them, glancing “at us from all sides” (55). Though the images remain silent, they appear “as if they would have spoken to us out of the hard silver.” These silent, seeing faces vanish and reappear, seemingly leaping into and out of existence: “Here a face was invisible: there it burst suddenly into view, and seemed to peep at us.” And they are not, apparently, the mundane faces of everyday characters but visages of romance and fantasy; they are “beautiful women” smiling from “metal as polished and as hard as a knight’s armour on the eve of battle,” “young chevaliers” with faces “fastened down,” unable to “get their features loose out of the very twist and smirk they chanced to wear when they were captured and fixed.” A visual language supplants audible sound—their “eyes seemed to speak at us, but all […] tongues were silent; all whose limbs were fixed (although their faces seemed in a mysterious way to come and go as the lights shifted on the silver wall) what people were these?” (55). Daguerreotypes are unique in their mirror-like silver finish. The shimmering reflection emphasised the surface, and, like trying to see a body hidden underwater, looking at a portrait meant seeing the photographic subject leap out from the shifting reflections of reality. The surface of the daguerreotype created distance that generated a sense of doubling, a sense that this was a copy but not the real thing, that these were people removed from our world but who flitted about and came and went within the reflection of reality (daguerreotypes, unlike other forms of photography, even showed a reversed image as in a mirror). This is the unreal repetition of a specific and singular moment of reality. The daguerreotype has the uncanny ability to mimic, but not replicate, the singular distinct moments that compose into the individual’s comprehension of reality. It is interesting that though this reflective quality was unique to daguerreotypes, the sense of an uncanny—even ghostly—mimesis continued as other forms of photography became adopted. The photographic studio remained a place of metaphorical execution. Photography, then, long before the advent of spirit photography in the 1860s, possessed a ghostly nature.48 And if the flat photograph suggested



uncanny repetition and ghostliness, how much more so the stereograph which psychically rendered three-dimensional images from flat photographs? Theologically motivated ideas about stereoscopic and photographic techniques further intensified the “sense of the supernatural” that Morley and Wills describe. Coming from the standpoint of natural theology, which held human vision (a product of divine design) as the ideal, Brewster, for example, proclaimed that photographers who used lenses too large gave “a fresh and vigorous age the aspects of departing or departed life.”49 A photograph might, in such instances, provide the viewer not with a duplication of reality but a distortion of visible surfaces, lacking in spiritual depth what it possessed in material detail. We can see a melodramatic exaggeration of this difficulty in how quickly the image of James in “The Photograph” transforms from a life-like substitute adored by his fiancée to “the most corpse-like and horrible picture” which ultimately kills her.50 In Brewster’s technical argument about lens sizes, a similar feeling of deathly gloom colours the way he thinks about photography. Even the most convincing likeness contained a deathly potential, should the technological process be performed incorrectly (i.e. lenses are too big or images are viewed in the wrong medium). In previous chapters, I discussed the manner in which mid-century psychological thought, particularly in the theories of Bain, Lewes, and Spencer, recognised similarity and difference in sense-data. In associationist theories in particular, similarity and difference were fundamental to psychological ordering and processing. But in photography, these features play out in a more externalised way. Faced with a portrait of one’s self, one instantly becomes engrossed in considering whether it is a true likeness. Does the image match how you feel about yourself? Does it look how you imagine yourself to look? When Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had never met, decided to exchange photographs, there was much shared anxiety about getting a photograph that did themselves justice—Carlyle going so far as to suggest “the only satisfactory course will be to get a Sketch done too; if you have any Painter that can manage it tolerably.”51 Similarly, when Charles Baudelaire pleaded with his mother to have her photograph taken, he also insisted that he must be there to see it done properly.52 In their early account of photography, Morley and Wills were not looking at photographs of themselves. Instead of worrying about self-identity, their attention to difference formed the basis for finding racial implications in the photographic process. The photographer’s assistant, having just



been photographically captured, “was there re-presented as a negro,” they announce, before explaining: “that negro stage was not of course the finished portrait, it was the ‘negative’” (61). Photography is thus shown to involve a reversal of visual signifiers as the image moves from negative to positive, and, in this movement, the identity of the subject fluctuates between two poles—in Morley and Wills’ article, such fluctuations seem to tacitly anticipate photography’s later use for racial classification as well as implicating, perhaps, a troubling evolutionary reading. Equally, the description of how the whole process may be “reversed,” inverting racial categories, cannot help but subvert notions that such surface-level outward visibility can stand for internal identity. An article in The Ladies’ Treasury finds a similar disruption of identity in the negative process, this time relating to sexual and social identity: “a lady having her wedding-ring on the left hand it will appear on the right-hand side. Everything is apparently as wrong as possible.”53 Morley and Wills’ racial description does not dwell on such subversive potential, but it does hint at the visual fluidity of identity. Photography created a new system of visual signs to be interpreted and manipulated and, for some commentators, controlled and contained. The difference between negative and positive images—literally flipping between oppositional views—suggested that the relation between appearance and identity was not as fixed as it might have otherwise seemed. It is worth remembering that these two examples are given as anecdotes within longer discussions that more generally tend to confirm photography’s association with objective truth. As anecdotes, they disrupt and complicate the sense of realist objectivity, encouraging readers to question photographic truth, but it was clearly a losing battle. Photography was so often and so closely aligned with objectivity, it quickly became instrumental in the formation of both individual and collective identities. It also became a tool (especially towards the end of the century) for depicting highly politicised views of identity with the appearance of scientific objectivity, especially in terms of gender, race, class, and sexuality.54 That much is true, but it is also true that photography was seen in some contexts as artistic, subjective, and (especially in examples of spirit photography) transcendent of externalised material reality. It is with this kind of subjective/ objective duality that an 1860 account of the supposedly impending end of the world could hope “soon to publish a photographic sketch of the Millennial state” to which a satirical commentator added: “the next step in audacity will, perhaps, be an advertisement of Heaven in the Stereoscope.”55



Photography offered an image that was deemed inarguably accurate but which often differed from the subject’s psychological self-conception. In doing so, photography was pivotal in debates about identity, whether on a national or individual level. The potential for even this accurate visual technology to present differing images depending on various factors could only make these debates more pressing and difficult to resolve. For example, an 1876 article, calling for a national archive of photographic portraits of “eminent and remarkable persons,” suggests that most people find “at least one of their portraits has been suggestive of murderous tendencies in the original, while another has conveyed the idea of a simpering humbug.”56 Such variation meant that from a dozen photographs of the same person, “each will probably differ in so many respects from all the others, that […] it might prove desirable to have more than one portrait of a single personage.” Despite this concern, the article still makes the case for photography as the best means for accurate portraiture. Painted portraits, it argues, show the subject only as the “portrait-painter thinks he ought to have been,” whereas photography has a literality about it that circumvents such subjective intervention. The argument draws an important distinction between the aims of the traditional painted portrait and those of the photographic portrait—one sought to portray an idealised version, and the other, despite its apparent limitations, sought to give an accurate record. In the article, accuracy is valued more highly than artistic idealism, but underpinning this valuation is a tension between the subject’s expectations and the photographic result. Such is this tension—the difficulty in creating a photograph that meets the subject’s approval—that in some cases more than one photograph is required to give an acceptable outcome. In this way, portrait photography encountered an apparent paradox in the requirement for an image which was both accurate and which ­conformed to one’s idealised self-image. This paradox presented difficulties in terms of both photographic process (how could the photographer meet both demands?) and the individual’s self-conception (how could these images be comfortably assimilated into one’s self-identity?). In answer to the former, the practices of photographers and painters overlapped to some extent. The article itself described how “an adherence to the peculiarities and individualities of his model is more aimed at by the portrait-­painter now, than it was a few years ago.”57 Equally, skilled photographers used various techniques to portray their subject in a flattering manner. In fact, according to Gisèle Freund, many of the artists, at least in



France, who had previously made their living from painting portraits adopted photography from economic necessity.58 The difficulty of meeting the expectations of self-identity, however, was even more pressing with the awareness that a photograph was likely to outlast the subject him or herself, as indicated in the article’s purpose, and in its chagrin that “many eminent persons have already died since the art of photography came into existence.”59 As Morley and Wills put it, once the photograph is taken, the subject is “executed,” and their voice is “silent.”60 It would be tempting to suggest that photography atomised identity through its replacement of a small number of painted portraits with a large number of photographic images. However, Nancy Armstrong makes a compelling argument that photographic portraits, as part of a system of images which referred to each other rather than, necessarily, to the individual’s body, helped the process of modernisation (so that, for instance, conventions were quickly ingrained which meant that a mug shot was instantly recognisable as a mug shot, a family portrait as a family portrait, etc.). In this conception, similarities between photographs—even of different subjects—create a set of typologies that systematically organise identity across a range of images. The flexibility with which images could be organised and reorganised was thereby useful in forming the ability of “modern individuals to locate and maintain ourselves in an increasingly fluid and heterogeneous social order.”61 This makes sense in the context of Bain’s theory of perception in which “a keen-sighted attraction for every vestige of recurring likeness enables one to retain large masses of narrative, at a small expense of adhesive acquisition.”62 A focus on similarity enables one to process large amounts of data in a manner that reconfigures the collative panoramic process (as seen in Chap. 2) for the act of perceptual cognition. Then again, as Daniel Novak points out, there were instances in which this kind of organisational logic caused ordinary portraits to be mistaken for criminal portraits, with potentially fatal consequences for the subject.63 But such instances demonstrate how entrenched and pervasive such organising systems had become. In the key example Novak gives, a photographic portrait viewed with incorrect contextual information (i.e. the subject was falsely stated to be a communist) is considered evidence enough to place a man in front of a firing squad where he is serendipitously rescued by a friend who bombastically declares there is “nothing socialistic about him but his beard.”64 Novak emphasises the interchangeability of the images, but this interchangeability is the result of an over-­ emphasis of similarity and a denigration of difference. Viewed as part of a



typological system, the image remains intrinsically the same, but the viewing conditions change. Novak’s examples of mistaken identity tend to be examples of viewers over-relying on contextual information, an over-­ reliance that gives the image an a priori position within an organising system, rather than an observation-based attention to the singularity of the individual in the image. In this manner, the context of the image becomes more important than the image itself. A major aspect of the machine age, according to Charles Babbage, was the process of copying.65 This process extended to the “machine-like organisation of labour as a whole” so that “the sole end of the original is the copy.”66 In a similar way, if a photographic portrait was to be a ­commodity consumed through shop windows, from the photographer’s perspective at least, the original (i.e. the individual) was expendable from the moment of photographic capture. In a well-known anecdote from Mayhew, a street photographer tells of his “dodges”: for example, selling an unmarried woman a self-portrait that was actually of someone else—a widow. The account itself seems likely exaggerated of course, with only the street-seller’s word for evidence, but it shows how individuals, conceived as photographic originals, could become interchangeable, even indistinguishable, within this system. The hoodwinking relies on a combination of the experiential context of having sat for a portrait, the ability of the seller to convince his patrons (he comes across in the article as rather proud of his ability to dupe customers), the customer’s ignorance about photographic effects, as well as, presumably, the general, if not actual, likeness of the image. Context surmounts singularity. The stereoscope, through its composition of its two similar (but different) images to create a third one, uses repetition and difference in order to form its illusion. Gilles Deleuze’s differentiation of repetition from generality is useful here: “generality expresses a point of view in which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another.”67 Such a definition helps us consider the difference between photography and stereoscopy. Photographs, on the one hand, encourage a sense of generality, of interchangeability, but the stereoscope, on the other hand, suggests only repetition: in its combination of images, it points towards the unique specificity of each image, despite their close similarity. Without the stereoscope, the two near-identical photographs might appear interchangeable, but the stereoscope relies on, and demonstrates, the uniqueness of each one.68 In “Her Face,” photographic images take on a life of their own. They are copies that render the original apparently silent. Yet the story



shows that the obsolescence of the individual could bleed back from the instance of the commoditised copy to bear down upon the separated human original. As such, the desire dynamics of commodity marketing rewrite the interpersonal dynamics of individuals. When coopted by commercial interest, such technologically produced (and reproduced) ­ images threaten the reification of the individual on a grand scale. Photography succumbs to the rules of generality, in which items are interchangeable, and from which the repetition of the stereograph (which draws attention to difference) might hold the potential to rescue it.69 The stereoscope has been understood elsewhere in terms of a process of rationalising and standardising the visual, a process involving a condensing of the real into the miniature that gives the viewer a sense of power and control over the image.70 This notion of control can be traced back to general photography where, as in the examples above, the observer is able to exert control over the subject in the image. In this vein, Jesse Hoffman notes the fatalistic loss of artistic control posed by a photographic process which seems to rely on the sun rather than the artist, positing Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s act of hand-colouring photographs as a recouping of this control. Hoffman’s essay uncovers a power dynamic between observer and observed similar to that which is presented in the story “Her Face.” However, here in the real, outside of the fictional, the dynamic contains greater nuance: Rossetti, altering the image of the deceased Elizabeth Siddal, “wishes to control not only the beloved’s exposure but also her loss.”71 This control is reflected in his physical alteration of her image. Physical embellishment constituted an important cultural practice, though usually associated with femininity and women’s domestic crafts. As Di Bello writes: […] nineteenth-century feminine culture endowed women’s touch with almost magic powers […] Women’s hands changed the meaning of objects, from commodities valued by price, into fetishes endowed with affective powers. Re-made by the hands of the women of the house into freely bestowed gifts, objects in the home were cleansed of the alienating relationships engendered by the factory and the market place.72

Rossetti’s act of colouring is an act of touching and of imaginative reshaping which, like the feminine crafts Di Bello describes, imbues the image with a fetishised emotional power—controlling this allows one to control the emotional parameters of the image. For images of unfamiliar places



and people, this kind of embellishment might be the integration of technologically re-presented external bodies with the imaginative, emotional vision of memory and desire (a process which is fictionally demonstrated in “In a Stereoscope”). However, for images which already contain a powerful emotional dimension, as in Rossetti’s image of Siddal, it is more than just a further attempt to imbue the spectral body with the ghost of memory; it is an attempt to alter or reshape the emotional experience contained in the image, perhaps, even, to alter the memory. Hoffman’s analysis, in suggesting that Rossetti’s action “threatens to bury the very thing he wishes to retain,” implies that there is an underlying truth or authenticity in the photographic image which becomes corrupted through alteration.73 But the analysis changes if we consider these photographs as memory experiences rather than as substitutes for the people they resemble. Returning to the earlier discussion of internal dialogues, the dialogue contained in this kind of photographic image is not between self and self-image (since it is not one’s self being viewed), or even viewer and viewed, but between past image and past memory. These are technological relics of a past that has already been experienced: they do not necessarily contain any greater truth or authenticity than that which they prompt via the observer’s memory and emotion. The photographic image therefore holds no greater experiential truth or authenticity than the nostalgic or imaginative embellishment. To remember is to embellish. Memory itself is experienced as narrative, and, if written, a second-order narrative is formed on top of this.74 It is not enough that an image exists: for it to satisfy the nostalgic impulse, it must contain the spectral resonances of experienced emotion—those resonances which, in the instance of Rossetti’s bereavement, prompt a need for control. It is this profound realignment of technological and imaginative experience that is enacted in photographic embellishment. Like the domestic objects Di Bello describes, the technological image is thus integrated into (or reshaped within) the quasi-mystical imaginary of the internalised self. In this sense, Morley and Wills’ suggestion of the techno-magical phrase “hocus focus” contains greater meaning than it might initially appear. Magic terminology like “hocus pocus” or “abracadabra” holds no literal meaning beyond a vague sense of magical power. Linguistically, it functions like the mass-produced stereoscopic image which, as we see in the story “In a Stereoscope,” uncannily suggests a deeper significance (related to memory and imaginative experience) but does not actually contain this deeper meaning.



In 1843 Elizabeth Barrett Browning longed to have photographs of her loved ones: Think of a man sitting down in the sun & leaving his facsimile in all its full completion of outline & shadow, stedfast [sic] on a plate, at the end of a minute & a half!! The Mesmeric disembodiment of spirits strikes one as a degree less marvellous […] longing to have such a memorial of every Being dear to me in the world. It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases but the association, & the sense of nearness involved in the thing…the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed for ever!75

The photograph, to Barrett Browning, offered an opportunity to preserve more than just a likeness, but “nearness” and “association,” to the extent that it was akin to a realisation of the promises of mesmerism in fixing “the very shadow of the person.” In reading Barret Browning’s account, Helen Groth argues: “Daguerre’s marvellous images extended the possibilities of memory to include the literal preservation of an infinite number of isolated fragments of time.”76 Personal memory would seem to extricate the singular from the organisational system: difference becomes the keynote of this kind of looking since it matters—in fact it is crucial—that this is an image of a particular, unique individual. Marina Warner’s discussion of the photographic choices of the eminent Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is revealing. Warner writes: “child and female models dominate the dreams in her photography, while great men crowd the named portraits.”77 “Great men” assert their own identities (or, rather, have them asserted for them by the photographer who includes their name), but women and children are presented anonymously, as though more available for viewer interpretation. Hermeneutic availability does not necessarily imply sexual availability, but, as in “Her Face,” clearly for some male viewers, it did. Cameron’s habit of using different focussing techniques for these two kinds of photograph also has its implications. Conventional focal realism (in keeping with the perspectival realist principles inaugurated by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-fifteenth century) is used for rational male subjects, while blurring or changing the focus signals a more fantastical or imaginative subject.78 But what does this mean for the stereoscope? The stereoscope encouraged prolonged looking at its images. Whether one was looking at the familiar visage of a family member or an alien landscape taken from a far corner of the Earth, one was encouraged to look attentively and privately. Such looking is obviously more disposed to



take in the detail of the image, its singular difference from other images even those of a like kind. The stereoscopic image also held an uncanny relationship to perspectival realism, since the objects seem to float or jump away from the distance and the foreground.79 In looking through the stereoscope, one was more likely to become aware of one’s subjectivity, to construct narratives around, and to notice the peculiarities of, the images. This was, of course, against a backdrop in which commercial images were sold in sets of dozens or more, and so, naturally, there is also a drive to consider the image within an organisational framework—it is one of a “set,” part of a sequence or collection. But compare the viewing of stereographs to the way in which cartes des visites may be viewed within an album, several to a page, many pages one after another, and it is clear that stereoscopic looking held greater potential for subjectivity and singularity. It encouraged its users to form imaginative narratives around its images, to embellish them imaginatively with emotional and nostalgic significance.

