The Ideas in ThingsFugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel

The Ideas in ThingsFugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel

Elaine Freedgood

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226261553

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

While the Victorian novel famously describes, catalogs, and inundates the reader with things, the protocols for reading it have long enjoined readers not to interpret most of what crowds its pages. This book explores apparently inconsequential objects in popular Victorian texts to make contact with their fugitive meanings. Developing an innovative approach to analyzing nineteenth-century fiction, the book reconnects the things readers unwittingly ignore to the stories they tell. Building its case around objects from three well-known Victorian novels—the mahogany furniture in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, the calico curtains in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, and “Negro head” tobacco in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations—it argues that these things are connected to histories that the novels barely acknowledge, generating darker meanings outside their symbolic systems. Contributing to the new field of object studies in the humanities, the book pushes readers' thinking about things beyond established concepts of commodity and fetish.