Commodity Culture in Dickens's Household Words: The Social Life of Goods, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Commodity Culture in Dickens's Household Words

The Social Life of Goods, 1st Edition

By Catherine Waters


192 pages

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pub: 2008-10-28
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In 1850, Charles Dickens founded Household Words, a weekly miscellany intended to instruct and entertain an ever-widening middle-class readership. Published in the decade following the Great Exhibition of 1851, the journal appeared at a key moment in the emergence of commodity culture in Victorian England. Alongside the more well-known fiction that appeared in its pages, Dickens filled Household Words with articles about various commodities-articles that raise wider questions about how far society should go in permitting people to buy and sell goods and services: in other words, how far the laissez-faire market should extend. At the same time, Household Words was itself a commodity. With marketability clearly in view, Dickens required articles for his journal to be 'imaginative,' employing a style that critics ever since have too readily dismissed as mere mannerism. Locating the journal and its distinctive handling of non-fictional prose in relation to other contemporary periodicals and forms of print culture, this book demonstrates the role that Household Words in particular, and the Victorian press more generally, played in responding to the developing world of commodities and their consumption at midcentury.


Winner of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals' Robert Colby Book Prize 2008 ’… what is new and exciting here is the intensive focus on non- fictional writing in a single periodical rather than on the novel, as well as the important related claim that although Household Words’s attitudes about and interests in commodities resonate with those of other Victorian periodicals and with Victorian culture more generally, nonetheless the distinctiveness of Household Words’s style offers new insights about these topics. …Commodity Culture in Dickens’s Household Words nonetheless provides a fascinating look at the various ways Household Words writers imagined their own relations to different kinds of commodities, from pins and needles to the ’representation of the city as a spectacle for consumption’, while also remembering that the magazine itself was a kind of commodity … Waters manages to gives us a deep sense of the complexity of Household Words’s multivalent engagement with ’commodity culture’.’ Review of English Studies ’This is an engaging, often thought-provoking, and highly enjoyable book that builds upon recent interest in material culture and the study of Victorian periodicals.’ Modern Language Review 'Among the many strengths of Waters's excellent book is its ability to examine Household Words without making Dickens, his fiction, or his work as editor her key to analysis. … Providing a series of nuanced, well-detailed and theoretically grounded readings, Waters enables us to understand in a new way what seems cohesive in Household Words. …Waters's approach to the journal and its sources of meaning illuminates its cultural significance while also foregrounding the work of its lesser-known contributors.' Dickens Quarterly

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Advertising fictions; The genuine article, the sham and the problem of authenticity; 'The key of the street'; 'Men made by machinery'; Worldly goods; 'Trading in death'; 'Fashion in undress'; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Catherine Waters is a senior lecturer in English at the University of New England (New South Wales). She is the author of Dickens and the Politics of the Family (1997) and various articles on Victorian fiction and journalism.

About the Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series,  the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global.  Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies.  The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies. 

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