Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Pictures from the Daily News: Context, Correspondents, and Correlations

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Pictures from the Daily News: Context, Correspondents, and Correlations

Article excerpt

Undeniably still a minor work in the Dickens canon, Pictures from Italy has nevertheless been approached--and since the 1990s in particular--from such an idiosyncratic variety of critical and theoretical perspectives that it would seem to have become an illustration of Oscar Wilde's famous contention that it is the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors. It has been analyzed in psycho-biographical and narratological terms, historicized in terms of Italian politics, and Dickens's response to these as a journalist and magazine editor, and discussed as a piece of iconoclastic art criticism, ambiguously poised between a picturesque and grotesque aesthetic. (1) It has been considered with reference to the strategies and cultural assumptions of Victorian guidebooks, travel writing, and mass market tourism (2) and more recently, and perhaps most challengingly, approached in terms of its kinetic, cinematic and visual encrypting. (3) There have in addition been several editions from leading publishers, edited and ably introduced by Dickens scholars, (4) yet it should be noted that the most comprehensive of these (5) was produced some years before the publication of volume four of the Pilgrim edition of the Letters (1844-46) and of articles by Kathleen Tillotson shedding light on the circumstances under which Dickens composed the first published version of his travelogue. (6)

Disparate as their approaches have been, most commentators have approached the text as a unified publication, whose principal historical referents are the European experiences of the author/narrator in the year 1844. This essay, in contrast, considers the original publishing genre (Beetham, 1999), and examines Pictures from Italy as a series of high-profile columns in The Daily News, a paper funded by commercial backers (manufacturing and railway interests) and by Dickens's publishers Bradbury and Evans, which started life as an 8-page broadsheet underselling the Times and The Morning Chronicle by 2 pence (Drew 67-90). It examines the work as originally serialized under the title "Travelling Letters. Written on the Road," from the perspective of the newly launched newspaper, and the key cultural and political concerns, not of 1844-45, but of 1846. Paying attention to this context, and with the new readership of The Daily News in mind, it aims to restore an overlooked dimension to a text usually viewed as a series of letters addressed to friends and commenced over 18 months previously. Pictures from Italy can also be accurately refocused in terms of the broader coverage of foreign affairs engineered by The Daily News under Dickens's initial editorship.

A brief glance at the origins of Pictures from Italy is in order (see also Paroissien, 1971). When Dickens and family departed for Genoa on 2 July 1844, for a "year's retirement," the backbone of his writing plans for his return was the establishment of a "Magazine or Journal" to be backed and published by the printing house of Bradbury and Evans.

Dickens selected Italy on account of its cheapness and delightful climate and as a place affording an exhausted writer the opportunity to "enlarge my stock of description and observation by seeing countries new to me" (Letters 4: 121; 587). Thus expressed, as a question of increasing his retail stock in trade, Dickens's mission sounds as commercially-driven as that of the learned Doctor Syntax, whose travels Dickens may have recalled from childhood reading:

   I'll make a TOUR--and then I'll WRITE IT.
   ... I'll ride and write, and sketch and print,
   And thus create a real mint;
   I'll prose it here, I'll verse it there.
   And picturesque it ev'rywhere. (Combe 5)

As early as November 1843, Dickens had projected the notion of sending home his observations to Forster for possible future publication. Three months before his departure he explored what Sir John Easthope, proprietor of The Morning Chronicle, might pay for "a letter a week . …

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