Past, Present, Imagined: Memory and Fantasy in the Stereoscope The stories discussed above give us clues as to how Victorians might have received the stereoscope as an instrument of the imagination. These stories are so intimately involved with the stereoscope precisely because the authors associate narrative itself with the stereoscopic viewing experience. Images, like texts, have a tense. Photographs and stereographs, like textual narratives, have an implicit endpoint, in that they are created from a temporal as well as spatial point of view.80 Just as the photographer looks out through the lens, the image points backwards to the moment in which it was taken. The image presents a recuperation of a present that is now past. Although the viewer/reader usually experiences them in a forward motion, the narratives formed by stereographs and printed fiction are self-­ consciously restaging the movement of a timeline from its endpoint. In images, this narrative movement is less constrained, less forceful, as the viewer is free (even encouraged) to stray beyond the moment preserved in what they see to imagine what might happen next. In printed fiction, the past and the future are more firmly fixed by the text, with the present experienced as a progression through these fixed points.81 Although narrative points us backwards from a fixed point (the vantage point of the author), it also points us forwards because, as readers moving through



narrative in a pseudo-chronological progression, we are drawn towards a future (the imaginary future created by the narrative), anticipating the next present moment. In the case of a story, this forward motion has a certain fixed rigidity in that these narratives terminate at the pre-­determined end of the text. However, when looking through the stereoscope (a private, prolonged, and engrossing way of looking), the viewer is encouraged to move beyond the fixed narrative moment in the image to generate personal, localised narratives through daydreams and fantasies. Stereoscopic images not only evoke a sense of the past, but they also pull the viewer in, via a sense of depth and reality, to a present (the present that has passed), and then move beyond this type of present to anticipate (but never fix or determine) an imagined future. In other words, the image presents a past that anticipates a future that is left available to individual acts of imagination. In this way, the device operates within a narrative framework that involves itself with daydreams and fantasies. The stereoscopic viewing experience begins with an image and is free to return to the image at any given moment, but it is also uniquely conducive to imaginative straying from the path established by fixed narratives. Looking at a photograph without a stereoscope might provoke a memory, it might prompt a daydream, but the effect is lessened by the photograph’s presence in conventional reality, the availability of the image to other onlookers, and the more distracted gaze of the viewer (whose attention might easily be arrested by objects and events outside of the photograph). Looking at a stereograph (likely to be photographic itself) through the stereoscope, the viewer is removed from the visual sensations of conventional reality and invited into a space where objects conform to a different kind of perspective (as Crary and Trotter describe above). Because of its viewing conditions, looking into the stereoscope was not as passive an act as, for instance, looking at cartes des visites might be, but was an active, narrative-forming process involving the imagination and analogous to acts of remembering. In the case of commercially produced images, stereoscopic viewing recuperates a past not personally experienced (a past received only through the image or text). In such instances, as in the story “In a Stereoscope,” there is the temporary resonance of memory precisely because of the stereoscope’s power to drive the imagination forwards, to suspend ordinary cognitive experiences of reality and sweep the viewer/reader up in fictional narratives. The illusive, imagined memory narrative suggested by the image is dispelled at the point at which reality breaks into the memory



narrative and disrupts this drive. When one looks away, the dominance of conventional reality is restored. This visual narrative process is articulated in George Henry Lewes’ essay on Dickens. Lewes writes of the power of Dickens’ imagination: “[…] in no other perfectly sane mind […] have I observed vividness of imagination approaching so closely to hallucination.”82 A distinction is formed here between imagination and hallucination, hinging on the ability of the observer to correct erroneous perception through experience: […] if I see two plane images in a stereoscope, it is impossible not to have the feeling of seeing one solid object. But these beliefs are rapidly displaced by reference to experience […] I know the seeming solid is not an object in relief, but two plane pictures. It is by similar focal adjustment of the mind that sane people know that their hallucinations are unreal. (145)

Fiction and hallucination are thus presented as two related aspects of the psychological process of perception, separated only by the viewer’s awareness of actual reality. Lewes uses the stereoscope as a key metaphor for visions that can either be imaginatively controlled or morbidly controlling. If the viewer is not careful of imaginative illusions, Lewes suggests, then fictional narratives could become dangerous hallucinations. Positioned between these two kinds of imaginative vision, the stereoscope’s technological apparatus operated, in Lewes’ conception at least, as a perceptual safety net, marking a clearly defined edge between reality and imagination. Lewes suggests one sensed the image as one might sense a hallucination, with all the outward appearance of reality alongside the possibility of fantasy and daydream. However, the material presence of the stereoscope ensured that one was always aware of the unreality of the image and of the physical presence of his or her own being in relation to this. Whereas stereoscopic images of oneself might be problematic, for the detached observer, the device itself gave a sense of ontological certainty— it reinforced a sense of the physical body in relation to the intangible image, thereby grounding psychological perception in physical reality. The observing body was anchored in reality, as it were, by the physicality of the device. In this way, the stereoscope performed an important function for an age where the perils of the imagination were open to serious consideration; it created a safe space within the domestic environment for daydreams and fantasies. Equally, however, it allowed the individual a kind of imaginative parole from the confines of social convention or physical



­ ossibility. Daydreams and fantasies prompted by even the most respectp able stereoscopic images might be incorporated into subversive personal narratives, while images of inaccessible places rendered visual knowledge accessible to those unable or unwilling to access it in situ. Understanding the stereoscope’s cultural impact is a question not just of its role in popular science or philosophy, or even of unravelling a binary power structure of observer and observed, but is a question that requires analysis of the intersections between the technological stereoscope and the imaginary stereoscope, between the image as it was (flat, two-dimensional, photographic) and how it was seen (three-dimensional, imbued with memory/fantasy, emotionally evocative). The examples I have used are not, of course, direct samples of stereoscopic experiences but fictional evocations of it. They are reimaginings of the stereoscopic experience: a relocation of the primarily visual into the wholly imaginary. As such, the stereoscopes they contain are not real. These are imaginary stereoscopes that operate on a plane of daydreams, fictions, reveries, fantasies, and psychological doublings. These stereoscopes, therefore, can be understood as a relational coupling of technological and imaginative forms of perception. The novelty of this coupling is starkly illustrated at the very beginning of its domestic consumption: Morley and Wills’ article introducing the device was immediately preceded by Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem “Pictures in the Fire” (1853). This first-­person poem begins by claiming to have no new stories to tell or pictures to show. These opening stanzas, distancing the narrative from “pictures” and “stories” and announcing an inability to recount “glorious scenes of travel,” confound the presumed expectations of the reader (hidden behind the guise of the “child” to whom the poem is loosely addressed), which coincide with some of the claims of popular entertainments like the stereoscope (and earlier panorama).83 Yet if these expectations are initially confounded, stanza three shifts tone to promise “strange sights” and “Wondrous pictures” which are seen “As I look into the fire” (36). This transition turns the poem away from contemporary expectations of storytelling to the traditional (and technologically primitive) imaginative process of simply gazing into an open fire. The poem then enters into sustained description of the scenes seen—knights, dragons, “Pluto crowned,” a maiden, and “fiery serpent,” among others (36–37). Then, ending on the same page and column that Morley and Wills’ article (simply titled “The Stereoscope”) begins, Procter’s poem concludes:



And the fiery pictures bore me Back through distant dreams of years. Once again I tasted sorrow, With past joy was once more gay, Till the shades had gathered round me And the fire had died away. (37)

The poem follows a melancholic gaze backwards through time that, far from the technological spectrality of photographic stereoscopes which re-­ present the visible past in the present, is filled with a sense of partition from a terminal past which can only be partially glimpsed. Procter’s poem ends with the death of the fire, the source of its imaginative inspiration. This is strikingly juxtaposed with the next lines of text—Morley and Wills’ opening line: “There is a good deal of romance to be found even in the details of pure science, and a book of wonders could very well be made out of what might be called the social history of optical discoveries.”84 Morley and Wills’ speculation, quoted earlier, about the phrase “hocus focus” follows this opening line and, sharing the same textual space as Procter’s poem, gestures towards a powerfully profound observation about the changing nature of imaginative visions. One might be reminded of the difference that Our Mutual Friend evokes between Lizzie Hexam’s imaginative ability to see pictures in the fire and the oppositional inability of her brother Charley, the pupil of a man whose knowledge is all “mechanically” acquired and reproduced.85 Using this distinction, we might conceive of the stereoscope as a mechanical substitute for the imaginative cognition that comes so easily to Lizzie but which Charley, indoctrinated into the mechanical (or teleological) rationalism of industrialised society, finds impossible. After all, even a Charley Hexam or a Bradley Headstone would be able to see the images the stereoscope presents—and may even form daydreams around these while explaining the principles of binocular vision which produce them. But to think of the device in such terms is to reduce the importance of the individual and to overlook the ways in which memory, imagination, and emotion colour the experience. It makes far more sense to think of stereoscopic vision as a dialectical operation of and between these extremes of systemic, objective (visible, empirical) vision and individual, subjective (imaginative, emotional) vision.



Notes 1. As quoted in John Plunkett, “Depth, Colour, Movement: Embodied vision and the Stereoscope,” in Multimedia Histories: From the Magic Lantern to the Internet, ed. James Lyons and John Plunkett (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007), 122. 2. Plunkett, “Depth, Colour, Movement,” 122. 3. Plunkett, “Depth, Colour, Movement,” 122. 4. To give an idea of the scale and reach of its continuous popularity, Jib Fowles suggests that in 1900, around half of all US households possessed a stereoscope. Jib Fowles, “Stereography and the Standardization of Vision,” Journal of American Culture 17 (1994): 89–93. 5. Tom Gunning, “The Exterior as Intérieur: Benjamin’s Optical Detective,” boundary 2, 30, no. 1 (2003), 107. 6. Anon. “The Stereoscope, Pseudoscope, and Solid Daguerreotypes,” Illustrated London News, 24 January 1852. 7. Paul Virilio notes the importance of surface in early photographic technologies: “what you notice is not so much the scarcely discernible, colourless objects as a sort of luminance, the conduction surface of a luminous intensity.” See Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine, trans. Julie Rose (London: British Film Institute, 1994), 19. The other obvious property of early photographs was the lack of colour which Lindsay Smith discusses in “‘Thinking blues’: the memory of colour in nineteenth-century photography,” Transactions and Encounters, 55–74. 8. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (London: Vintage, 2000), 92. 9. Lindsay Smith, Victorian Photography, Painting and Poetry: The Enigma of Visibility in Ruskin, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 44–46. 10. Smith, Victorian Photography, 44–46. 11. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, 125. 12. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, 125. 13. See David Trotter, “Stereoscopy: modernism and the ‘haptic’,” Critical Quarterly, 46, no. 4 (2004): 38–56. 14. Anon. “Art. VII. — Sight and Touch: an Attempt to Disprove the Received (Or Berkleian) Theory of Vision. By Thomas Abbott, M.A., Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Dublin. Illustrated with Woodcuts. London, 1864.” [Review], North British Review, August 1864, 225. 15. According to Plunkett, the “nativist” approach adopted by Brewster claimed depth was an external property of material objects perceived directly by the eye, as opposed to the “idealist” approach which considered depth a construction of the mind. See Plunkett, “‘Feeling Seeing’: Touch, Vision and The Stereoscope,” History of Photography, 37, no. 4 (2013): 394.



16. Henry Morley and William Henry Wills, “The Stereoscope,” Household Words, 10 September 1853, 37. 17. Hankins and Silverman, 152. 18. J.F. Mascher, “On Taking Daguerreotypes Without a Camera,” Journal of the Franklin Institute, 59 (1855), 346. http://www.sciencedirect.com/ science/journal/00160032/59/5 19. Anon. “The Fancies of a Maiden Lady,” British Mothers’ Journal, n. d. 20. Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), 138. 21. Anon. “So Like Matrimony,” Vanity Fair, 7 July 1860, 18. 22. Henry Morley and William Henry Wills. “Photography,” Household Words, 19 March 1853, 60. 23. Lynda Nead, “Strip,” Early Popular Visual Culture, 3, no. 2 (2005): 138. 24. Leslie Walter, “In a Stereoscope,” Sharpe’s London Magazine of Entertainment and Instruction for General Reading, August 1864, 89. 25. Walter, “In a Stereoscope,” 86. 26. For a useful discussion of memory as narrative (both psychological and textual), see Mark Freeman, “Telling Stories: Memory and Narrative,” in Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates, ed. Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwarz (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 263–277. 27. Walter, “In a Stereoscope,” 89. 28. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 5. 29. Patrizia Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers and Flirts (Aldershot, Hamps.: Ashgate, 2007), 145. 30. Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England, 72–74. 31. Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England, 74. 32. See Jesse Hoffman, “Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bad Photographs,” Victorian Studies, 57, no. 1 (2014): 57–87. 33. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, 133. The later Holmes stereoscope reopened the device so that the two images could be seen separately as well as combined through the eyepiece, but by this stage, the sense of magic in combining images had already become a part of the stereoscope’s cultural symbolism. 34. Anon. “The Photograph,” Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, September 1859. 35. This kind of training in genre conventions leads others to confused anxiety too, as Isobel Armstrong describes. See Victorian Glassworlds, 144–145. 36. Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” in Atlantic Monthly, 1 June 1859, repr. in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven, Conn.: Leete’s Island Books, 1980), 77. 37. Anon. “The Photograph,” Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, September 1859. 38. Anon. “The Photograph,” Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, September 1859. 39. Anon. “Talk,” All the Year Round, 15 April 1865, 284.



40. Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England, 60–61. 41. Catherine Elizabeth Macready Dickens (Kate Dickens) married Charles Collins, an artist and writer, in 1860. After his death, she later married another artist, Carlo Perugini. Kate herself was an artist in her own right and exhibited her work at the Royal Academy. All of which is by way of pointing out that as an artist Collins was by no means naïve to issues of re-presentation and also that, as the example of his wife makes clear, artistic re-presentation was never the sole preserve of men. 42. Charles Allston Collins, “Her Face,” All the Year Round, 28 August 1858, 258. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 43. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, 148. 44. David Trotter suggests that there were a large number of women viewing such images as well as men. See Trotter, 51. See also Colette Colligan, “Stereograph,” Victorian Review, 34, no. 1, (2008): 75–82; Linda Williams, “Corporealized Observers: Visual Pornographies and the ‘Carnal Density of Vision’,” in Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, ed. Patrice Petro (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 3–41. 45. Anon. “What Is An Obscene Picture? A Delicate Query At Cardiff PoliceCourt,” Western Mail, 2 June 1899. 46. Anon. “What Is An Obscene Picture?” 47. Morley and Wills, “Photography,” 56. 48. David Brewster had suggested that the use of double exposures to create spirit-like transparency was inspired by an image taken as early as 1844, and, as Bill Jay observes, there was no shortage of similar techniques for recording a spirit-like image on a photograph, even if spirit photography itself did not begin as such until the 1860s. See Bill Jay, Cyanide and Spirits: An Inside-Out View of Early Photography (Munich: Nazraeli Press, 1991), 33. 49. Brewster, “On the Form of Images,” quoted in Hankins and Silverman, 158. 50. Anon. “The Photograph,” Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, September 1859. 51. Thomas Carlyle, letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 18 June 1846, in Literature & Photography: Interactions, 1840–1990: A Critical Anthology, ed. Jane M. Rabb (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 18. 52. His letter is quoted and translated by Marit Grøtta in Baudelaire’s Media Aesthetics: The Gaze of the Flâneur and Nineteenth-Century Media (London: Bloomsbury 2015), 50–51. 53. E.W.F. “The Daguerreotype, The Photograph, and the Stereoscope,” The Ladies’ Treasury: A Household Magazine, 1 July 1876. 54. Jarenski makes the point that, in the United States at least, photographic practices separated “racial and economic others from white, middle-class,



American ‘subjects’” to stabilise “a middle-class, white subjectivity” (18). Jarenski gives a detailed account of nineteenth-century media and race in her chapter on Frederick Douglass. As a contemporary observer, Douglass provides cogent and powerful insights on race and racism in nineteenthcentury media practices (see 71–116). Further discussion of race and photography can be found in Nancy Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 167–174. 55. Anon. “The End of the World,” All the Year Round, 14 January 1860, 273. 56. Anon. “A New Portrait Gallery,” All the Year Round, 31 August 1867, 231. 57. Anon. “A New Portrait Gallery,” 231. 58. Gisèle Freund, Photography & Society (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980), 35. 59. Anon. “A New Portrait Gallery,” 229. 60. Morley and Wills, “Photography,” 55. 61. Armstrong, Fiction in the Age of Photography, 23. 62. Bain, The Senses and the Intellect, 542. 63. Daniel A.  Novak, Realism, Photography, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 48. 64. Anon. “Imperilled by a Photograph,” Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, 4, no. 2 (1873): 42–44, quoted in Novak, 48. 65. See Charles Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, 4th ed. (London: Charles Knight, 1835), 69–113. 66. Alexander Welsh, “Writing and Copying in the Age of Steam,” in Victorian Literature and Society: Essays Presented to Richard D.  Altick, ed. James R. Kincaid and Albert J. Kuhn (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983), 37. 67. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London: Continuum, 1994), 1. 68. It is worth noting that the subjectivity of binocular vision was mirrored humorously on numerous occasions in Punch by textually presenting the same event or idea in two different ways side by side on the page. For example, see Anon. “A Derby Stereoscope: Being Two Views of the Same Event,” Punch, 11 June 1859. 69. It is this kind of attention to difference that, for instance, allowed the stereoscope to be useful in identifying fraudulent bank notes. See Anon. “The Stereoscope and Forged Bank Notes,” Edinburgh Evening News, 27 March 1886, 2. 70. See Sheenagh Pietrobruno, “The Stereoscope and the Miniature,” Early Popular Visual Culture, 9, no. 3 (2011): 171–190; Fowles, 89–93. 71. Hoffman, “Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bad Photographs,” 65.



72. Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England, 145. 73. Hoffman, “Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bad Photographs,” 65. 74. For a useful discussion of this process in relation to writing, see Freeman, “Telling Stories.” 75. Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford, 7 December 1843, in The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford 1836– 1854, ed. Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan (Winfield, Kan: Armstrong Browning Library of Baylor University, The Browning Institute, Wedgestone Press, and Wellesley College, 1983) vol. 3, 357–358. 76. Helen Groth, Victorian Photography and Literary Nostalgia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 2. 77. Warner, Phantasmagoria, 215. 78. For more on this, see Smith, The Politics of Focus. 79. As Warner points out, such focal disruptions are reminiscent of the “way in which images in memory lack definition […] how mental picturing possesses uncanny clarity and presence while simultaneously jumping and wobbling and eddying” (217). 80. W.J.T. Mitchell gives an importance account of temporal-spatial relations in image and text. See Mitchell, Iconology, 95–115. 81. Mark Currie makes the point that oral fiction, especially if invented on the spot, has a more open future available to it. Currie draws attention to the ontological difficulties of narrative as a model for time which suggests some interesting avenues for considering the narrative relations of selfimages in the stereoscope. See Mark Currie, About Time Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 17–18. 82. George Henry Lewes, “Dickens in Relation to Criticism,” Fortnightly Review, February 1872, 144. 83. Adelaide Anne Procter, “Pictures in the Fire,” Household Words, 10 Sept 1853, 36. 84. Morley and Wills, “The Stereoscope,” 37. 85. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, ed. Adrian Poole (London: Penguin, 1997), 37–39; 218. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition.


The Networked World: The Psychopathology of Simultaneity

The problem of defining and creating authentic and useful memories and histories was very much part of the cultural landscape of late nineteenth-­ century Britain, where so many cultural processes and external signs had become pluralised to the point of confused fragmentation. The following sections examine instances of a gradual and continual renegotiation of a range of boundaries—between psychological mind and physical body, self and society, perception and truth, past and present. Far from a celebration of the technological dreams prompted by the stereoscope or the incorporeal liberation and possibility of magic lantern visions, some observers, especially towards the end of the century, saw a nightmarish and disjointed fragmentation of experience. This fragmentation was, then, conceptualised in dystopian accounts from the 1880s and 1890s as a kind of psychopathology of simultaneity through its correlation with the fragmentation of the perceiving mind into a system of stimulated nerves. Indeed, the idea of networkisation is important for many of these narratives which often draw on the nervous system as an archetype to explore other kinds of fragmented systems. In Chap. 2, I suggested that the temporal experience of the panorama is best understood in terms of a nested structure. At the end of the nineteenth century, theories of atavism and degeneration reversed the utopian progressions of evolution in order to model the future in terms of a dystopian regression. Degeneration theory, in particular, often drew upon physiological understandings of the body and mind to dispel © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_7




the individual self (or in less radical versions perceptual reality instead of the perceiving mind) across networks that connected a disjointed nested reality.1 The opening section of this chapter seeks to demonstrate the kinds of concerns and anxieties about division and fragmentation that occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century. The following section then concentrates on the problematic interface between individual and system within these discourses of perceptual fragmentation, before the final section gives a detailed examination of the psychopathology of these phenomena and anxieties in Max Nordau’s Degeneration.

