Placing the works of Charles Dickens and Walter Benjamin in conversation with one another, Gillian Piggott argues that the two writers display a shared vision of modernity. Her analysis of their works shows that both writers demonstrate a decreased confidence in the capacity to experience truth or religious meaning in an increasingly materialist world and that both occupy similar positions towards urban modernity and its effect upon experience. Piggott juxtaposes her exploration of Benjamin's ideas on allegory and messianism with an examination of Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, arguing that both writers proffer a melancholy vision of a world devoid of space and time for religious experience, a state of affairs they associate with the onset of industrial capitalism. In Benjamin's The Arcades Project and Dickens's Sketches by Boz and Tale of Two Cities, among other works, the authors converge in their hugely influential treatments of the city as a site of perambulation, creativity, memory, and autobiography. At the same time, both authors relate to the vertiginous, mutable, fast-paced nature of city life as involving a concomitant change in the structure of experience, an alteration that can be understood as a reduction in the capacity to experience fully. Piggott's persuasive analyses enable a reading of Dickens as part of a European, particularly a German, tradition of thinkers and writers of industrialization and modernity. For both Dickens and Benjamin, truth appears only in moments of revelation, in fragments of modernity.
'This is an intelligent, well-researched and meticulously argued investigation of parallels in outlook between Dickens and Benjamin. Avoiding obvious pitfalls of such a project, Piggott is scrupulous in establishing her focus: not on any supposed influence of the one on the other, nor on the development of either writer's ideas, but rather on the similarities and differences between the two writers' vision of modernity, in particular as seen in their writings on the city. Alert to the fact that the two writers lived and wrote in different centuries, and to the fact that their primary response was to different cities, she nevertheless makes a convincing case for the fundamental congruence of their core ideas'. Paul Schlicke, University of Aberdeen, general editor of the Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens 'This book is a serious study of a wonderful subject…' NBOL 19 'Gillian Piggott's authoritative and meticulous monograph is the first full-length study of affinity and difference, demonstrating how each writer can illuminate the other.' Textual Practice '… Dickens and Benjamin is a careful study of points of connection between two major figures who sought to explore modernity in sometimes divergent, but often parallel ways.' Dickens Quarterly