By S. Thornton
From 1830 to 1870 advertisements introduced in its wake a brand new realizing of ways the topic learn and the way language operated. Sara Thornton offers a vital second in print tradition, the early acceptance of what we now name a 'virtual' global, and proposes new readings of key texts through Dickens and Balzac.
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Extra resources for Advertising, Subjectivity and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Dickens, Balzac and the Language of the Walls
A cartoon of 1864 shows a new form of advertising: a man carrying a paper lamp on his head on which advertisements are printed. The cartoon is entitled ‘The Lowest Depth’ [Fig. 7]. An old acquaintance asks the humiliated man how he came ‘to this’? It is a comment on the ease with which the passer-by could be inveigled into advertising, but also a sign of the way in which the human body was increasingly becoming a prosthesis to advertising. There is the suggestion that our relationship to advertising does not leave us untouched but enters us and damages us – it sucks out something and leaves us with less of our humanity: cartoons in Punch constantly depict human beings become commodity or commodities become human as the cartoons of Grandville were doing The Language of the Walls 37 Figure 7 ‘The Lowest Depth’, Punch, 1864 Source: British Library.
Injury and guilt If the urban dweller of the mid-nineteenth century was not actually in the public place looking at advertisements, he or she could read about them. Dickens’s little-known essay on the posting of bills in London is called quite simply ‘Bill-Sticking’ and was published in 1851 in his Household Words. It is a description of an encounter with the man responsible for much of the billsticking in London (quite literally the gluing of adverts to walls) and of his attempt to protect himself from the very bills he is responsible for sticking by creating for himself a secret bower, a cocoon quite shut off from the assault of advertising.
Punch’s joke and ‘crocodile’ lamentation is that advertising takes up the Bard in this the anniversary of his birth and ‘does him to death’ by selling all manner of product and event, and by pillaging his writing (as it later would and in some ways already had taken up Dickens and Hugo). The irreverence of Punch extends here to ‘our great national literature’, now profane and fallen and flaunting itself on the walls. This breaking open of literature and the sharing around of its treasures in order to create advertising text and sell goods is obviously now sufficiently widespread, even banal, in 1864 to warrant such a satiric article.
Advertising, Subjectivity and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Dickens, Balzac and the Language of the Walls by S. Thornton