Systems and Networks: Fragments, Divisions, Proliferations Capitalism and technology, both of which were intensified and invigorated by the Industrial Revolution, have evolved in a complex but broadly proportional relationship. The impetus for packaging discrete, marketable objects coincided with far greater abilities to reproduce images in illustrated newspapers and magazines, photographs, cartes des visites, stereographs, postcards, greetings cards, cigarette cards, and advertisements.2 Perception had always been subjected to different forms of mediation, but this combination of industrial-capitalist and technological development had a profound effect on the perceptual landscape. Perceptions, so often specialised through technologies and media, now presented a series of fragments that approached the reality experience from different perspectives. As Isobel Armstrong puts it, in a “radically fissured visual world […] the urge to reconstitute and unify pulls against the fractured world, to be sure, and yet fragments insist on existing.”3 As we saw in Chap. 1, this issue was foreshadowed at the beginning of the century in Romantic critiques of visual culture, but by the last few decades, it was an increasingly pressing concern. Conventional wisdom has often viewed this mediation and fragmentation through the lenses of modernism, looking retrospectively from the viewpoint of the ensuing century to identify a shift towards modernist concerns sometime around the 1880s when the first self-declared modernists were emerging and forming their first views of the world.4 This conventional wisdom has sometimes led to these last decades being treated as a vagueness in between distinct periods which might be read variously as an end to Victorian certainties and emergence of modernist subjectivities,5 a time of cultural utopianism in the dawn of a new century or of dystopian



predictions of decay and degeneration.6 It was, of course, a little of all of these things. One of the matters that this chapter (as indeed, this book) seeks to make clear is that, while it is possible to identify broad discursive formations, they are never fully hegemonic or mutually exclusive. This chapter examines one particularly anxiety-ridden view of the techno-­ perceptual world of the final decades of the nineteenth century, but my discussion does not claim that this was the only view or even that it was the only view to which its adherents subscribed. This chapter focusses on a specific form of anxiety: a fragmented sensorium exacerbated by ever more specialised perceptual technologies and coupled with broader pessimisms about socio-cultural degeneration (pessimisms which may also be linked either implicitly or explicitly to racial degeneration). Anxiety about the mental effort required to operate within the perceptual environment became gradually more common as the century progressed, especially from the 1850s onwards.7 As the decades unfolded, spectacles became more sophisticated, and perceptual modes became more specialised, as did information itself in the guise of specialist periodicals and disciplinary formations. According to the medical doctor Henry Maudsley, the more sophisticated and “civilised” society became, the more complicated the brains that inhabited it, so that it was merely common sense that these more complex, civilised brains “will be exposed to more risk of derangement of action and be more likely to go wrong than a simpler and coarser machine [the brain of ‘the savage’].”8 It was simply a matter of calculation—the human machine either becomes so complex as to develop new problems and pathologies, or society reaches a point at which the brain can no longer keep pace. Alongside this anxiety, there arose a heightened sense of mediation that could cause feelings of alienation. For example, while Dickens was interested in the interaction of animate and inanimate from the start of his career (the animated clothing of Sketches by Boz is an early example of countless conflations of human and object), in the second half of his career, these relations tended towards a more pessimistic hue. By the time of Our Mutual Friend (1865), Dickens’ work was saturated with the effects of reification and of the individual’s place within organisational socio-economic systems.9 Near the beginning of the novel, Dickens uses a description of a mirror at a banquet to introduce characters through their reflections: The great looking-glass above the sideboard reflects the table and the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest, in gold and eke in silver, frosted and



also thawed, a camel-of-all-work […] Reflects Veneering; forty, wavy-haired, dark, tending to corpulence, sly, mysterious, filmy  – a kind of sufficiently well-looking veiled-prophet, not prophesying. Reflects Mrs. Veneering; fair, aquiline-nosed and fingered, not so much light hair as she might have, gorgeous in raiment and jewels, enthusiastic, propitiatory, conscious that a corner of her husband’s veil is over herself. Reflects Podsnap; prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured wiry wings, one on either side of his bald head, looking as like his hairbrushes as his hair, dissolving view of red beads on his forehead, large amount of crumpled shirt collar […]10

This is a pointedly mediated vision. Later, we are told that Miss Podsnap’s “early views of life” are “principally derived from the reflections of it in her father’s boots” (134). The mirror itself, a “great looking glass,” is associated primarily with socio-economic position, complete with “the new Veneering crest” in both gold and silver. Viewed within this ostentatiously ornate virtual space, the characters are symbolically trapped in a flattened, reductive socio-economic system with the mirror functioning like a lens through which one sees primarily economic value. The early sense of alienation which this creates reoccurs throughout the novel, often involving other reflections and visual effects. In one scene, for instance, the Lammles share a communicative glance at one another through a mirror before eyeing each other directly “as if they, the principals, had had no part in that expressive transaction” (259). The mirror is, by necessity, flat, and, we begin to notice, so too are the characters. They are described merely as external presences, often as cyborg symbioses of object and human—Podsnap, for example, has hair which is “as like his hairbrushes as his hair,” and the “red beads” on his forehead connote the “raiment and jewels” of Mrs Veneering, while the reference to “wings” as with the comparison of Veneering to a “veiled prophet” suggests a mythical, almost statuesque nature, but they are deprived of function—Veneering, although a “veiled prophet,” is “not prophesying.” Their presence has been restricted to external signs, and so they reside in the flat plane of external visibilities that is the mirror. On the one hand, Dickens’ characters are portrayed entirely in terms of the external—the mirror is incapable of any other form of representation—and so they are dehumanised, imprisoned within the sign. Yet, on the other hand, their externality has become displaced from them; they are shown in the mirror, thus in a virtual space that they do not occupy, which indeed cannot be occupied since it is virtual. This is not the dislocation of externality and internality; it is a dislocation of the sign from the actual.



It is a process that is unavoidably enacted to some extent or another in every instance of mediated perception. To take a visual example, consider the photograph in Fig.  7.1. As twenty-first-century viewers, we cannot avoid viewing this image of a young woman as a primarily aesthetic object. The young woman herself does not exist for us since we cannot know her. Even adding contextual information—that this is a photograph by the accomplished amateur photographer Lady Hawarden of her daughter, Clementina Maude, taken in their family home in around 1862—cannot properly make the subject real. The woman remains a still flat object under our consuming gazes. The point is this: mediated subjects inevitably become unreal, reified into an Fig. 7.1  Clementina, Lady Hawarden. Stereoscopic photograph of her daughter, Clementina Maude. c. 1862–1863. (Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum)



aesthetic object to be consumed in relation to other aesthetic objects. Even were we to be intimately acquainted with the woman in the photograph, her image would be open to consumption to some degree or another (a process made obviously apparent in twenty-first-century examples of social media images, but also in the short story “Her Face” discussed in the previous chapter). What then is the image saying? The woman is in a costume, standing in front of a mirror which reflects her image back, though she is looking at neither the mirror nor the camera. In this way, she consciously manipulates the way her external image is consumed while also appearing entirely disinterested in it. Behind her, a large uncovered window bathes the scene in natural light but also provides the transitional feeling that she could step out of the scene at any moment. Her pose with one foot pressed back against the window frame suggests the possibility of just such a movement. The image possesses a quality of liminality—it is, as Carol Mavor suggests more generally of Hawarden’s many photographs of her daughters, about the possibilities of adolescence and of becoming.11 But these seem to be very knowing photographs—this is not a model presented purely for consumption as aesthetic object, yet paradoxically, that is exactly what it is. Hawarden’s photographs of her daughters continually repeat the themes of this image—thresholds, reflections, windows, mirrors, costumes—and it would be reasonable to read these repetitions as a preoccupation with photography’s multitudinous potential to present the subject in different guises. Each photographic space limits, one might argue, the options for comprehending the subject in that specific ­photograph: a certain pose in a certain position denotes one thing, another pose in another position denotes something else, and so on. But placing the subject(s) on thresholds, photographing her daughters coming in through windows, gazing out, posing on balconies or in front of mirrors, denies, to some extent, this limitation. Instead of suggesting a specific kind of identity, these photographs suggest a multitude of potential identities. Meanings are encoded in such images, but the point here is that photography was not (nor is) automatically an extension of an objectifying gaze. As a tool available for artistic expression, it could present women (and men) with complexity and ambiguity—both for and against reductive ways of looking at and consuming the image. But it is nonetheless inescapable that such resistance is never complete and the consuming gaze cannot be fully eradicated—the image is irrevocably mute and superficially vacant to anything but external appearance.



If, as Fredric Jameson has suggested, the “impressionistic strategy of modernism” functions “to derealize the content [of an object or person] and make it available for consumption on some purely aesthetic level,” then this is, too, the act of many nineteenth-century optical technologies that overtly reduce and encode the reality object into a symbolic object available for consumption.12 The physical framing effects of visual technologies (not just the photographic camera but also magic lanterns, stereoscopes, peep shows, microscopes, telescopes, etc.) create a visual dissonance or disconnect between viewer and object, in the same manner that the opaque brush strokes of impressionist painting draw attention to perception itself. While a feeling of alienation was not inevitable, it was a common response to spectacular culture in the nineteenth century. As media and society became more sophisticated, the individual perceptual experience became more mediated and thus potentially more disconnected and fragmented. The optical technologies that had been new and exciting earlier in the century were widespread by the final two decades of the century and increasingly used within amateur contexts. As a result, their applications became more varied, and the effects become even more diverse. The stereoscope, for instance, far from its role as home entertainment, was beginning to have practical applications in determining documentary authenticity.13 Uses for the magic lantern were found in education, religious ceremony, and advertising, as well as charitable entertainments for children and, of course, amateur, often domestic, shows. Danger, in some cases, was no longer metaphorical or psychological with a spate of widely reported explosions caused by amateur magic lanterns.14 Commercial applications in marketing and advertising were increasingly being found for visual technologies, particularly the magic lantern and photographic camera. These new applications created new tensions and fluctuations in the semantic and physical boundaries of public spaces. Magic lantern projections, for example, could overstep the physical spaces of commerce to infringe upon the traditional boundaries established by physical presence. This was the cause of a legal dispute in 1883 which complained that the magic lantern projection of one shop attracted so many people that they blocked the entrance to a neighbouring business.15 It is easy to see how projections might extend beyond the physical boundary of a shop and destabilise the commercial (and presumably interpersonal) relations that for centuries had relied upon the simple rules of physical proximity and spatial ownership.



Potentially even more disruptive was a planned scheme in 1890 for an “electrical magic lantern for casting or reflecting advertisements on the dark clouds which often hang low over a large town.”16 Where once the sky had been an imaginative space for psychological and spiritual experiences (as in Chap. 3), it was now reconceptualised by some as a space for the external forces of commercial markets to act upon the individual consciousness. The individual is thus reconfigured into the systemic, forcing a dispersal of individual processes across a network of meaning. In this instance, had it been constructed, the individual imaginings involved in dream discourse would have been dispersed through the commercial ­network of advertisements and slogans, each of which sought to prompt a specific imaginative desire in the viewer. Despite these developments, the magic lantern in particular still held a strong association with the psychological and supernatural. A short story from 1884, for example, builds a memory narrative around the surprise find of a fragment of a lantern slide which had been buried in a flower bed. The first-person narrator, surprised by the find while gardening, asks his uncle: “Is there any history attached to it that you look at it so strangely?”17 The uncle responds with an adventure he had as a youth when, along with a friend, he pretended to be a travelling “pedlar” and magic lantern showman, resulting in a romance with a woman who it turns out may (or may not) be the narrator’s aunt. A nostalgic narrative is generated from the mere “fragment.” This nostalgia is not only for the individual’s past but also for a time when imaginative possibilities—even changing one’s identity—were visually accessible as part of everyday experience, a time before the magic lantern was “broken up” and agency was transferred from individual narratives to systems of meaning.18 As the recounted tale hinges on the angry incredulity of a rural audience reacting to magic lantern images of exotic places, the nostalgic narrative returns the reader (and narrator) to a time when magic lantern images, even when depicting real subjects, appeared magical, unreal, and fantastic. Moreover, the uncle’s past, given in the form of a romantic story, is itself dubious as a true account. But rather than appearing problematic, this is a charming return to a world view in which individuals might exercise autonomous control over the narratives of their lives. The story, then, renegotiates the borders between memory narrative, fiction narrative, and authenticity or truth. Such a renegotiation is left unresolved, and it is interesting that, despite the ambiguity of the story’s relation to the actual (fictional) past, the character’s nostalgia suggested by



the fragmented lantern slide is authentically felt nonetheless. A surface-­ level truth or authenticity is not necessarily the point of the narrative, but instead it attempts to imply a deeper, nostalgic truth about the relationship between the past and the present. Yet the obviously romanticised style and ambiguous ending of the story (the aunt and the woman in the ­memory share a first name, but their relation is not clarified) bring doubt upon the value of the memory narrative and upon the efficacy of remembering the past at all. In the teleological terms discussed in Chap. 5, such a memory narrative is frivolous and without purpose, but in relation to the participants—in this case, the uncle and his nephew—it has its own unique purpose and meaning. In the teleological thinking of the mid-century, the cognitive processes of knowledge-forming had seemed relatively unproblematic. Similarity and difference across perceptions had been posited as a shortcut to understanding, enabling “one to retain large masses of narrative, at a small expense of adhesive acquisition.”19 But as both information and perception became increasingly atomised through confluences of periodical publication, technological intervention, and disciplinary specialisation, the ability to construct knowledge from such similarities and differences became more and more taxing on the individual. As Maudsley put it, the greater the complexity of the thinking machine required, the more things could go wrong. One of the perceived causes of increased complexity was the specialisation and classification (and thus fragmentation) of knowledge itself. Compilation gradually became a more problematic knowledge-forming process, particularly notable in popular culture through the divisions and specialisations of periodical literature. Whereas in 1842 Carlyle, constructing his overview of the battlefield at Naseby (see Chap. 2), saw the act of compiling sources as a useful and valuable way to construct knowledge, for Richard Horne a decade later, it had become a limiting obstacle: “though we have many learned men, little is done beyond compilation, the age being much too ‘fast’ to admit of a man, who has not an independent fortune, devoting half his life to a single great work of profound research.”20 Similarly, an article in 1859 attempted to understand the consequences of periodical literature as a publishing format: […] it must be remembered that the very idea of a periodical implies frequency of repetition. A subject is not treated once for all and then dismissed for ever. Hundreds of periodicals treat of it, and recur to it again and again,



never letting it drop until it is thoroughly exhausted, and the public are quite sick of it. But the most remarkable characteristic of periodical literature, and that which supplies the principal antidote to any superficial tendency, is the multiplicity and speciality of its divisions. […] periodical literature is essentially a classified literature. No matter on what principle the classification proceeds, the result is still the same – to divide and subdivide this kind of literature more and more.21

Here the author seeks to counter an argument that periodical publications had rendered knowledge shallow and superficial. Yet in this optimistic rebuttal lay the beginnings of anxieties about exhaustive (and exhausting) information and the process of classification dividing and specialising information into fragments. To “divide and subdivide […] more and more” is a good description of the way some commentators perceived the progress of science and knowledge. Ironically, it was the same technologies that had seemed to make objectivity possible that were now contributing to feelings of disconnect and fragmentation. Lewis Carroll’s fiction machine (discussed in Chap. 1), while expressed with a benign humour, contains a strong sense of the mechanisation and fragmentation of previously autonomous individual processes. In turning authorship into a machine process, Carroll’s story presents a reification of the individual and an awareness of the tension between human subjectivity and machine empiricism.22 Carroll’s machine is as much a reduction of literature and human imagination as it is an elevation of technological invention. In his descriptions, Carroll’s machine mocks both the young man’s weak creative capacity and the formulaic genre fiction of his day in a way that makes them both seem unusually analogous to the rote process of machine logic. The story does not appear overly anxious about any potential encroachment of machines into such distinctively creative and individualistic human activities as fiction writing. Instead, the story implicitly makes the case for the irreplaceability of human creativity in its satire of formulaic or rote forms of fiction. Yet, in a way, Carroll’s machine simply figured an already existing process since the mass surge of print culture had, by the 1850s, led to a textual typology in which individual texts might become interchangeable. Texts classified by genre as “the German school,” for instance, might be freely interchanged with little significant effect. If periodical publication implied “frequency of repetition,” then one way this was organised was through intertextual genre formations that verged on interchangeability



(not to mention the fact that articles were sometimes literally copied from one publication to another).23 It was as though machine fiction already existed and what Carroll’s story really calls for is a less formulaic form of fiction—a fiction which, rather than calling attention to similarity (via genre conventions, etc.), draws attention to singular difference. Carroll’s machine is designed so that “the ideas of the feeblest intellect, when once received on properly prepared paper, could be ‘developed’ up to any required degree of intensity.”24 The connection between technological perception (the photograph here combined with the machine’s textual narrative outputs) and cognition, especially weak cognitive power, was commonly used at the end of the century to bewail a perceived over-­ stimulation of the brain. Psychological exhaustion—the breakdown of Maudsley’s complex machine—was often linked to material culture. For example, in an echo of earlier Romantic ideals at the start of the century, an article in All the Year Round proclaimed that “sport in the Scottish wilds”—the removal of the individual from an excess of material (predominantly urban) culture—was an effective remedy for “nerve exhaustion”, suitable for “the weary and exhausted; not to the merely nervous, but to the nerve-diseased.”25 As will be seen in the following sections, the initial desire for simultaneity resulted in a fear of nervous exhaustion in which an individual becomes overwhelmed by sensory and informational input. New understandings of the human body were changing how people considered the mind and its relations to the world. Since science had begun experimenting with nerve stimulation as a physical entry point for the psychological mind, the public understanding had developed. Now there was a fear that too much stimulation, too fragmented a sensorium, would lead to mental breakdown, “nerve exhaustion,” or disease. Simultaneity could thus be pathologised as psychological illness. The interest in the networked systems of the body, especially the nervous system, led to an understanding of the world via a similar array of networks. An article about San Francisco, for instance, begins by extolling “the wondrous web of realities that is being daily woven around both hemispheres of the globe” which includes “conversations carried on thousands of miles apart, by means of electricity, and a hundred other marvels that Science has converted into commonplaces.” These have surpassed and replaced even the “wildest” and “maddest” of visions, speculations, and exaggerations suggested in fiction, poetry, and myth. The city of San Francisco is just the latest of such wonders; indeed, so wonderful is the city that had its “magic growth” not occurred “literally under the ‘eyes of



Europe,’” it would be entirely unbelievable.26 Cities were thus part of a “web” of technological and social strata and systems that was growing at a seemingly “magical” rate, such that vision struggled to keep up. Notably, reality is here dispersed into a plural construction: “realities,” linked in a “web.” The network is thus a framework for dispersal and pulling apart as well as unifying and bringing together.

Contagion and Degeneration: The Individual in the System Within this atmosphere, degeneration theory came to prominence as an application of physiological understandings of the body and mind to the wider interactions of individual and system, especially socio-cultural system. After all, was not the individual a summation of systems (nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, etc.)? In this discourse, the individual self is dispelled across a network expressed through a nested but disjointed reality. The medical doctor-turned-literary author, Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote a collection of medical stories, Round the Red Lamp (1894), which provides a range of examples of this kind of  networked dispersal. The most obvious one comes from the story “A Physiologist’s Wife,” in which the eponymous physiologist, dying of a broken heart, expresses it in terms of a dissolution of the biologically networked self: Of his approaching end he spoke in his usual unemotional and somewhat pedantic fashion. “It is the assertion,” he said, “of the liberty of the individual cell as opposed to the cell-commune. It is the dissolution of a co-­ operative society. The process is one of great interest.” And so one grey morning his co-operative society dissolved. Very quietly and softly he sank into his eternal sleep.27

Viewed as a set of networks, the self is not separated from society, the self is a society. Earlier in the story, the physiologist denounces a colleague’s religious sentiment as “vague hereditary tendencies stirred into life by the stimulation of the nasal and auditory nerves.” Doyle wryly pokes fun at his exaggerated physiologist, but he also casually buys into the physiological understanding of the mind through nerves: throughout the various stories, nerves are continually “unstrung,” “jangled,” and “over-stimulated,” causing a profusion of emotional and mental confusion and distress.



