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Title: Commodity Culture in Dickens's Household Words: The Social Life of Goods
Contributor(s): Waters, Catherine Mary (author)
Publication Date: 2008
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Abstract: On 1 June 1850, two months after the appearance of its first number, 'Household Words' published an article by its sub-editor, W.H. Wills, marvelling at the growing 'Appetite for News.' Wills begins by describing the eagerness with which the 'city clerk emerging through folding doors from bed to sitting-room, though thirsting for tea, and hungering for toast, darts upon that morning's journal,' while '[e]xactly at the same hour, his master, the M.P., crosses the hall of his mansion,' enters the breakfast parlour and 'fixes his eye on the fender, where he knows his favourite damp sheet will be hung up to dry.' Elsewhere, in like fashion, the 'oppressed farmer' cannot 'handle the massive spoon for his first sip out of his sèvres cup till he has read of ruin in the "Herald" or "Standard,'" and the 'financial reformer' cannot 'know breakfast table happiness till he has digested the "Daily News," or skimmed the "Express."' Wills's description of these avid journal readers captures the 'mass ceremony' of simultaneous consumption identified by Benedict Anderson as a key factor forming the imagined community, across a range of social classes, that is the hallmark of modem national identity. The extent of the nation's immense appetite for news can be gauged, Wills writes, not only in the circulation figures suggested by the number of 'newspaper stamps which were issued in 1848 (the latest year of which a return has been made),' but in the 'printed surface' sent forth by the press, which amounted 'in twelve months to 349,308,000 superficial feet' in daily papers alone: 'If to these are added all the papers printed weekly and fortnightly in London and the provinces, the whole amounts to 1,446,150,000 square feet of printed surface, which was, in 1849, placed before the comprehensive vision of John Bull.' Not content with the abstract economic measure provided by the stamp tax, Wills's mind-boggling statistics regarding the material substance of the periodical press emphasize its identity as a thing, as well as a commodity. They illustrate the peculiar focus upon matter, and its making into consumable objects, that characterizes 'Household Words's' engagement with mid-Victorian commodity culture.
Publication Type: Book
Publisher: Ashgate
Place of Publication: Aldershot, England
ISBN: 0754655784
Field of Research (FOR): 200503 British and Irish Literature
HERDC Category Description: A1 Authored Book - Scholarly
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Extent of Pages: 184
Series Name: The Nineteenth Century Series
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