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Victorian Poetry, Drama and Miscellaneous Prose 1832–1890$
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Paul Turner

Print publication date: 1990

Print ISBN-13: 9780198122395

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122395.001.0001

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(p.183) 10. Carlyle
Victorian Poetry, Drama and Miscellaneous Prose 1832–1890

Paul Turner

Oxford University Press

Starting as the son of a barely literate Scottish stonemason, Thomas Carlyle ended as perhaps the most influential writer of his time. An important factor in this triumph of self-help was the invention of Carlylese. The literary hack-work that was Carlyle’s first defence against poverty included, besides reviewing for periodicals, translating and criticising German literature. Before 1830, however, his career was fairly conventional. Apart from a fragment of an autobiographical novel, Wotton Reinfred, his most interesting early work was ‘Signs of the Times’. This anonymous article in the Edinburgh Review condemned all current trends of thought. The metaphor served to link Utilitarianism with the triumphs of technology, via a tacit pun on James Mill’s surname, and to unify a variety of complaints, all implying that the age had lost the sense of mystery, morality, and religion. The device inaugurated Carlyle’s practice of making rather vague and general intuitions seem precise by an ingenious use of imagery.

Keywords:   Thomas Carlyle, Carlylese, Wotton Reinfred, metaphor, Utilitarianism, technology, imagery

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