In Doyle’s Round the Red Lamp, the human individual is expressed as networked nerves that form a society, but the analogy worked the other way around too. The systems of the body were also used as metaphors for socio-economic and geographical systems. Perhaps the best-known and most commonly occurring example of this kind of metaphor was in descriptions of telegraphs. In his famous account of social evolution, Benjamin Kidd writes: [during the last century] the ends of the world have been drawn together, and civilised society is becoming one vast highly organised and inter-­ dependent whole – the wants and requirements of every part regulated by economic laws bewildering in their intricacy – with a nervous system of five million miles of telegraph wire, and an arterial system of railways and steamships […] the century has been in many respects a period of progressive degeneration […].28

Within this bewilderingly complex networked world, the individual is constantly under threat in the system: the “skilled worker” must cling “desperately to the small niche into which he has been fitted, knowing that to lose his place is to become part of the helpless flotsam and jetsam of society” (8). Just as the networked body is rationally understood through mechanical and chemical processes, the networked world is posited as a “machine” set to work by wealthy capitalists who “divide and govern” (9). In Kidd’s view, the apparent unity of a networked world is actually a means for capitalist division, fragmentation, and control. The effect of the network is thus ultimately to threaten individual autonomy through its integration within large-scale networks. A similar threat to self is expressed in Gustave Le Bon’s seminal work on the psychology of crowds. Le Bon argues that the “principal characteristics of the individual forming part of a crowd” are: the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and ideas in an identical direction, the tendency to immediately transform the suggested ideas into acts […] He [the individual] is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.29

In the anxiety-ridden thought of Kidd, Le Bon, and (as we shall see) Nordau, the integrity of the autonomous and individual self is constantly



threatened by the encroaching networks of a fully industrialised society— the urban crowds; the networks of commerce, capitalism, and industry; the transport and communication networks; the networks of evolutionary process (in which humans are one stage in a sequenced, but endless, totality) and scientific knowledge; and the increasingly rationalised networks of the human body and mind. For Le Bon, these processes are actually invisible to rational logic, instead conforming to alternative kinds of logic. In this sense, Le Bon’s logic of the crowd matches the extra-historical logic of the dissolving view examined in Chap. 4. Le Bon writes: These image like ideas [the ideas of crowds] are not connected by any logical bond of analogy or succession, and may take each other’s place like the slides of a magic-lantern which the operator withdraws from the groove in which they were placed one above the other. This explains how it is that the most contradictory ideas may be seen to be simultaneously current in crowds.30

Elsewhere, in his work on the psychology of revolutions, Le Bon pointedly diverges from the conventions of empirical historiography to suggest that the subject of history—historical change—is really the result of unseen mental contagions that spread through populations. Le Bon tells us: “the dream, the ideal, the legend—in a word, the unreal—it is that which shapes history” so that “if a great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which in reality has very little influence upon their genesis.”31 Historical change is thus the process of mental contagions which are “foreign” to the “rational logic” that is the “mentality of the historians.”32 Any notion of ontological or epistemological certainty is dispelled as spatio-­temporal experience fragments along network lines and the individual’s ability to compose, control, contain, and critique perception becomes impaired and subject to contagions (the certainties implied by Romanticism’s lyric “I” are here moving firmly along the trajectory that would eventually lead to Arthur Koestler’s “I” as “grammatical fiction”).33 Max Nordau, author of probably the most famous polemic against fin-­ de-­siècle culture, railed against this kind of fragmentation as part of what he called the “degeneration” of society. His basic term of critique, “degeneration,” borrowing from the language of evolutionary science, itself suggests disintegration and fragmentation away from wholeness.34 Yet,



ironically, Nordau’s method is to use his understanding of scientific and pseudo-scientific studies to provide a single, comprehensive view of society’s degeneration. While he sees the results of rationalist logics (principally technological, economic, and scientific) as chaotic fragmentations of experience, he relies upon these same logics to construct his argument. The contradictions of his work were not lost on his contemporaries. As one journalist put it: What he [Nordau] may in part have intended as humorous satire, with its droll exaggerations and its tremendous attacks on windmills, has been treated as if it revealed to the world a new system of ethics, and even such readers as recognised the fact that its criticism was wholly destructive were willing to believe that this laughing philosopher would soon give some hint of the principles which ought to govern mankind in the progress to perfection which is eventually to supersede the degenerating tendencies of the present age.35

Despite its obvious deficiencies, Nordau’s book was immensely popular, and its ambitious attempt to articulate widespread anxieties that were often diffuse and lacking in specific focus offers an indispensable insight into the more dystopic views of late nineteenth-century society.36 It is written as a kind of forward-looking history, not so very unlike the projections of utopian futures based on historical evidence that were popular in Enlightenment writing.37 However, rather than using traditional historical enquiry to validate his predictions, Nordau attempts to use a scientific method to diagnose the current state of society in terms of human biology and psychology. Concepts of cultural, social, or biological (usually racial) degeneration were not new in the 1890s, but they had gained prominence, and Nordau’s work was certainly among the most widely read and discussed on the subject.38 Ideas about degeneration coincided with more generalised anxieties and a fashion for pessimism which was itself sometimes considered a form of nervous exhaustion. An article in the Pall Mall Gazette, for instance, in a rather Nordau-esque manner, considers pessimism a “disease which attacks mankind […] at moments of exhaustion after some historic effort.”39 The historic effort, presumably, being the great changes Britain had experienced over the previous century. The final part of this chapter will consider Nordau’s Degeneration in terms of his representation of the individual’s place within networks and



systems and the anxieties that he expresses about network disintegration. The place of the individual, in Nordau’s writing, is problematic both spatially and temporally, and my discussion will trace Nordau’s thinking about the slippery slope of history, upon which humankind, struggling in a temporal fog of contradictory experiences, remains attracted to simplistic, marketable fragments rather than holistic understanding. Bound up in this critique is an implicit question of objectivity and the possibility of a true representation of reality—a question which becomes more overt in Nordau’s suggestion in The Interpretation of History (1910) that history writing is simply a kind of very “naturalistic fiction.”40 History, in the nascent stages of its technological reproducibility (or the illusion thereof), is no longer recognisable as more valid or true than fiction.

Inane Reveries, Trembling Eyeballs: Max Nordau and Network Disintegration The central cause for the symptoms of degeneration that Nordau finds in his diagnosis of society is fatigue caused by “the vertigo and whirl of our frenzied life, the vastly increased number of sense impressions and organic reactions, and therefore of perceptions, judgements, and motor impulses, which at present are forced into a given unity of time.”41 Focussing on networks of travel and communication, Nordau writes in Degeneration that “steam and electricity have turned the customs of life of every member of the civilized nations upside down” (37). One of the central ­difficulties Nordau finds is the sheer multiplicity of media—even in an individual newspaper, he finds the international outlook and variety of subjects bewildering and exhausting (39). It is a case of too much simultaneity, of too many sensory inputs being forcibly processed within a “given unity of time” (42). In his initial overview of the “symptoms” of “degenerate” fin-de-siècle culture, Nordau covers a range of examples intended to show a new emphasis on “spectacle” rather than the traditional properties of artistic media (14).42 The new kinds of entertainment that Nordau details concentrate on “novel sensations” which sacrifice artistic merit in favour of creating “novel” ways to experience the art itself. For example, a picture of “the dying Mozart working at his Requiem” painted “indifferently well” is exhibited in a darkened room, illuminated by a “dazzling ray of skilfully directed electric light,” while an “invisible orchestra softly plays the Requiem” (14). Other examples follow similar lines to suggest that different kinds of stage



technology (lights, sounds, even a perfume “hose” that accompanies a dramatic poem in order to unify lights, sounds, and scents) encroach upon the traditional narrative structures of artistic media. The intention of these obviously exaggerated examples is to create a more expansive experience, to “affect all the senses at once,” but the real effect, according to Nordau, is a devaluing of the artistic object itself (14). Nordau’s examples present over-stimulation as a form of simultaneity marred by incoherency and disjunction. Coherency and cohesion are vital to narrativised expressions of experience; in the theories of mental perception discussed in previous chapters, a key process was the contextualisation of sense-data using the full array of the sensorium. But for Nordau, the sensorium has become incoherently fragmented into discrete, technologically produced phenomena, making contextualisation challenging or even impossible. The debasement of artistic value is caused, according to Nordau, by the distraction of the observer’s attention fragmenting the experience of the art object—rather than paying close attention to the painting of Mozart, for instance, the viewer is “dazzled” by light and distracted by music. Similarly, single works of art could also disrupt and confound cohesive experiences of reality. Singling out “impressionists,” Nordau suggests that “the degenerate artist who suffers from nystagmus or trembling of the eyeball, will, in fact, perceive the phenomena of nature trembling, restless, devoid of firm outline […] the sufferer will have all sorts of gaps in his field of vision, producing strange effects […]” (27–28). A symptom of hysteria, according to Nordau, is fragmentation of the visual field, which causes gaps and scattered, isolated spots, and so impressionist painting can be diagnosed as symptomatic of cultural degeneracy. The break from perspectival realism (connoting, more seriously, a break from scientific empiricism) is thus pathologised as a mental illness. The perceptual deviant is decried as medically abnormal or diseased. Nordau’s criticism of “spectacle” is closely tied to his critique of what he saw as the “degenerate” characteristics of individuals who enjoyed spectacular arts and shows. This critique again emphasises a fragmentation away from wholeness, posing the problem as one of subjective agency and nervous control. According to Nordau, the degenerate has a predilection for “inane reverie,” unable to “fix his attention for long, or indeed at all, on any subject”: It is easier and more convenient for him to allow his brain-centres to produce semi-lucid, nebulously blurred ideas and inchoate embryonic thoughts,



and to surrender himself to the perpetual obfuscation of a boundless, aimless, and shoreless stream of fugitive ideas; and he rarely rouses himself to the painful attempt to check or counteract the capricious, and, as a rule, purely mechanical associations of ideas and succession of images, and bring under discipline the disorderly tumult of his fluid presentations. On the contrary, he rejoices in his faculty of imagination […]. (21)

In stark contrast to Tyndall’s praise for the “scientific imagination” two decades earlier, Nordau aligns the imagination with psychological disorder. The mechanical sequencing of ideas and images lacks the cohesive, controlled order of the teleological imaginative processes suggested in the 1860s by Tyndall, Brodie, Spencer, Lewes, and Mill. Rather than appearing as liberating solutions to the waywardness of the imagination, these conceptions become instead a measure by which to denounce other forms of imaginative cognition. Nordau figures the mechanical as the simplistic and didactic rather than the explanatory and complex. Rather than opening the viewer to “worlds infinitely removed into the immensity of space” (as Brewster described the telescope), or the imaginative worlds of the magic lantern and stereoscope, Nordau’s criticism of “purely mechanical” thought suggests the limited functioning of the automaton.43 Degeneration on the levels of both the popular (i.e. in terms of art and spectacles) and the individual (i.e. imagination and thought) is thus marked by an overload of vying sensory stimuli and a psychological inability (and sometimes unwillingness) to contain or control these stimuli. This placement of blame on the mental weakness of the individual was present in the popular press, too: one article, for instance, blamed cultural pessimism on “the new habit of intellectual impatience.”44 The disruption of ordered coherency and attentive control into wayward fragmentation is also a regressive movement from fact towards fiction. The degenerate is prone to “inane reverie,” to dream passively in the place of active and discerning observation which might serve a teleological purpose. Anxiety about sensory overload was not new to Nordau or, indeed, to the 1890s. As has been described elsewhere, the big static 360-degree panoramas, which, theoretically at least, presented a comprehensive replication of visual reality, were sometimes described as inducing feelings of seasickness.45 The static and accessible nature of the panorama elongated the present moment (which was frozen in the still image) so that the observer was able to physically move around the viewing platform, taking



in a single moment of time at leisure. This kind of clarity, for Nordau at least, is impossible to find in much of the popular media of the century’s closing decade. Whereas the panorama acted as a controlling medium to contain and master a perceptually and conceptually difficult reality, Nordau’s struggle with cultural multiplicity and perceived fragmentation causes him to worry about the loss of such controlled viewpoints. All of his examples turn a perceptual whole into a series of technological fragments, each catering to individual segments via discrete and separate stimuli. The effect is very similar to Dickens’ view from Todgers’, in which objects “sprung out from the mass without any reason” causing the observer to physically retreat.46 Nordau’s description 49 years later of the “inane” dreamer, unable to “bring under discipline the disorderly tumult of his fluid presentations,” is strikingly resonant with the viewer on the public house roof  (21). The chief difference is where Dickens’ observer is able to retreat and recompose, Nordau’s “inane dreamer” has become pathologically affected by it.47 To Nordau, the great technological advances of the nineteenth century, encapsulated in a phrase as “steam and electricity,” have generated a “vastly increased number of sense impressions” which cause the “many affections of the nervous system” (41). Visual shows, like panoramas, dioramas, and, to some extent, magic lantern shows and stereoscopes too, aimed to create new ways to see and understand the world, but one of the effects was an increased awareness of the fragility of perceptual authenticity and duplicity in the falsehood of illusion. These shows were part of a fragmentation of the perceptual landscape in which vision became specialised—one went to the panorama, for instance, for virtual travel and battle scenes, and to the magic lantern for ghosts and the supernatural. Where, half a century earlier, Albert Smith had complained about the loss of traditional stories and entertainments to new shows and exhibitions created by technological developments, Nordau is troubled by the psychological effects of the multiplicity of media generated by those same developments.48 The panorama, a medium intrinsically invested in the conception of an idealised whole, waned in popularity at more or less the same moment at which philosophy, as well as society in general, began losing faith in the idea of an idealised whole. Writing in 1888, Nietzsche critiques the process of idealisation which intrinsically contains and orders what it views: “They [philosophers] think they are doing a thing honour when they dehistoricize it, sub specie aeterni [from the viewpoint of eternity]—when



they make a mummy of it.”49 Perhaps even more clearly, in Human, All Too Human (1878–1880), he writes: Philosophers are accustomed to station themselves before life and experience  – before that which they call the world of appearance  – as before a painting that has been unrolled once and for all and unchangeably depicts the same scene: this scene, they believe, has to be correctly interpreted, so as to draw a conclusion as to the nature of the being that produced the picture: that is to say, as to the nature of the thing in itself […] [this view], however, overlook[s] the possibility that this painting – that which we humans call life and experience  – has gradually become, is indeed still dully in course of becoming, and should thus not be regarded as a fixed object […].50

The “picture” here conforms to the static image of the panorama (indeed, Alexander Harvey’s 1908 translation uses the word “panorama” in this passage), which erroneously presents a monolithic world view.51 Nietzsche’s concept of the world as change, as evolutionary “becoming,” cannot coexist with the totalising view of the panorama. Pluralism (some— Nordau and others—might say fragmentation) had become the order (or disorder) of the day. Society had become more interested in the accurately detailed presentation of the singular, specific instant, than in the idealised broad overview. At the same time, society was becoming saturated with increasingly fast media (in the sense of both creation and consumption) and infatuated with a realist ideal of recording reality (exemplified in its most dominant form in photography and the drive towards cinema but also found in various degrees in the earlier panoramas, dioramas, lithographs, sketch literature, and other media). Rather than unifying perceptual reality, these mediated singularities disperse it across a network of discrete fragments. Point of view had become radically expanded from the monolithic to the pluralistic. Nietzsche, of course, received considerable treatment in Nordau’s Degeneration which lambasted  him  as “a madman, with flashing eyes, wild gestures, and foaming mouth, spouting forth deafening bombast” (416). Nordau rallies against Nietzsche’s apparent eschewal of “one total view,” calling his work “a succession of disconnected sallies, prose and doggerel mixed, without beginning or ending” so that “When Nietzsche’s moral system is spoken of, it must not be imagined that he has anywhere developed one” (419–420). Nordau criticises Nietzsche’s work as “incoherent fugitive ideation […] formed by a small number of insane



ideas, continually repeating themselves with exasperating monotony” (465). In an unconsciously ironic sense, Nordau appears to seek the kind of controlled comprehension of a total view that the panorama claimed to provide but which, in the context of perpetual multiplicity, was now seemingly impossible. One of the issues here is the transition from monolithic thought structures to pluralistic process-driven thought structures: that is, from “Man” as static steward of an unchanging natural world to Homo sapiens as a single stage in an ongoing evolutionary process, as part of a changing, evolving biosphere52; from society as static panorama of ordered structure to society as a chaos of cross-contaminating crowd dynamics that operate outside of empirical, rational logic; from holistic notions of self-contained body and mind to system-oriented understandings of mental and physical processes. These new thought structures are what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—“massive entities” that can be experienced only as large-­ scale abstractions so that, for example, one might think of evolution but can only point at individual monkeys or beetles, just as one might think of society but one can only find a multitude of shifting social contexts and collections of individuals within which the concept hovers and fluctuates.53 In the same way, worryingly, one might think of individual identity, individual autonomy, and point at only physical presence or historical memory or the contagions of crowds, depending on one’s own point of view. Hence Kidd’s anxiety about the individual “losing his place” in expansive socio-economic networks or Le Bon’s notion of the loss of self in crowds. Likewise, in 1903 Georg Simmel argued: The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of his historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life.54

Simmel’s description forms part of a conceptual repositioning of the city from a place where one becomes part of a unified panoramic whole to a place in which one’s individuality is at odds with the unifying processes of society. The problem is to avoid being “swallowed up in the social-­ technological mechanism” of society.55 And “mechanism,” here a codification of a whole complex of rationalised processes, is of course an abstraction that remains difficult to circumscribe, even as it swallows one up.



In Nordau’s work, such anxiety manifests itself as a rationalist revision of cultural excesses, based entirely on empirical and physiological knowledge. For example, Nordau denounces the “senseless cackle” of Idealism “from Berkeley to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel,” preferring instead an understanding of the mind-world divide based on “scientific psychology” or “psychophysiology.”56 Whereas the more scholarly works of Lewes and Spencer seek to combine both metaphysical and physiological views of the mind, Nordau is radically opposed to anything not firmly rooted in empirical observation. Yet this leads Nordau to pathologise those psychological aspects which do not explicitly fit his view of a physical reality. The self is understood in terms of a network that, like socio-technological networks of communication, can be considered in terms of constituent parts which implicitly threaten to disperse the self across the multitude of singular fragments.57 That is, if the self is the whole network, then it is not contained at any single location. After establishing the existence of consciousness (but not self-­awareness or “Ego”) in primitive animals, Nordau writes: Every one of our nerve-ganglia, every one of our nerve-fibres, and even every cell, has a subordinate and faint consciousness of what passes in it. As the whole of the nervous system of our body has numerous communications between all its parts, it perceives in its totality something of all the stimulations of its parts, and the consciousness which accompanies them. In this manner there arises in the centre where all the nerve ducts of the whole body meet, i.e., in the brain, a total consciousness composed of innumerable partial consciousnesses, having evidently for its object only the processes of its own organism.58

In his conception of the psyche, Nordau argues that the brain, presiding over a network of sensing parts, uses two main techniques to acquire knowledge of the external world. First, the brain relies on an “association of ideas” which enables, through a “whole train of connected representations,” quick identification of a single perception. The second technique, which counters the potential overload of input data from the network, Nordau calls “attention”: […] the faculty of the brain to suppress one part of the memory-images which, at excitation of a cell or group of cells, have arisen in consciousness […] and to maintain […] only those memory-images which relate to the exciting cause, i.e., to the object just perceived. (52)



It is this process that Nordau finds lacking in the “degenerate, whose brain and nervous system are characterised by hereditary malformations,” and the “hysterical” who are “victims of exhaustion” (56). The pathological brain, then, is caused by an unstable or uncontrolled network which, “unrestrained by attention,” is “without aim or purpose” (56). The individual in Nordau’s conception therefore sits at the top of two potentially bewildering and misleading networks, both of which require a strong-willed, rapt attention to contain and control: the network of the nervous system with its association of ideas and the socio-cultural networks of the external world. The first was observed and understood using scientific technologies, chiefly involving electricity and microscopes, while the second was most easily delineated as consisting of rapidly developing technologies of communication and travel—those of “steam and electricity.” Both networks were closely linked within the individual in that the malformation of the first caused troubling, regressive participation in the second (what Nordau calls “degeneracy”), and that the exhaustive effects of the second could lead to loss of control of the first (what Nordau calls “hysteria”). To Simmel’s (later) statement that the problem of “modern life” was “the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against […] the external culture and technique of life,” Nordau’s writing adds that the individual must also maintain his independence over his own internal network of nerves that are vying for his attention lest he fall into hysteria or degeneracy.59 According to Nordau, technological development, in creating and making these networks visible, has created a nightmarish situation in which the rapid advance of society, especially of its quotidian experiences (rail travel, art, print media, etc.), poses a serious and dangerous threat to the individual’s psychological health. In this account, 1890s European culture, operating within networks, threatens to drive one insane. In a way, evolutionary language had facilitated a conceptual framework of networks that displace and disrupt traditional, self-contained notions of self and society. Yet this was more than an evolutionary discourse—the telegraph and the nervous system, for example, were often understood in relation to one another as two networks operating on electrical stimulus, to the point that the concept of individual will was called into question by new ideas about reflexive action.60 The paradox of the network, the dualism which underpins Nordau’s anxiety, is that, as well as connecting, it divides and threatens dispersal through its constant deferrals. Networks such as railways and roads visibly



connect the landscape, but they also draw attention to the expanse between their connecting nodes, only making sense in terms of a referential deferral to the next point along the network. As Kai Eriksson points out, the nodes of a network hold significance because of their position within the network, not because they have intrinsic significance as such, so that “separate spaces, events, and meanings lose their independence and become intelligible and influential only as parts of a larger field that gives them shape.”61 In this way, a place may lose its intrinsic significance as a unique place as it becomes understood instead as simply a point of departure, connection, or a momentary pause en route to another place along the rail network. The progressions and regressions implied by evolutionary theory act as a form of network, in which each individual unit (such as the current stage of human development) acquires its value only through a referral to the other units. If the internal self as well as the external world is composed of networks (i.e. as a resulting function of the nervous system but also as an evolutionary stage prone to degenerating or evolving), then the individual is threatened on two fronts. It is as though, in organising and containing the overwhelming fragments of a technologically developed society, in forming organisational groups and networks that might be contained and understood (so that we might talk, for instance, of the rail network, rather than individual lines and junctions, or the postal system, or periodical literature, or popular visual culture), the individual has only deferred the problem of the incomplete whole. Now, rather than being overwhelmed by the mass of detail, the individual is faced by an experience of the world composed of elements that are perpetually threatening to disintegrate into their many parts. This is the problem posed by Nordau and is the reason he places so much emphasis on strength of will and attention—because it is these psychological traits that he believes can forestall or prevent the disintegration of both perceptual reality and the individual consciousness. In fiction, this kind of network anxiety is famously demonstrated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), in which the narrative is composed of a network of different media involving new technologies such as the phonograph and the typewriter. The human body, too, is made up of a network in which blood may be pumped or extracted. In the calculations of Renfield, a patient at a lunatic asylum who consumes insects, the food chain becomes a hierarchy of values from the lowest to the highest in which, like a monetary system, value can be compounded in the bodies of units higher up (so that, for instance, a spider is worth the values of each



insect it eats, and if eaten by a bird, those values are further transferred). As a fictional composite of a number of narratives in different media and different voices, the novel posits itself as a nexus in a communication network. The novel is further networked through the pluralised interpretive potential of the story—its availability to critical interpretations focussing on sexuality, or medicine, anti-Semitism, technology, or, indeed, networks, is because such a wide variety of cultural discourses intersect in its  language and content.62 Stoker’s integral use of communication technologies in the narrative framework of Dracula corresponds with his organisation of British society into metaphorical and practical networks (networks of meaning, networks of travel, networks of money, etc.). Yet such networks, far from increasing the efficacy of the individual to construct meaning, disperse, deflect, and defer meaning. The novel ends with a statement on the fragments that form the narrative: “We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later note-books of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum.” Disappointingly, the body of the archive results in “nothing but a mass of typewriting,” a seemingly useless product of a communication technology that has failed to communicate. The typewriter, like the vampire, is the conjoining interchange that connects nodes into a network: whereas Dracula creates a network of bodies through exchanges of fluid, the typewriter generates an archival network of texts. However, though ­ Dracula is a powerful evil that must be destroyed, the typewriter turns out to have very little power. This is perhaps because, as the novel’s readers have often found, meaning is too often deferred from one typewritten fragment to another. There is clearly a balance to be struck here: although meaning has been dispersed throughout the network, the resultant whole, taken in its entirety by the reader of the novel, presents a multifaceted web of meanings—meaning is difficult to pin down but not absent, deferred across the network but present within the whole. To construct an interpretive reading of such a pluralistic, fugitive novel where narrative is constantly deferred from one voice and medium to another is to face the problem Nordau and Simmel identify for individuals in fin-de-siècle society: an attempt to unify conceptually what is persistently threatening to disintegrate into a series of fragments.



Notes 1. In Nietzsche’s account, the removal of perceiving subjective self from objective reality which takes place in dreams is a relic of “primeval humanity” so that “in dreams we all resemble this savage […] in sleep and dreams we repeat once again the curriculum of earlier mankind.” This is, interestingly, a complete reversal of the logic of cause and effect so that remembered perceptions (sensory effects with physical causes) are reiterated in sleep and, from this, the dreaming mind infers totally new causes. See Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, trans. R.J.  Hollingdale, introduced by Richard Schacht (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 17–18. 2. The seminal text here is, of course, Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936) in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1967, repr. 1999), 211–44. Furthermore, T.J. Clark’s study of impressionist painting and Paris gives a compelling account of consumerism and artistic endeavour. See T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985). Erika Rappaport gives a useful primer on emergent methods of selling to the masses in the late nineteenth century in her essay, “A New Era of Shopping,” in The Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader, ed. Vanessa R. Schwartz and Jeannene M. Przyblyski (London: Routledge, 2004), 151–64. Further useful studies include Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle 1851–1914 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990); Sara Thornton, Advertising, Subjectivity and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Dickens, Balzac and the Language of the Walls (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). 3. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, 153–4. 4. Whilst several decades old, Marshall Berman’s account of the ways in which scholarship, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, conceived of modernism and modernisation remains an excellent elucidation of this. See Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), esp. 23–36. 5. See, for example, Richard Lehan’s book which contrasts modernism with a more positivist “naturalist” view of reality. Literary Modernism and Beyond: The Extended Vision and the Realms of the Text (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009). 6. Rosalyn Gregory and Benjamin Kohlmann’s edited collection gives a range of interventions into this dichotomy. Utopian Spaces of Modernism British Literature and Culture, 1885–1945 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).



7. Although, as the dates of the cited material make clear, this is not a clearcut chronology. It is, however, reasonable to consider this discourse of anxiety as generally intensifying as time progressed. 8. Henry Maudsley, The Pathology of Mind (New York: Appleton, 1880), 129. 9. The novel’s concern for reification and fragmentation has been examined elsewhere. For example, Andrew H.  Miller considers the novel’s iconic dust-heaps as a part of a wider “economic rationalization of the society” discussed in the novel. Andrew H. Miller, Novels Behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 125. 10. Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, 20–1. Subsequent in-text page citations are to the Penguin edition cited earlier. 11. Carol Mavor, Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (London: Duke University Press, 1999). 12. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London: Routledge, 1989), 214. 13. It was used, for instance, to detect forged bank notes. See Anon.  “The Stereoscope and Forged Bank Notes,” Edinburgh Evening News, 27 March 1886, 2. 14. For examples, see Anon. “Explosion at a Magic-Lantern Entertainment,” Edinburgh Evening News, 30 December 1881, 2; Anon. “Fatal Magic Lantern Explosion,” Evening Telegraph, 23 February 1884, 3; Anon. “Another Magic Lantern Explosion,” Evening Telegraph, 20 March 1884, 2; Anon. “Panic at a Magic-Lantern Entertainment,” Edinburgh Evening News, 2 December 1886, 2. 15. Anon. “Advertising by Magic Lantern,” Edinburgh Evening News, 26 January 1883, 4. 16. Anon., untitled, Coventry Herald and Free Press, 17 January 1890, 5. 17. Anon. “Romance of a Magic Lantern,” Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 12 July 1884, 9. 18. Anon. “Romance of a Magic Lantern,” 9. 19. Bain, Senses and the Intellect, 543. 20. Richard Henry Horne, “A Time for All Things,” Household Words, 22 March 1851, 616. 21. Anon. “Popular Literature,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, January 1859, 102. 22. Peter Bürger gives an indication of the extent of concerns about subjectivity and textual claims to truth and reality in his discussion of naturalism and aestheticism, remarking that the aestheticist critique of naturalism stemmed from the loss of a clear relational “dialectic between subject and object,” resulting from nineteenth-century developments of capitalism. See Peter Bürger, The Decline of Modernism, trans. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge:



Polity Press, 1992), 97. See also the discussion of Daston and Galison in the next chapter. Daston and Galison’s book Objectivity provides an excellent account of the role of machines in the subjective-objective divide. 23. Anon. “Popular Literature,” Blackwood’s, 102. 24. Carroll, “Photography Extraordinary,” 28. 25. Anon. “More Sport in the Wilds of Uist,” All the Year Round, 18 December 1869, 65–6. 26. William Henry Wills, “The Golden City,” Household Words, 29 June 1850, 313. 27. Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Physiologist’s Wife,” in Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life (1894) repr. online by University of Adelaide 2016. https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/ round-the-red-lamp/index.html. 28. Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution (London: Macmillan and Co., 1894), 7. 29. Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (New York: Macmillan, 1896), 12–13. 30. Le Bon, The Crowd, 49. 31. Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Revolutions, trans. Bernard Miall (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913), 20; 15. 32. Le Bon, The Psychology of Revolutions, 27. 33. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, trans. by Daphne Hardy (London: Penguin, 1982), 128. 34. For a detailed discussion of the broader discourse of degeneration that began in the 1850s and intensified towards the end of the century, see Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848–c. 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 155–221. 35. Anon. “Popular Pessimism,” Morning Post, 18 January 1896, 3. 36. The task of “the modern pessimist” being, according to one critical journalist, “to trace on the most slender evidence the decay in his own generation of some recognised virtue of its predecessors,” it came in many guises. Anon. “Modern Pessimism,” Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, 26 December 1891. 37. For a discussion of Enlightenment histories and progress, see John Zammito, “Philosophy of History: The German Tradition from Herder to Marx,” in The Cambridge History of Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (1790–1870), ed. Allen W. Wood and Songsuk Susan Hahn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 817–21. 38. A lecture given at the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society as early as 1863 considered degeneration as a series of racial and biological deteriorations. This was met with applause and comments from the audience giving anecdotal evidence to support the theory. See Anon. “Degeneration and its Causes,” Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 4 February 1863, 4.



39. Anon. “Modern Pessimism,” Pall Mall Gazette, 3 September 1880, 888. 40. Max Nordau, The Interpretation of History, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Rebman, 1910), 17. 41. Nordau, Degeneration, 42. 42. This inversely relates to Leo Marx’s notion of the “technological sublime” which is a harmonisation between people and nature via the interceding spectacle of technological power (replacing the natural power that inspired the early Romantics). See Marx, Machine in the Garden, 195. 43. Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic, 95–6. 44. Anon. “Is the Present Pessimism Justified?,” Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 25 October 1886, 4. 45. See Altick, The Shows of London, 133–4. This is discussed in Chap. 2. 46. Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 131–2. 47. Dickens’ observer also comes with a context of urban sketch literature that was popular at the time and, in many ways, corresponded with the controlled comprehensive view of the static panorama. Dickens, himself, contributed to this genre with Sketches by Boz (1836) which, a decade after Pierce Egan’s influential Life in London (1820–1821), continued the tradition of pseudo-documentary writing for “fire-side heroes and sprightly maidens who may feel a wish to ‘see Life’ without receiving a scratch.” Pierce Egan, Life in London, or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. And his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, ill. I.R. & G.  Cruikshank (London: Chatto and Windus, 1870), 47. 48. Smith, Comic Tales and Sketches, 106–7. 49. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 35. 50. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 19–20. Similarly, in 1885–1886, Nietzsche wrote in his notebook: “Profound aversion to reposing once and for all in any one total view of the world. Fascination of the opposing point of view: refusal to be deprived of the stimulus of the enigmatic.” See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 262. 51. See Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 26. 52. The OED traces the use of the word “biosphere” back to 1899. See “biosphere, n.” OED Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [accessed: 6 December 2016]. 53. Morton, 489. 54. Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” trans. Edward A. Shils, in Social Sciences III Selections and Selected Readings, 14th ed. (Chicago:



University of Chicago, 1948), repr. in Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. Donald N. Levine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 324. 55. Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms, 324. 56. Nordau, Degeneration, 245–6. 57. Interestingly, this gave rise to a kind of metaphorical telephony to connect the different fragments of new media. Richard Menke points towards fictional representations of the telephone as “kind of imaginative switchboard” which stands as a figure for new media as a system, operating as “a way of connecting new technologies to a set of inferior print forms.” Richard Menke, “The Medium is the Media: Fictions of the Telephone in the 1890s,” Victorian Studies, 55, no. 2 (2013): 214. 58. Nordau, Degeneration, 247. Elsewhere, Nordau claims that nerve cells have “capacity of preserving an image” which allows us to recognise similar stimuli and thus make sense of the external world, so that “Memory is therefore the first condition of normal brain activity” (47–48). 59. For a detailed discussion of attention as a fundamental concept of the second half of the nineteenth century, see Crary, Suspensions of Perception. Crary locates Nordau within a broader scientific and philosophical discourse of attentiveness (14–17). 60. For a discussion of this, see Iwan Rhys Morus, “‘The Nervous System of Britain’: Space, Time and the Electrical Telegraph in the Victorian Age,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 33, no. 4 (2000): 455–475. For more on the telegraph, see Bruce J. Hunt, “Doing Science in a Global Empire: Cable Telegraphy and Electrical Physics in Victorian Britain,” in Victorian Science in Context, ed. Bernard Lightman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 312–333. 61. Kai Eriksson, “Foucault, Deleuze, and the Ontology of Networks,” The European Legacy, 10, no. 6 (2005): 596. 62. To this end, Judith Halberstam continues the metaphor of the body, contending: “Othering in Gothic fiction scavenges from many discursive fields and makes monsters out of bits and pieces of science and literature: Gothic monsters are over-determined, and open therefore to numerous interpretations, precisely because they transform the fragments of otherness into one body.” Judith Halberstam, “Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’,” Victorian Studies, 36, no. 3 (1993): 337.


The Web of Realities in H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad: A Fractal Episteme

While Nordau and Kidd expressed consternation at the dispersal of meaning across an array of networks, other writers sought to establish new paradigms for modelling the construction of meaning. The newly networked world required a new episteme that could account for the fractal nature of the reality experience. The examples from the previous chapter described organisational knowledge networks as frameworks for dispersal and pulling apart as well as unifying and bringing together, so that reality is presented in a fractal state as a plurality, and credulity is granted despite, rather than because of, experience. As William Henry Wills puts it, the networked world is a “wondrous web of realities.”1 The web of realities thus becomes a newly imagined episteme available to writers operating at the end of the nineteenth century.2 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as we saw at the end of Chap. 7, emerges in the 1890s as an expression of a networked society. In terms of the web of realities, the novel makes two important distinctions. First, the technological mediation of documents emphasises the mediated (or symbolic) nature of the text, and this textual mediation reflects the more troubling mediation of subjective perception—there is not an “authentic document” because there is no way to objectively record the vampire, and so the record must necessarily consist of subjective, individual accounts. Whether this is a failing on the part of either the subjective observer or the supposedly objective machine is open to debate. Second, the novel makes clear that an © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_8




event, or set of events, can be understood through such fragments even if these fragments fail to attain the standards of objectivity demanded by scientific or legal rationalisms (both being represented by characters in the novel) and even if, ultimately, such understanding does not give a satisfactorily contained conclusion. These distinctions suggest a fractal episteme, in which knowledge is constructed from deferred, fragmentary, and subjective meanings which, composed by the individual observer, form a “web of realities.” Knowledge and meaning thus break free from narrative linearity and point to a hollowness in objective materialism. In scientific practice, the difficulty of singularity was closely related to the problem of the division between objective and subjective observation. In their history of objectivity, Daston and Galison begin with a powerful account of the Victorian scientist Arthur Worthington.3 During the 1870s and 1880s, Worthington pioneered the study of fluid dynamics by using millisecond light flashes to view the rapid motion of a drop of liquid splashing on a horizontal surface as a sequence of momentary stages. The after-images preserved on his retina from the flashes allowed Worthington to then sketch the stages in close detail. These sketches and accounts emphasised the symmetry of the splash patterns—a discovery dramatically overturned in 1894 when high-speed photographic technology had developed sufficiently to photograph the process and show its lack of symmetry. Looking back over his notes and sketches, Worthington was aware that he himself had observed many irregular or asymmetrical patterns but had treated them as anomalies or discrepancies, not even worthy of ­mentioning. Since each irregularity was singular and impossible to replicate, they were discounted, and an idealised symmetrical splash was presented in their stead. Daston and Galison use their account of this to show the shifting parameters between subjective and objective modes of perception. But the dramatic reversal in Worthington’s ideas about fluid dynamics was also emblematic of the more general fragmentation of the perceptual world, of the “fissure” that Armstrong denotes.4 Worthington’s earlier observations constructed ideal images from discrepancies and aberrations: they subsumed the singular and unique within a constructed system—a typology—of idealised splashes. The apparent objectivity of the machine—specifically, the photographic camera—dispelled the idealised system by insistently presenting the aberrant and singular. In a similar way, the sense that an individual might construct an accurate and coherent world view was dramatically undermined by the sheer force of technologically enabled perceptual data that was both dizzyingly multitudinous and perplexingly aberrant and singular. Creating a coherent world view required one either to assimilate pre-existing frameworks or



forge new ones comprised of these intensively irregular fragments. Such conditions thus gave rise to a new kind of writing that utilised a fractal episteme in order to make sense of fragments of data. This episteme becomes increasingly apparent at the turn of the century and will be discussed here in relation to H.G.  Wells’ short story, “A Slip Under the Microscope” (1894), and Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim (1901).

Systems of Knowledge and Loose Ideas Wells’ “A Slip Under the Microscope” appeared in The Yellow Book in January 1896. It follows the fortunes of William Hill, a scholarship student and cobbler’s son studying biology at university, as he vies against a wealthier classmate for both the glory of coming first in the college examinations and for the romantic attentions of a female classmate. The “slip” of the title refers to an incident during a crucial moment of a practical botany examination, in which the students must inspect a microscope slide  in order to sketch and identify a specimen. The slide is carefully positioned so that only a part of the specimen can be seen and the students are expected to recognise the whole from this partial view. Hill accidentally moves the slide out of position to reveal the full image, therefore “cheating” the examination. The titular “slip” also refers to the narrative scrutiny that Wells applies to Hill’s conscience as he vacillates about whether to admit his infraction. The first half of the story, which takes place before the examination, presents a world of students in which characters are interrelated via social and knowledge networks. Hill, for example, is a prominent figure in the debating club and is often involved in informal discussions with a close group of peers in the classroom. His dislike for his rival, Wedderburn, first arises after Wedderburn narrowly beats him to top ranking in the class, but is not caused by this—indeed, his feelings at this point are “generous, a certain admiration perhaps.”5 His relationship with Wedderburn is only turned into “vivid dislike” when he finds him at the end of classroom debating with their classmates as was notably Hill’s habit, thereby physically and intellectually supplanting Hill. This is a sudden transgression of Hill’s social network, and, we are told in puzzlement, “before Christmas Wedderburn had never gone up to that end of the room to talk” (89). Social networks become a matter of great concern for Hill. Unable to lure Wedderburn to the more advantageous space of the debating club where Hill might reassert his social and intellectual position, Hill worries bitterly that Wedderburn’s familial wealth and standing give him greater access to their shared love interest:



while Hill had to introduce himself and talk to Miss Haysman clumsily over mangled guineapigs in the laboratory, this Wedderburn, in some backstairs way, had access to her social attitudes, and could converse in a polished argot that Hill understood perhaps, but felt incapable of speaking. (91)

Networks might operate in different ways so that, for instance, Hill struggles to penetrate the social classes above him, since they use forms (language, manners, etc.) he cannot. He might vie with Wedderburn intellectually since the intellectual organisation of the college is, ostensibly at least, meritorious (Hill, after all, is a scholarship student), but he cannot compete in social terms since these networks are more rigid and operate using different criteria. Hill clearly understands the world through these kinds of networks. We are told that he is “a born generaliser”: Wedderburn to him was not so much an individual obstacle as a type, the salient angle of a class. The economic theories that, after infinite ferment, had shaped themselves in Hill’s mind, became abruptly concrete at the contact. The world became full of easy-mannered, graceful, gracefully dressed, conversationally dextrous, finally shallow Wedderburns. (91–92)

The social networks through which Hill perceives the world are informed by his economic knowledge and, indeed, his economic knowledge is informed by his social networks. From before the story begins, he has been distributing copies of William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890) among his peers and engaging them in socio-economic debates. Yet his social network limits his ideas because it presents him with little resistance. In regular discussions with his friend Thorpe, for instance, Hill argues “not only for Thorpe but for the casual passer-by” (86). His intellectual equal and rival, on the other hand, the anti-socialist Wedderburn, does not talk at “that end of the room” (89) and cannot attend the debating society “because—nauseous affectation!—he ‘dined late’” (91). In other words, Wedderburn refuses to engage in ways with which Hill can easily compete. This lack of direct confrontation is limiting, since it prevents any opportunity for Hill to learn or overcome the barriers that Wedderburn presents. Instead, Wedderburn’s lack of direct engagement seems to pointedly position the two rivals in separate networks by denying their intellectual connections and assiduously asserting the socio-cultural distance between them. Social and intellectual confrontation, which is denied here, remains



otherwise a vital force in expanding the compass of Hill’s knowledge. For example, Hill’s loan of News from Nowhere to Miss Haysman leads to a “series of cross loans,” in which she undertakes “what she told herself was his aesthetic education” (87). Miss Haysman introduces Hill to poetry, which, “upon some absurd first principle of his,” Hill had never “wasted his time” reading (87). Hill’s exclusion of poetry points to his teleological need to avoid purposelessness. During a discussion, he tells his classmates: “Science […] is systematic knowledge. Ideas that don’t come into the system—must anyhow—be loose ideas” (83). Poetry, presumably, is a collection of “loose ideas” and so must be excluded from a properly ordered system of knowledge.6 In keeping with the stereotypical scientist of nineteenth-century fiction, Hill is both a materialist and an atheist and declares: “There is one thing above matter […] and that is, the delusion that there is something above matter” (83). Yet his systemised knowledge is patently incomplete. The narrator makes clear that these students are still forming their ideas, and, once confronted with Miss Haysman’s loaned copy of a book by Browning, Hill then conducts a “magnificently sustained” attack on the poetry collection of the Landport library during the Christmas holiday, returning to the college ready to discuss it at length (88). Hill is not the only character whose knowledge is composed of discursive networks (Miss Haysman, for example, understands the relations of men and women “through Ruskin and contemporary fiction” [92]). Knowledge thus moves along networks as books are loaned and ideas discussed, and discourses of knowledge are formed, in which books suggest and imply other books. However, these networks can be limiting, potentially acting as echo chambers so that, for instance, Hill might perform both sides of his own argument. Confrontations and conjunctions between networks therefore are essential for knowledge to attain a balance of perspectives. The second part of the story, after the “slip,” is concerned with Hill’s ethical dilemma. The slip itself was an accident and passed unnoticed, so at the time he decides not to declare it to the examiner. Yet the event shifts in his memory: Memories are not dead things but alive; they dwindle in disuse, but they harden and develop in all sorts of queer ways if they are being continually fretted. […] as the days wore on his memory become confused about it, until at last he was not sure  – although he assured himself he was sure  – whether the movement had been absolutely involuntary. (95–96)



Past, present, and future perspectives of an event subjectively alter its meaning and, for Hill, turn innocence into guilt. In the end, he turns himself in, confessing it as an accident, only to be assigned guilt regardless of his protestations that it was accidental. Authoritative judgement in the story, presented in the form of the professor, does not recognise subjective phenomena such as intentions and voluntary agency, but concerns itself only with empirically observable actions and outcomes. Hill is therefore damned by the materialism he professes. If the story’s conclusion problematises objective judgements of law and morality, such problems occur more subtly elsewhere in the narrative. Hill’s dilemma is rendered unbearable to him because it makes him hypocritical— he has earlier expounded on both materialism and righteousness and is now caught in a falsehood that his own ethical reasoning then paradoxically finds ways to justify. His ethical rationalising thus gives way to the subjective feelings that drive it: his initial feeling that to admit his mistake immediately would unfairly cost him examination marks and his later feeling that his guilt is unbearable. The narrator points out that Hill’s confession is “moved, curiously enough, by exactly the same motive forces that had resulted in his dishonesty” (96). The apparent objectivity of rationalism is thus revealed to be a cover for emotional and highly subjective motivations. Wells’ story demonstrates some of the issues of perception and knowledge that surround a networked world. For example, the story unravels the supposed objectivity of rational logic to expose the importance and inescapability of subjective experience. “Loose ideas” that exist outside of positivist systems of knowledge are here figured as fundamental forces that can impel the individual’s movement through networks. In his rivalry with Wedderburn, Hill finds his social mobility checked by irrational socio-­cultural forms which he struggles to assimilate—there is even a heavy implication at the end of the story that Wedderburn actually intentionally cheated in the examination, but unlike Hill, he is not racked with guilt and is not found out. Hill’s confession is likely to result in the loss of his scholarship, thereby exchanging his upward socio-economic trajectory for another and cementing the inaccessibility of Wedderburn’s higher social stratum. The narrative operates within a similar episteme as that suggested by Dracula, since subjective perspectives (often implied rather than explicitly stated) form the bulk of narrative meaning. To exclude the multitude of subjective understandings would severely constrain one’s understanding of the truth of the incident and is precisely the cause of the heavy-­handed judgement that the professor seems to regret even as he



gives it. The story therefore subverts notions of empirical realism or a monolithic form of truth, replacing these with a model of knowledge that relies on fluidity across networks and pluralised subjective perspectives.

Reconstructing Experience in Lord Jim Like Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad also invented an imaginary machine: There is – let us say – a machine. It evolved itself […] out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! – it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider – but it goes on knitting […] And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident – and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it […] it is what it is – and it is indestructible! […] It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions – and nothing matters.7

Conrad’s machine, a nightmarish ordering of “chaos” through an externalised process (“without thought, without conscience”), mechanically, inexorably, controls all reality. The machine represents an enforced relocation of individual autonomy to machine autonomy, operating as a figure for external forces acting upon the individual consciousness. The individual is caught up in the machine, and subjective experience is subsumed by machine logic—in this sense this is comparable with Lewes’ printing press metaphor: Our knowledge respecting the sentient mechanism is still wretchedly imperfect, but, were it a hundredfold enlarged, it would still be objectively nothing more than watching a printing machine in operation, which would disclose how the sheets of paper were laid on the types and removed after the roller had passed over them, but would tell us nothing of how the types were set up, nor what was the significance of the printed words.8

With only the perceptions of empirical objectivity, the “sentient mechanism”—the subjective experiences of the individual—is invisible and, in the case of Wells’ story at least, excluded from the new systems of knowledge suggested by science.9 Conrad’s fiction in the 1890s contained a central tension between individual consciousness and external socio-cultural and economic forces and systems, often located between conceptions of history as a socio-cultural formation and history as a psychological narrative based on memory and



lived experience. This is a tension that was exacerbated by new technologies of recording and record-keeping, such as the phonograph, the photograph, moving films which ostensibly claimed to reproduce or preserve distinct moments in time, and technologies of communication which greatly increased the dissemination of these fragmented records.10 The historiographical problems of written texts that claim to constitute an accurate representation and interpretation of the past are intrinsically linked to the ontological and epistemological problems of an individual’s sense of temporal existence that, in part, is formed around a memory or interpretation of the past. Conrad’s Lord Jim provides a powerful example of how these abstract issues might be experienced on an individual psychological level. Similar to the final part of “A Slip Under the Microscope,” Conrad’s novel is concerned with the gulf between external and internal views of an action or moment, between a socio-cultural or objective perception and the subjective experience of a moment actually lived.11 These issues have continued to be prescient principally because of a continued collective desire to locate authenticity in a past that we find as disquietingly fragmented as our present. This is a desire that is fed by the continual promise, promoted by an alliance of capitalism and technology, of perfect fidelity to an objective reality in the representation and recording of the present as it becomes past. When photographs, films, and audio recordings do not preserve what we consider the actuality of the moment—that is, our experience of the moment—then we are instead faced with a myriad of technological reproductions that present fragments of that experience. It has been generally accepted that Conrad’s writing style, especially in his stories of the 1890s, intentionally problematises processes of perceptual understanding.12 The narrative styles of Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim intrinsically call into question the relationship between a narrator’s individual perception of an event and the socially understood meaning of the event. Lord Jim, in particular, especially in its first half, is a novel about constructing a meaningful understanding of an event, compiling both the “objective” judgement of a legal tribunal and an array of subjective accounts. That the event itself—the abandonment of the steamship Patna—is as much a non-event as an event (in that the imminent sinking supposed by the crew never occurred) is a complication further compounded by the narrative-within-a-narrative structure. That is, the story is a first-person narrative that tells of a character, Marlow, recounting the story of Jim, a young British sailor who was part of the Patna’s crew. Marlow’s spoken account of Jim is reconstructed from a number of



sources, mostly verbal witness accounts, tellingly beginning with Jim’s inability to convey his own experience: The facts those men [in the tribunal] were so eager to know had been visible, tangible, open to the senses, occupying their place in space and time, requiring for their existence a fourteen-hundred-ton steamer and twenty-­ seven minutes by the watch; they made a whole that had features, shades of expression, a complicated aspect that could be remembered by the eye, and something else besides, something invisible, a directing spirit of perdition that dwelt within […] He wanted to go on talking for truth’s sake […] and while his utterance was deliberate, his mind positively flew round and round the serried circle of facts that had surged up all about him to cut him off from the rest of his kind […].13

Here facts reconstituted in narrative by speech (or text) are distinguishable from facts that are “open to the senses” (the reality experience) so that, no matter how well the facts are understood, the gulf between facts and reality experience divides Jim from “his kind.” Narrative mediation imposes limits that contain experiential phenomena, separating the subjective experience from the objective understanding of it. Following on from the tribunal, Marlow helps Jim into employment as a trade representative in “Patusan,” a (fictional) remote island that exists outside of most Western expansion. Marlow follows Jim’s progress and continues acquiring testimonies, opinions, and additional facts about both Jim and the abandonment of the Patna. Marlow’s subsequent narrative can then be read as a personal quest to reclaim Jim’s history or, perhaps, to reclaim Jim from his history by the retelling of it in a way that similarly circles around the facts in a search for experiential meaning(s). This, emphatically, is a circular movement, “round and round the serried circle of facts,” rather than the linear trajectories of chronological fact sequencing that forms the conventional historiographical practices of legal, medical, and other discourses which take their authority from a presumed objectivity.14 Acting as a curator of facts, opinions, anecdotes, and experiences, Marlow functions like an author of fiction (or indeed of histories) to creatively order and, potentially in future tellings, reorder the chaos of fragments that make up the evidence. In effect, Marlow personifies the creative organising principle of narrative itself, and, in drawing attention to this principle through its central positioning within the novel, Conrad is reflexively meditating on its importance within a rapidly changing perceptual landscape. Marlow acts rather like a panorama artist, or like Carlyle’s



historian as artist, constructing a truth from the pieces of evidence. However, the truth Marlow requires—in particular, an u ­ nderstanding of how a man like Jim could fail in the manner he did (by abandoning the Patna)—is never fully defined or realised. It is the truth of a past experience which can never be properly recreated or replicated for examination but is only approachable in partial segments through facts, anecdotes, and memories. Marlow searches for authenticity as a way of accessing truth, but the evidence he collects is always partial so that truth is perpetually deferred. The world of the first part of the novel, the world of merchant ships criss-crossing the Earth’s seas, is a world that has been colonised and subsumed by the web of realities, the multitudinous networks of communication, commerce, governance, and transport. As a young sailor, Jim is a key actor in these networks. Marlow describes Jim’s defence of his abandonment of the Patna: “He had advanced his argument as though life had been a network of paths separated by chasms” (100). Like the students in Wells’ story, the young Jim’s world view, and navigation through life, is based on the divergent paths of a networked reality. He imagines the life of a sailor through the lens of adventure novels and sensationalised news stories. His social position itself is assured by his father’s social standing (he is an English parson’s son), but it is, ultimately, this social network that forces his exile since it is made clear that he cannot return to the respectability of middle England after his disgrace. Jim’s only apparent recourse is to find a place that exists outside of the networks that form his world. Not only must he leave the networked, colonial world, but Marlow struggles to connect with Jim through anything other than speech (which is itself impossible at times). Speech, despite developments in recording technologies, is still a way of circumventing the network flow of knowledge and its containment of experience into empirical observation. Unrecorded speech is fleeting, experiential, and thus difficult—even impossible—to compile or curate. Marlow’s evidence goes beyond that of the tribunal precisely because he seeks out verbal accounts. It is not without consequence that so many of the narratives and sources in Lord Jim are spoken. Shoshana Felman points out the importance of “testimony” as a spoken act: […] testimony does not offer […] a completed statement, a totalizable account of those events […] To testify – to vow to tell, to promise and ­produce one’s own speech as material evidence for truth – is to accomplish a speech act, rather than to simply formulate a statement.15



The inconclusiveness of speech is a recurrent theme in the novel, and Marlow’s spoken narrative privileges it as a method for expressing truths that circle around the facts, that are “open to the senses.” Within the epistemological framework of the novel, a totalised empirical view is not viable; what is needed is something that embraces the fluidity of actual memory and the multiplicity—the simultaneity of different, even contradictory, sensations and thoughts—of experience. Truth is a fugitive entity which cannot be pinned down but must be circled “round and round” as an indirect route to delineating its parameters. Spoken testimony, as a performative act, is more open to the fugitive nature of truth than the empirical records of tribunals. Marlow’s speech is more open to ambiguity, change, and differences of inflection or tone or emphasis in each telling, so that Marlow can reconstruct his history of Jim, while he is in the process of telling it. Speech can also be more recursive, can meander more wildly, and has a lower requirement for linear coherency than written texts. Lord Jim thus presents Marlow’s testimony as a performative function of historical memory. Marlow uses the mutable performances of spoken narratives to diffuse and destabilise a concrete body of interpretive historical certainty. The interpretation that Marlow fights against is the collective, social history of the event as decided in the tribunal, not only by the tribunal’s official record but also the collective remembering of its vast audience which, we are told, contained “everybody connected in any way with the sea” (29). Resembling Lewes’ printing press, the tribunal is described as an empirical shell over an unknown subjective interior: it is “as instructive as the tapping with a hammer on an iron box, were the object to find out what’s inside” (45). Conversely, Marlow’s own record primarily explores Jim’s psychological aspect and focusses on subjective accounts. Marlow explains: The thing was always with me, I was always eager to take opinion on it, as though it had not been practically settled: individual opinion – international opinion – by Jove! That Frenchman’s, for instance. His own country’s pronouncement was uttered in the passionless and definite phraseology a machine would use, if machines could speak. (122)

Truth in Lord Jim is never settled or decided. It cannot be pinned down or defined. Rather, truth must be circled around, approached through the meandering vectors of subjective recollection and memory. The a­ pparently



settled version of historical truth given by the tribunal is machine-­like and “passionless” precisely because it lacks the conviction of lived experience— the human element of personal memory and the wholeness of an actual moment with all its myriad facets and possibilities—it is simply history understood via the simplified signs of a real thing (the words that signify the event, the images that signify an event, the dominant socio-­cultural values imposed on the event, etc.). In the passage immediately preceding this description of the machine-­ like authorities, Marlow visually dislocates himself from his physical surroundings using technological references: […] the streets full of jumbled bits of colour like a damaged kaleidoscope: yellow, green, blue, dazzling white, the brown nudity of an undraped shoulder, a bullock-cart with a red canopy, […] Under the shade of a lonely tree in the courtyard, the villagers connected with the assault case sat in a picturesque group, looking like a chromolithograph of a camp in a book of Eastern travel. (121)

The technological references do not simply illustrate the description, they actively shape it so that the language mimics the kind of view perceptible through the technology. Marlow takes the kaleidoscope—prominently used earlier in the century as a metaphor for the cognitive ordering of reality (see Chap. 5)—and deconstructs its image from coherent whole into a fragmented jumble of colour. The metaphorical kaleidoscope is “damaged” precisely because of the networking of perceptual reality discussed in the previous chapter. Each piece of perceptual data, all the “bits of colour,” is pulled apart by their technological reproduction rather than compiled into coherency. The reproducibility of perceptual reality reduces it into discrete fragments of empirical data but does not—cannot—convey these disparate parts as experiential phenomena. For instance, the villagers, who are connected with an assault case being heard after Jim’s case, are viewed via the reductive, and explicitly colonial, mode of a chromoli­ thograph. The colonial implication of the simile (“like a chromolithograph of a camp in a book of Eastern travel”) is important to this example since it positions the reduced fragment within a network of knowledge—along the lines of what Thomas Richards terms the “imperial archive”—one that necessitates reductions (the various processes of othering, not least of which was a form of reification in which individuals are viewed as subjects and/or objects).16 Networked knowledge, facilitated by the perceptual



f­ragmentation caused by technological reproduction, thus threatens to confine and restrain the singular subjectivity of the individual within a designated position in what Kidd called “the helpless flotsam and jetsam of [networked] society.”17 Critical readings of Lord Jim have often focussed on Stein, a “wealthy and respected merchant” with a “large inter-island business, with a lot of trading posts established in the most out-of-the-way places for collecting the produce” (154). Stein controls colonial trading routes which, implicitly, are also routes for transport and communication. He is, notably, also a respected entomologist with a collection of beetles and butterflies. Known through commercial networks, he is a respected merchant; known through the network of entomological knowledge, he is known to “learned persons in Europe, who could have had no conception, and certainly would not have cared to know anything, of his life or character” (155). Conversely, Marlow knows Stein as an individual man with both “life” and “character,” and so he can resolve both reductive views into a subjective totality most fully expressed in Marlow’s trust in Stein. Critical views of Stein have tended to consider him within the networks in which he operates—as a commercial merchant or as an entomologist and scientist. Most notably, Fredric Jameson argues that Stein, as a butterfly collector, is “essentially a collector of images,” and he reads this occupation as an allegory for Conrad’s “choice of impressionism,” in which the arrest of “the living raw material of life” is a rejection of its historical situation in order to “preserve it, beyond time, in the imaginary,” thus constituting an “ideology of the image.”18 Stein’s butterfly collecting in Jameson’s account becomes a metaphor for artistic practice: the subjective organising principle of the individual mind scrutinising the object (art object, natural object, scientific object—the butterfly is all of these) turns into a dehistoricising process synonymous with death. One of the interesting things about Stein’s entomological practice is that he removes a living being from its natural existence and places it statically within an empirically determined network, and this process involves killing the creature. Both butterfly and beetle become objects to be catalogued and categorised, existing as little more than signs within a scientifically networked world. This is, essentially, the same process by which Jim is judged in the first part of the novel. The second part of the novel seeks to extricate Jim from these webs and reaffirm his individuality. We can see similar movements between networks and away from networks in other nineteenth-century novels. In the mirror scenes of Our



Mutual Friend (see Chap. 7), the movement from semantic to physical networks is pointedly jarring. In Lord Jim, Conrad’s impressionistic language draws attention to the system of representation at work—the subjective organising principle, the apparently objective organisation instigated by socio-cultural system or, in effect, Dickens’ mirror. This use of language operates as a discursive ploy to subvert reductive systemic presentations of “truth” (as in the tribunal or in the various ways in which Stein is introduced—as merchant, entomologist, and, finally, individual) in order to instate a primacy of the individual in determining truth. Conrad’s narrative is a renegotiation of the perceptual and narrative relation between self and world, subject and object, and affirms the primary importance of the singular, individual creative will. When Marlow notices Stein’s butterflies, he “respected the intense, almost passionate absorption,” but he is not absorbed himself (158). He guesses at Stein’s imaginative gaze: “as though […] he could see other things, an image of something as perishable and defying destruction as these delicate and lifeless tissues displaying a splendour unmarred by death” (158). Marlow, like the reader, cannot see the things that exist only in Stein’s creative vision. The external must, ultimately, give way to the internal and the imaginative. Stein’s butterflies may function chiefly as images, but the individual who chooses and curates those images maintains the ultimate control over their consumption. His imaginative experience of them is a singular occurrence that resides exclusively within himself, in the same way that the stereoscopic images in Chap. 6 were experienced in unique, imaginative ways. Stein’s gaze as an entomologist is scientific, but, as Tiffany Tsao points out, “there remains a strong element of the strange and mysterious.”19 The fundamental attraction of the beautiful, the exotic, the strange, or the mysterious lies underneath the scientific or the technological, even where it adds to or supplements them. In Lord Jim, the primacy of these individual, subjective qualities, and their inaccessibility to the external viewer are what drive the narrative forwards. The novel is formed around Marlow’s attempt to understand and to know Jim; it is the rehearsal of a process by which an organising, subjective self makes attempts to comprehend the external, and it is an articulation of the difficulties inherent in any narrative understanding of the chaos of reality. The novel confronts the fragmentation and chaos caused by rapid sociocultural changes and, in its pluralistic conception of truth, suggests a fractal episteme—a model of knowledge that is organised as a series of alternations, that turns each reductive generalisation into a scale of



i­nfinitesimally detailed revisions, moving from the empirical to the subjective and experiential. The subjective truths of Marlow’s narrative gravitate around the simple facts confirmed at the tribunal—opinions and anecdotes complement but do not replace the objective views Marlow finds dissatisfying. If the past, viewed through history, seemed increasingly inaccessible, this was only made more problematic by developing understandings of psychologies of memory. In Wells’ story, memory fluctuates under the pressure of emotional feeling, even to the point that the meaning or details of an event are changed entirely (the accidental becoming intentional, for instance). Memory, the individual’s most fundamental link between past and present, is as problematic as written history, if not even more so, given its obvious reliance on the subjective processes of the human mind. This view of memory as unreliable and unstable was not unusual, and it often presupposed a view that there is an objective truth which underpinned the formations and contortions of memory.20 Marlow’s story begins with the authoritative account given by the tribunal and forms itself around this, seeking to flesh it out, to dive below the empirical surface and uncover the subjective truths (which are necessarily plural). Because of this beginning, Marlow’s discourse maintains its sense of reliability—the reader has a record against which to compare subjective accounts from memory. However, Marlow’s account itself is spoken from memory and thus has its own issues in maintaining objective reliability. In Heart of Darkness (in which Marlow also acts as storyteller), Conrad’s unnamed narrator says of Marlow’s storytelling: […] to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.21

The meaning of Marlow’s tales, his “seaman’s yarns,” lies not in the direct meanings of the words but in the meanings that surround such concrete directness with the vagueness of ghosts or of light. The importance of the speech act, as opposed to the comparatively static record of the written word, is paramount here. Marlow’s tales are oral histories and, as such, are open to authorial change even at the moment of reception. Though the audience remains largely silent (in so far as readers can tell), there is an implicit dialogue between Marlow and his listeners. The story Marlow



tells—and the manner in which he tells it—is fixed only for that particular audience and within the mood of that specific moment. The multifaceted and shifting nature of the story in Lord Jim is implied, for instance, when we are told “many times, in distant parts of the world, Marlow showed himself willing to remember Jim, to remember him at length, in detail and audibly” (27). The written story we are actually reading fixes this in a similar manner to that in which the chromolithograph fixes its only partially meaningful scene. It is as though the reader is presented with the glow but the haze can only be hinted at, so that we are not even given the record of a specific time that Marlow has told the story. Instead, we are presented with a potential, a likely way in which it may have (or may yet) occur: Perhaps it would be after dinner, on a verandah draped in motionless foliage and crowned with flowers, in the deep dusk speckled by fiery cigar-ends. The elongated bulk of each cane-chair harboured a silent listener. Now and then a small red glow would move abruptly, and expanding light up the fingers of a languid hand, part of a face in profound repose, or flash a crimson gleam into a pair of pensive eyes overshadowed by a fragment of an unruffled forehead; and with the very first word uttered Marlow’s body, extended at rest in the seat, would become very still, as though his spirit had winged its way back into the lapse of time and were speaking through his lips from the past. (27–28)

The audience is silent and almost invisible, lit up only in fragments that disrupt the static homogeneity of the “deep dusk.” These details are important, even though they are not granted the concrete solidity of an actual occurrence, because they create the conditions of the dialogue. The dialogue itself is tense because it seems to rely on some unseen properties, imperceptible to our unnamed narrator, having ruled out sound and vision as media for communication in these moments before the story begins. Instead, something almost mystical occurs as Marlow’s body becomes unanimated (the reverse process of an automaton or mechanical device) and he speaks “as though his spirit had winged its way back into the lapse of time.” The disassociation of his “spirit” from his “lips,” which are utilised distantly (“from the past”) and mechanically (his “spirit” having left his body and needing it only for the physical process of speech), is a deliberate detachment of selfhood from physical presence at the start of a story, in which this relationship is fundamentally problematic. It is also the disassociation of narrative imagination and memory from perceptible



physical function at a historical moment in which new technologies were asserting a dominant role in human communication.22 Language, as an act of both communication and understanding, lies at the heart of the difficulties faced in Lord Jim. The Jim presented to the reader is curated and compiled from a series of written and spoken ­narratives. Marlow is acutely aware of the power involved in this. At a crucial stage of Jim’s development directly after the tribunal, Marlow must decide whether to tell Jim of a job offer made by his acquaintance, Chester, but finds himself unable to speak at all, instead forcing himself to continue writing his letters: I found out how difficult it may be sometimes to make a sound. There is a weird power in a spoken word […] All at once, on the blank page, under the very point of the pen, the two figures of Chester and his antique partner, very distinct and complete, would dodge into view with stride and gestures, as if reproduced in the field of some optical toy. I would watch them for a while. No! They were too phantasmal and extravagant to enter into any one’s fate. And a word carries far—very far—deals destruction through time as the bullets go flying through space. I said nothing; and he, out there with his back to the light, as if bound and gagged by all the invisible foes of man, made no stir and made no sound. (133–134)

After the tribunal, in which Jim finds speech incapable of expressing the lived experience of the case beyond the known facts, he is isolated “from the rest of his kind” (26). Language is required to reintegrate him into society, but Marlow, feeling the weight of its import, struggles to find the correct language or the correct action. Noticeably, one of the judges, Brierly, whom Marlow speaks with “for the last time” during the tribunal, shortly thereafter jumps mysteriously into the sea (52). The mate tells Marlow: “This was the last time I heard his voice […] These are the last words he spoke in the hearing of any living human being, sir” (49). Language as speech seems to contain some inexpressible notion of social relations. Just as social relations become difficult or a dislocation occurs, so too does speech (so that in Brierly’s case the absolute dislocation of subject from society caused by death is expressed as a silencing of speech). Ideas are instead presented as images, “too phantasmal and extravagant to enter into anyone’s fate,” and so Marlow “said nothing,” and Jim “made no sound,” leaving the problem unresolved. Society has taken its objective view of Jim and has cast him into social exile. The tribunal’s view of Jim is flat and without the colour of lived



experience, like the chromolithograph which accurately portrays a real instance in “a camp in a book of Eastern travel,” but which is only a single, potentially staged, instance and creates a limited, clichéd idea of the camp. It is history without memory. Marlow seeks the truth of experience and this must intrinsically revolve around memories. Words, as a medium for the “translation” or integration of the self into the world, are an unresolved problem. They are simultaneously a “sheltering conception of light and order which is our refuge” in a world that “seemed to wear a vast and dismal aspect of disorder” (239) and also a “weird power” that “deals destruction through time” (133). This problem with language is again seen in the alienated misunderstanding between Jim and Jewel that, in Chap. 33, hinges on a repeated speech act: “Both of us had said the very same thing. Did we both speak the truth—or one of us did—or neither?” (244). Since Marlow’s history is oral, when Marlow questions the spoken “truth” here, it rings throughout the narrative. Is this the truth or is there another truth? This is a history that is not “practically settled” (122), and individual opinion—reliant on individual memory—is a foundation for a range of unsettled and irresolute truths. Events become ambiguous as they are translated from lived experiences into words. This, the difficulty of transferring lived experience into either a memory or history that meets the demands of empirical truth, remains the central difficulty of the text. Jim’s problem of conferring his experience to the tribunal is the same problem that Marlow strives to overcome, first in composing Jim’s history and second in conveying it. This problem is revisited in a different way in Heart of Darkness, which concludes with Marlow returning to London to meet with the widow of Kurtz, the violently cruel commander of an isolated African ivory trading post. Faced with questions from Kurtz’s widow in London, Marlow struggles to answer, initially lying by omission and then lying outright as she asks what Kurtz’s last words had been. Marlow’s reticence and dishonesty are attempts to avoid undoing her ordered life, through refraining from telling her an unpleasant truth. Yet this is complicated by Marlow’s problematic silence to his well-connected aunt whose ignorance, as Ashley Chantler points out, is potentially “dangerous,” since she represents an influential part of the public who sanction the imperial and colonial project.23 Thus, “the inauthentic can harm; speaking what one really thinks can save.”24 The usefulness of truth (and the different kinds of truth) changes depending on the context. Order, if it comes from the narrative uses of words, must change depending on the audience and the intention. That is, order is only viable when negotiated in relation to



the individual: systemisations of knowledge, of truth, of communication must take into account the singularity of individual moments and people. Conrad’s narratives stake a claim for individual autonomy alongside (and not necessarily in conflict with) the organising systems of society. In effect, Lord Jim presents a character, Marlow, acting out the process of historical enquiry that Nordau critiques: […] he [Émile Zola, as an example of a ‘pretentious historian’] selected by subjective inclination, with reference to an end subjectively conceived, a few aspects of actuality, which he then linked together as it suited him, and interpreted in accordance with his own idea.25

Marlow’s process is an active, fluid attempt to find narrative order and, meaning, “out of a chaos of scraps,” but, unlike a painted panorama, it does not hide, deny, or disguise those scraps. Rather, it presents them as its corroboration, as the evidence that it has gone beyond the mere finding out of facts (as in the tribunal) and beyond a limited re-presentation (as in the chromolithograph). The ordering processes of history writing, fiction writing, memory, and imagination are all combined into a single narrative process in which it is possible and acceptable for the speaker, without losing authority or claim to truth, to be simultaneously an arbiter of fact, a spirit speaking remotely from the past, a storyteller, a curator of anecdote, opinion, and rumour, and even a character within his own story. Conrad’s novel operates as a reconciliation of an individual’s need for ordered understanding with the perceptually and conceptually fragmented state of late Victorian culture. This preoccupation with words, with history, with memory and experience, brings the argument of the present study back to its beginning. In Chap. 1, it was seen that Coleridge considered writing the “primary art,” consisting of “a translation of man into nature, of a substitution of the visible for the audible.”26 Writing in Lord Jim sits on the border, not between humankind and nature, but between the individual and society. When Marlow feels a disconnection between these two entities, then words fail him, and he falls back on visual technologies to convey his detached perception. This reliance on “optical toys” at moments of linguistic uncertainty relates to a technologically fragmented world in which the chief organising principal—language—can potentially fail to connect the dissonant parts. Words are, in other words, the “sheltering conception of light and order which is our refuge” in a world that, at times, “seemed



to wear a vast and dismal aspect of disorder” (239). Marlow’s use of kaleidoscopic narrative (in which the kaleidoscope is “broken”), of phantasmal shapes reminiscent of “optical toys,” and of photographic references fragments and distorts the narrative so that no certain single view is possible. Instead, a pluralised, fractal model of knowledge-forming is presented as the only way to access truths that are inextricable from subjective experiences.

Notes 1. William Henry Wills, “The Golden City,” Household Words, 29 June 1850, 313. 2. My aim here is not to contribute to what Ketabgian calls a critical “antiindustrial stance” in which technology is presented as antithetical to the true, human aims of novelists. Rather, the fictional episteme explored in this chapter makes clear use of technologies and machines in order to circumvent exactly this kind of antithesis. Such an episteme roughly correlates with the “trained judgement” that Daston and Galison identify in early twentieth-century science. According to Daston and Galison, in the opening years of the twentieth century, the inability of mechanical “blind sight” to account for anomaly and to define normative bounds generated a development of “physiognomic sight” which, not unlike the fractal episteme I find in 1890s’ fiction, required the observer to actively “synthesise, highlight, and grasp relationships in ways that were not reducible to mechanical procedure.” See Ketabgian, 6–11; Daston and Galison, 314. 3. See Daston and Galison, 11–16. 4. Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds, 153–154. 5. H.G. Wells, “A Slip Under the Microscope,” in The Country of the Blind and other Selected Stories, ed. Patrick Parrinder with notes by Andy Sawyer (London: Penguin, 2007), 89. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 6. One might think here of other literary figures who improved their social standing through learning, such as Bradley Headstone in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, whose knowledge is all “mechanically” acquired and reproduced (218). 7. Joseph Conrad, Letter to R.B.  Cunninghame Graham, 20 December 1897, in vol. 1 of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, ed. Frederick R.  Karl and Laurence Davies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 425. 8. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 76.



9. The increasing specialisation of the sciences in this period might also be considered in terms of systems and networks. 10. Conrad’s relationship to technological and scientific advances was often of an interested but critical sceptic. For a general overview, see Matthew Rubery, “Science and Technology,” in Joseph Conrad in Context, ed. Allan H. Simmons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 237–244; Tiffany Tsao, “Conrad and Exploratory Science,” The Conradian, 33, no. 1 (2008): 43–56. 11. Cedric Watts makes this point about Lord Jim in A Preface to Conrad (London: Longman, 1982), 128–129. 12. This is a recurrent idea in critical views of Conrad’s fiction. Edward W. Said succinctly explains it: “Between the recollecting narrator and the actual tale there is a barrier that is eternally closed.” Ian Watt adds that Conrad “often used delayed decoding” in order to represent the process in which “the semantic gap between the sensations aroused in the individual by an object or event, and their actual cause or meaning, was slowly closed in his consciousness.” See Edward W.  Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), 88; Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979), 270. See also, John G.  Peters, Conrad and Impressionism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 41–42. 13. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, ed. Allan H.  Simmons (London: Penguin Classics, 2007), 29. Subsequent in-text page citations are to this edition. 14. Reuben Sanchez argues that Conrad’s narrative progresses in a circular manner oppositional to the apparently linear motion of history, reflecting what Sanchez sees as Jim’s rejection of fact. This might be considered in relation with the historiographical practices that were discussed in Chap. 4. See Reuben Sanchez, “Conrad’s ‘Serried Circle of Facts’ in Lord Jim,” Conradiana, 43, no. 1 (2011): 61–83. 15. Shoshana Felman, “Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching,” in Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (London: Routledge, 1992), 5. 16. Thomas Richards considers Joseph Conrad as an exception to a trend he identifies of Victorian writers contributing to a collective fantasy of a “coherent imperial whole” (7). See Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993). 17. Kidd, Social Evolution, 7. Kidd’s vision of networked society is discussed alongside Nordau in the previous chapter. 18. Jameson, The Political Unconscious, 238. 19. Tsao, “Conrad and Exploratory Science,” 46–47. 20. In her account of the psychological discourse of the period, Suzy Anger, for example, notes: “coupled with the emphasis on memory’s deficiencies



is the frequently articulated belief that there is (or was) a real way that things happened and that we must learn how to counter memory’s misinterpretations in order to get it right.” Suzy Anger, Victorian Interpretation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), 170. 21. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, ed. Paul B. Armstrong, Norton Critical Edition, 4th ed. (London: Norton, 2006), 5. 22. Pamela Thurschwell gives a fascinating reading of Henry James’ novella In the Cage (1898) about a telegraph office alongside James’ relationship with his secretary, Theodora Bosanquet, to argue that communication technologies such as the telegraph and the typewriter were crucial in “creating transgressive fantasies of access to others who would otherwise be inaccessible.” Pamela Thurschwell, Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 87. 23. Ashley Chantler associates the aunt with the readers of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine who have been “manipulated” by “false reports, propaganda, lies, the regurgitated.” See Ashley Chantler, “From Cowper to Conrad: Authenticity at the End of the Century,” in Literature and Authenticity, 1780–1900: Essays in Honour of Vincent Newey, ed. Ashley Chantler, Michael Davies, Philip Shaw (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 185. 24. Chantler, “From Cowper to Conrad,” 185. 25. Nordau, Interpretation of History, 17. 26. Coleridge, “On Poesy or Art,” 216.


Conclusion. The Technological Imagination II: The Start of the Twentieth Century

At the start of the twentieth century, the magician-turned-film-maker, Georges Méliès directed a short film, La Lanterne Magique (The Magic Lantern) (1903), which begins with Pierrot and Punch building a giant candlelit magic lantern. They use this giant lantern to project moving images onto the wall like a film projector (Fig.  9.1). They next deconstruct the magic lantern to reveal a troupe of dancing girls (Fig.  9.2) before Harlequin and Columbine appear from inside the magic lantern which now operates like a magic box. Punch and Pierrot then fight over Columbine, resulting in the arrival of soldiers to reinstate order. The two main characters flee into the magic lantern, reappearing transformed as a sort of jack-in-the-box that causes the soldiers to flee. The film ends with the return of the dancing girls (now recostumed as ballet dancers) dancing around the jack. At the same time that it establishes the role of its new medium, the film reflects back on older media, marking the transition from one visual mode to another. In the film, the magic lantern, initially upgraded to film projector, transforms into a magic box that facilitates a fantasy of magical appearances and transfigurations. The film is set within a child’s playroom (giant toy animals, for instance, are visible in the background), and the characters are recognisable as life-sized versions of well-known toys (Pierrot, Punch, Harlequin, Columbine, toy soldiers, ballerinas, etc.) so that the magic lantern is contextualised as a child’s optical toy. It retains its capacity for © The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0_9




Fig. 9.1  Georges Méliès. La Lanterne Magique [The Magic Lantern]. 1903

Fig. 9.2  Georges Méliès. La Lanterne Magique [The Magic Lantern]. 1903



magic (and disorder and chaos) but only as a children’s show. The magic lantern is, perhaps, as dated as the tropes of the traditional toys. However, in making the device into a projector of moving images, the film positions early cinema within a lineage that includes the magic lantern and traditional theatrical entertainments (as referenced by the traditional characters). In this way, the film appropriates the sense of magic and wonder that once belonged to the magic lantern. The literal deconstruction of the magic lantern to bring forth and transform characters, driving the loose plot, is a visual declaration of film’s supposedly greater power to generate experiences. The magic lantern image appears flat and distant, viewed on the screen within the screen, whereas the characters leaping out of the magic box are dynamic, exciting, and immediate. These characters are pointedly outside the on-screen screen and exist only on the much more transparent physical screen on which the real viewer sees them. Moving film, Méliès seems to be saying, fits within a recognisable technological and theatrical lineage, but it can create a sensationally more real experience, even of fantastical subjects, than previous media and shows. Rather than the flat, dislocated past represented on the lantern, it is the magic of film that brings characters and stories to life. This is, of course, an exaggeration, even an illusion, of the cinematic process— the images still appear on screens and so forth. What cinema actually offers is less ambitious. Rather than a genuine experience (the leaping of characters out from the film projector/magic lantern/magic box), the images (and, later, sounds) are as ghostly as the original phantasmagoria, since they, too, can only mimetically repeat the outward signs of past moments (real or imaginary). The most acute difference between magic lantern and film is the more perfect deception of the observer in believing the illusion, not the nature of the image itself. However, many of the visual modes that were popular in the nineteenth century were subsumed by the nascent dominance of moving film. (In addition to producing these kinds of ­fantastical films, Méliès, as an excellent example, also produced a series of panoramic films of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.1) If we can see traces of the magic lantern in early cinema, it is only as a benchmark for how much media were changing in this period—even in a film like Méliès’, which is ostensibly about a magic lantern, the distance between this now old-fashioned entertainment and the new medium of moving film is made obvious. The technological rationalisation of the imagination becomes hegemonic; by this stage, the role of technologies in the everyday imagination is developed to the point at which new



t­echnologies are referring to old technologies so that the magic of Méliès’ films is as likely to involve a telescope, a magic lantern, or a rocket ship, as to involve a magician or ghost.2 One might think here of the pervasive concern for such technological rationalisation in the manifestos of the Modernist art movements. For example, Henri Bergson’s 1907 description of the artist conceptually “decomposing and recomposing” space. Or, in 1908, Alexander Blok’s call for a more nature-conscious “elemental people” in contradistinction to the “advocates of progress,” declaring: “Human nature becomes more and more rigid, mechanized, more and more resembles a gigantic laboratory.” Or, later, the futurist devotion to mechanised speed, with Umberto Boccioni and his associates contending that art should no longer present a fixed moment but “the dynamic sensation of itself.”3 Virginia Woolf, after watching the German impressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), was inspired enough to write an essay musing on the artistic potential of this new medium as a new form of expression. In particular, Woolf cites an example of film’s difference from literature: at a performance of Dr. Caligari the other day a shadow shaped like a tadpole suddenly appeared at one corner of the screen. It swelled to an immense size, quivered, bulged, and sank back again into nonentity. For a moment it seemed to embody some monstrous diseased imagination of the lunatic’s brain. For a moment it seemed as if thought could be conveyed by shape more effectively than by words. The monstrous quivering tadpole seemed to be fear itself, and not the statement ‘I am afraid.’4

Compare Woolf’s observations with mid-Victorian descriptions of microscope demonstrations, and clear similarities surface. Such examples mark a profound shift towards new forms of media, but they also retain traces which we can recognise from the Victorians—fragmentation, dispersal, and composition are transformed into dynamism, fluidity, and “decomposing and recomposing,” while artists still argue over the position of their craft alongside a hegemonic cultural teleology. Nineteenth-century cultural discourses of vision and the imagination became obsolete or evolved, and new discourses formed as media, society, and culture moved on, but the fundamental relationship that underpinned them—the coupling of technology and imagination—was as important as ever. Nineteenth-century discourses of vision were not autocratic discourses that necessarily imposed, constrained, or disciplined individuals. Rather, visual modes and discourses were altered and transformed through differ-



ent contexts and under the influence of different individuals. The examples drawn upon in the last seven chapters suggest that, in this period at least, the discourses surrounding media technologies were freely adopted and manipulated by individual producers of cultural artefacts (i.e. writers and artists). Any systemic elements of control or discipline thus tend to be mitigated by the singularities of individual agency. Visual technologies generated imaginative virtual spaces in which images were externally ­provided (or imposed), but they were also spaces in which the individual observer brought his or her own ideas and in which these ideas could be shaped and developed even as new ones were prompted. Even at the point at which fears of social, cultural, national, and racial decline were vocalised by writers like Nordau and Kidd, other writers such as Conrad and Wells found new models for knowledge and agency which sought to circumvent such fears. The visual discourses discussed in the preceding chapters, and others like them, operated as tools for articulating and conceiving particular kinds of perception. In this manner, they offered a range of movement, conceptual and expressive, that was analogous to that of language itself. Whereas a language may be considered to school or discipline its users into certain ways of thinking or expression (e.g. specific nuances of lexical or syntactical construction), those users are not necessarily limited or constrained by these conventions. Indeed, dexterity between conventions becomes celebrated so that, for instance, language users may play on or with well-known phrases, invent new lexicon, and otherwise manipulate and adapt linguistic forms. In a similar manner, while some writers and artists may follow quite clear conventions and forms, and while some readers and viewers may experience media uncritically, others can be seen to critique, combine, alter, and extend these conventions and technologies in imaginative and individual ways. In 1861, the Illustrated London News reported the closure of Wyld’s Globe in Leicester Square: It seems, indeed, that Mr. Wyld’s geometrical, dioramical, panoramical palace is to be pulled down, and the multifarious collection of curiosities dispersed. What is to become of the area? What, indeed, is to become of Leicester-square altogether? Are the cloud-capped towers of the Alhambra, the gorgeous pinnacles, the riotous temples of poses plastiques and cafés chantants  – the Great Globe itself  – all to dissolve, and, like the baseless fabric of a vision leave nothing but a placard of ‘Rubbish may be shot here’ behind?5



The writer draws ironically on the illusory nature of these often grand and imposing buildings and constructions and their shows, as well as the sense of unreality created by their discord with the rest of London. The whole of Leicester Square, this article suggests, was nothing but a dream and, as such, could fade and dissolve with barely a trace. The description concentrates on the architectural, but its concern stems from the imaginary—the dream-like effects of these strange temples, palaces, towers, and curiosities. Implicit within the question of physical dissolution is a deeper question about symbolic dissolution. Will the ways of seeing and perceiving the world embodied in these physical spaces also dissolve? Ten years earlier, the same newspaper had proclaimed: “Our great authors are now artists. They speak to the eye, and their language is fascinating and impressive.”6 Now it seemed as though part of that language was to dissolve. We can see this sentiment reflected elsewhere in Conrad’s “damaged kaleidoscope” or in invocations of the magic lantern that is “broken up.”7 In the mid-century, Albert Smith lamented an earlier shift in visual-technological interest: The magic-lantern will be cast aside for the gas microscope; and our old and once-loved friends, the devil and the baker, the tiger that rolls his eyes, and the birds that fly out of the pie, will at last vanish away to nothing in reality; before the magnified attractions of the claws of the Dytiscus Marginalis, the wing of the Libellula, or the wriggling abominations of a drop of dirty water.8

Discourses naturally evolve over time, but they can also “vanish away to nothing,” just as the technologies and spectacles that inspire them may be “cast aside.” The start of the twentieth century brought with it a host of new technologies that ultimately replaced those of the previous hundred years. The panorama, the magic lantern, and the stereoscope would gradually disappear from popular culture as new technologies took their place. Some vestigial traces, however, still remain of these technologies and the discourses that surrounded them, even in the twenty-first century. The nineteenth-century tradition of using Wren’s Monument as a viewing point for London, for example, continues to this day: in the 2007–2009 refurbishment project, the artist Chris Meigh-Andrews fitted a 360-degree camera to the top in order to provide a fully panoramic image. These panoramic images were then turned into a time-lapse sequence viewable online.9 Similarly, you might, for example, watch the BBC current affairs



series Panorama (1953–continuing) or the American television series Futurama (1999–2013). Interestingly, the latter was named after General Motors’ popular exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which—in a reverse of Morley’s Victorian panoramic journey back to the dawn of time (see Chap. 2)—imagined the future transport systems of the United States in 1960. Sitting on moving benches equipped with built-in speakers to provide explanations of each element, audiences were transported to what a contemporary review called a “tourist’s paradise” with this “Elysium” explained by a “disembodied angel.”10 The technologies here were new, but the sense of physical, temporal, and spiritual transportation—and the elevated overview which the exhibit provided—was little changed from the panoramas of a hundred years prior. Three years before the New York World’s Fair and half a world away, Walter Benjamin developed his concept of the “aura” in an essay that is still a vital resource for twenty-first-century scholarship: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced.11

Part of the effect enacted in the technological rationalisation of the imagination is that the work of art loses its singularity, its unique tie to a unique experience. As a more recent critic has put it, “phenomenon is decoupled from thing”—a single phenomenon (artwork, voice, image, steam power) can be experienced in a multitude of ways that do not require a unique presence but only an instance (print reproduction, phonograph, photograph, a steam engine which might have any number of applications).12 The enduring significance of Benjamin’s ideas indicates how pressing these issues remain, yet it is possible to trace Benjamin’s questions about authenticity and value back to Romantic divisions of the “material sublime” from the true sublime. The dominant forms of technological imaginary media in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (photography, film, television) position themselves alongside the real, not as a realism (which seeks to provide a mediated representation of reality) but as a seemingly unmediated preservation, reproduction of, or even surrogate for, reality.



Such a relation goes all the way back to Louis Daguerre’s announcement that in his invention nature is not merely drawn but “reproduce[s] herself.”13 Then again, there has never been a complete naïve acceptance of this claim, although there remains a tacit assumption—casually made and easily denounced, but pervasively present nonetheless—that technological reproduction equates to authentic, even experiential truth, if not in exactitude, at least in symbolic value. To be sure, this assumption might be disrupted or critiqued, but it still tends to be the norm against which we judge technological artefacts. There are, of course, profound differences between the historical contexts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet at the point of technological reception, at the interface between individual and world, the fissures between individual and system, objectivity and subjectivity, singular and universal, remain broadly rooted in their nineteenth-century forbears. The virtual media of the nineteenth century may have been wholly different in production techniques from the virtual media of the succeeding centuries, but the preoccupations of the nineteenth century remain piquant. How we conceive of the perceiving mind; how the relations between mind, perceptions, and world are imagined; and how we define the role of technology in experiencing, conceiving, and articulating perception continue to be pressing questions for a media-saturated society.

Notes 1. For a helpful account of the panorama in relation to early cinema, see Margaret Cohen, “Panoramic Literature and the Invention of Everyday Genres,” in Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, ed. Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 227–252. 2. To say that the coupling of imagination and technology is by this point hegemonic is with the caveat that, like all hegemonies, it is constantly in the act of reorganising and reasserting itself. 3. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Henry Holt, 1911), 157; Alexander Blok, “Nature and Culture,” read to Religious-Philosophical Society, St Petersburg, 30 December 1908, trans. by I. Freiman (1946), and repr. in Art in Theory, 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 144; Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrá, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla, and Gina Severini, “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto,” originally published as Poesia, Milan, 11 April 1910, trans. and repr. in



Sackville Gallery Catalogue, 1912, repr. in Art in Theory, 1900–1990, 150. Futurist visions of humans as machines were satirised in Evelyn Waugh’s novels Decline and Fall (1928) and Vile Bodies (1930). 4. Virginia Woolf, “On Cinema” (1926) repr. Woolf Online. http://www. woolfonline.com/timepasses/?q=essays/cinema/full. 5. Anon. “Literature and Art,” Illustrated London News, 20 July 1861. 6. Anon.  “Speaking to the Eye (from the Economist),” Illustrated London News, 24 May 1851. 7. Conrad, Lord Jim, 121; Anon. “Romance of a Magic Lantern,” 9. 8. Smith, Comic Tales, 106–107. 9. This can be viewed at http://www.themonument.info/panorama/ Monument.html [accessed: 4 April 2014]. 10. “Motoring at 100 M.P.H.” Business Week, 29 September 1939, 27–28 (, 27) quoted in Paul Mason Fotsch, “The Building of a Superhighway Future at the New York World’s Fair,” Cultural Critique, 48 (2001): 65. 11. Benjamin, “The Work of Art,” 221. 12. Morton, “Victorian Hyperobjects,” 492. 13. Louis Daguerre, “Daguerreotype,” in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven, Conn.: Leete’s Island Books, 1980), 13.


Alongside print collections held at the British Library and the David Wilson Library, University of Leicester, the following online databases from Gale Cengage Learning were used extensively in this research: The Illustrated London News Historical Archive 1842–2003. 19th-Century UK Periodicals. British Library Newspapers 1800–1900. The Times Digital Archive. All references to the two journals edited by Charles Dickens, Household Words and All the Year Round, use author information and pagination from the curated electronic copies available at Dickens Journals Online (http://www.djo.org.uk).

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A Adelaide Gallery, London, 9, 55, 72–75, 79–80, 117, 121 Alberti, Leon Battista, 27, 172 B Babbage, Charles, 169 Bain, Alexander, 54–55, 113, 123, 168 Ballooning, 26, 47, 57–59, 62–63, 110, 114 Barker, Robert, 21–23, 27 Barrett Browning, Elizabeth, 172 Baudelaire, Charles, 165 Benjamin, Walter, 46n50 and history, 26 The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 208n2, 241–242 Bentham, Jeremy, 27 Bergson, Henri, 238 Blake, William, 8

Brewster, David, 125 kaleidoscope, 119–120, 129 Letters on Natural Magic, 115–118, 120, 200 photography, 164–165 stereoscope, 119, 146, 150, 156 Brodie, Benjamin, 110–111, 118, 127, 200 Brontë, Charlotte Villette, 40–41 Buckle, Henry Thomas, 87 Bulwer-Lytton, Edward A Strange Story, 114–115, 118–119, 124–137 aims of historical fiction, 94–95 Zanoni, 95–98, 126, 128 Burford, Robert, 22 C The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 238–242 Camera obscura, 113–115 Cameron, Julia Margaret, 172

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2018 J. Potter, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89737-0




Carlyle, Jane, 56 Carlyle, Thomas, 7–8, 35–37, 86–98, 101, 112–113, 132, 191–192, 221–222 visuality, 2 Carroll, Lewis, 7–8 The Jabberwocky, 5 photographic fiction machine, 4–6, 192–193, 219 Cinema, see Film Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 6–8, 231–232 and material sublime, 52–53 Collins, Charles Allston, 160–163, 169–170, 172, 188 Colosseum, Regent’s Park, 24, 27, 36, 74, 118 Comte, Auguste, 54, 85–86, 127–128 Conrad, Joseph on Bulwer-Lytton, 142n58 Heart of Darkness, 227, 230 Lord Jim, 148, 231–232 machine metaphor, 219–220 Cruikshank, George, 47

Our Mutual Friend, 185–188, 225–227 Pictures from Italy, 80–85, 130 Sketches by Boz, 40–42, 47–48, 185–186 A Tale of Two Cities, 102–103 Diorama, 48–50, 56, 61, 74, 83, 118, 201, 202, 239 See also Panorama Dodgson, Charles, see Carroll, Lewis Doyle, Arthur Conan, 194–195 Dreams, 15 ballooning, 49–51, 53–55 daydreams, 11–12, 14–15, 29 (see also Stereoscopes) illusory, 239–240 magic lantern, 13, 52–56, 62–63, 85, 89–92, 99–100, 137, 183, 189–190 panoramas, 28–29, 40–42 stereoscope, 183–184, 189 teleology, 5–7, 57–63, 79–89, 128–129, 136–137, 196–198 See also Imagination; Psychoanalysis

D Daguerre, Louis, 242 Daguerreotype, see Photography Darwin, Charles, 127 Degeneration, 85, 183–185, 207 See also Nordau, Max; Pessimism Dickens, Charles, 13, 26–27, 47–49, 77, 114–115, 124, 126–127, 133–134, 200–201 Barnaby Rudge, 120 Bleak House, 62 Little Dorrit, 56–57 Martin Chuzzlewit; View from Todgers, 26–27, 47–49, 200–201

E Egan, Pierce, 8, 37 Einstein, Albert, 19n38 Eliot, George The Lifted Veil, 89–93, 95–96, 133–134 Engels, Frederick, see Marx, Karl Evans, Mary Anne, see Eliot, George F Film, 201–207, 219–220, 238, 241–242 and magic lantern, 71–72 and Virginia Woolf, 238–239 Flâneur, 38, 40, 160


Fog, 24–30, 62–63, 88–89, 95–96 Freud, Sigmund, see Psychoanalysis Froude, James Anthony, 87–88 Futurism, 238 H Hallucination, 52–53, 61, 69, 125, 135, 175 Hawarden, Lady Clementina, 187–188 Hegel, G.W.F., 204 and Karl Marx, 113 and magic lanterns, 130–131 theory of the senses, 10–12 Hogg, James, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 65n23 Horne, Richard, 6, 25–30, 50–51, 53–56, 62, 191–192 Horner, Thomas, 24–25, 36 Hume, David, 54, 109–110, 128, 144n75 I Imagination, 6, 69–107, 110–111, 118–119, 126–127, 135–137, 200 Invisibility, 51, 55, 62–63, 87–89, 92, 117, 120–123, 127, 131–136, 164, 196–198, 219, 221, 228, 229 J Jung, Carl, see Psychoanalysis K Kaleidoscope, 72, 120, 129–134, 147, 224–225, 232, 240 Kant, Immanuel, 115–117, 133–135 Kidd, Benjamin, 195–196, 203, 213, 224–225, 238–239


Kingsley, Charles The Water Babies, 122–123 Koestler, Arthur, 196–198 L Le Bon, Gustav, 195–196 Lewes, George, 13, 76–77, 85–86, 99–100, 110–115, 120–121, 123, 132, 199–200, 204 and dreams, 55–61 printing press as metaphor, 113–114, 219–220, 223–224 Light, 22, 27, 51–52, 71, 76, 79–84, 89–92, 98, 164, 188, 198–199, 214, 227–229, 231 diffused, 51, 62–63 ether theory, 143n69 fire, 56, 177 M Magic Lantern, 11–12, 27, 47–63, 110, 114, 123, 130, 147–148, 153, 183, 189–191, 200–207, 235–237, 240 chromatrope, 72, 80, 119, 137 dissolving view, 56, 69–103, 111–112, 137, 186, 196 phantasmagoria, 4, 47, 53, 63, 72, 95, 117–124, 157–158, 237 slides, 56, 60–61, 71–74, 80–81, 90–92, 119, 158, 196–198 Marx, Karl, 79 and Frederick Engels, 101, 113, 137 Mayhew, Henry, 47, 52–62, 169–170 Méliès, George, 235–237 Memory, 29, 40, 60–63, 75, 77–93, 98, 145, 153–156, 170–172, 177, 190–191, 203–205, 217–232



Microscope, 114, 135, 136, 148, 189, 205, 215, 238 and Lewis Carroll, 5 oxyhydrogen microscope, 114, 120–123, 137, 240 See also Wells, H. G. Mirrors, 161, 226 black mirror, 148 and dreams, 128 and photography, 148, 164, 185–189 Modernism, 184–185 aesthetics, 189 and technology, 237–238 Morley, Henry on Étienne-Gaspard Robertson, 51 panorama, 31–35, 241 photography, 164–166, 168, 171 stereoscopes, 150–155, 177 Wyld’s Globe, 28 N Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), 47 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 3, 201–203 Nordau, Max, 195, 239 and attention, 85, 100, 200–201, 206 and Friedrich Nietzsche, 202–203 and history, 196–198, 231 and perceptual fragmentation, 197–202, 204–206, 213 and the psychological self, 204–205 and spectacle, 198–200 See also Degeneration O Obscenity, 161–162

P Panopticon, 27 Panorama, 10, 11, 47, 56, 58–59, 62, 111, 122, 147, 168, 201–207, 221, 231, 240–242 and film, 237 invention of, 21, 30 literary forms, 23, 40–42 and magic lantern, 27, 74 moving variations, 21, 33, 49, 50, 56, 79, 153 over stimulation, 25–26, 200–201 perspective, 27–28, 34, 51, 76–77, 87 text guides, 27, 28, 31–32 virtual reality, 21–30, 32, 38–42 Pepper, John Henry, 64n11 See also Pepper’s ghost Pepper’s ghost, 14, 73, 117–119, 123–125, 128–130, 134–137 Perspective, 13, 14, 23, 27–30, 34, 37, 48–51, 60–63, 76–79, 83, 85, 87, 88, 147–149, 172–174, 184, 199 Pessimism, 196–198, 200 Photography, 79, 172, 184, 187–189, 202, 214, 219–232, 241 aerial photography, 47 hand-colouring, 155, 170–171 and identity, 165–170 and Lewis Carroll, 4–5, 192–193 spectrality, 164–165 See also Stereoscopes Proctor, Adelaide Anne, 177 Proust, Marcel, 53 Psychoanalysis, 77–80 Carl Jung, 59–63 Sigmund Freud, 59–60, 85–86


R Reid, Thomas, 130–131 Robertson, Étienne-Gaspard, 51–53, 117 Royal Polytechnic Institution, London, 9, 55, 69, 72–75, 117–118, 121, 137 Ruskin, John, 217 and visual instruments, 148 S Sala, George Augustus, 61–62 Senses, 10–12, 185, 193, 198–199 Simmel, Georg, 207 Sketches literary, 40–42, 47–48, 185, 202 pictorial, 24, 28, 35–37, 70, 165, 166, 214 Spencer, Herbert, 13, 19n33, 29, 59–61, 80, 110, 114–115, 123, 149, 200, 204 Stereoscopes, 183, 189, 200, 201, 240 and narrative, 152–155, 160–163, 177 and natural theology, 150–152 and photography, 147–148, 159–173 and sexuality, 152–155, 158–159, 161–163 invention of, 146 kaiserpanorama, 152 viewing experience, 149–152, 156–159, 169–173


See also Imagination; Photography Stewart, Dugald, 58–60, 63, 109, 110, 125 Stoker, Bram, Dracula, 213 T Telescope, 5, 76, 114, 116–117, 135, 148, 189, 200, 238 Television, 241 Turner, J.M.W., 78–79 1842 academy paintings, 69, 76–77, 80–84, 101–103 Varnishing Days, 69–71 Tyndall, John materialism, 64n143, 128 scientific imagination, 6, 110–111, 118–119, 126–127, 135–137, 199–200 theory of light, 143n69 V Visuality, 2–4, 12 W Wells, H.G., 239 A Slip Under the Microscope, 214–219, 222, 227 Woolf, Virginia, 239 Wordsworth, William, 8, 52 Wyld’s Globe, Leicester Square, 23–24, 28–29, 31, 239–240

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