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Dickens and Mass Culture$
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Juliet John

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199257928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.001.0001

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‘Coming Face to Face with Multitudes’: The Public Readings

‘Coming Face to Face with Multitudes’: The Public Readings

Chapter:
(p.131) 4 ‘Coming Face to Face with Multitudes’: The Public Readings
Source:
Dickens and Mass Culture
Author(s):

Juliet John (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199257928.003.0005

This chapter explores the ways in which the feelings of ‘personal’ communication or the experience of community that Dickens sought to create between himself and his audience through public readings depended on the material translation or verification of those feelings into numbers — into numbers of people and numbers of dollars or pounds. It argues that the public readings, even more than his journalism, bring his humanist and reformist ideals about culture into collision with his acceptance of culture as commerce. Aspects of the management of the reading tours are rendered inexplicable if we do not take seriously Dickens's need to witness an excess of people at his readings, which seemed to him to confirm both his reputation as a serious author and his importance to ‘the people’ in a way that money could not. The chapter argues that, because of fears about the effect of public reading on his reputation, the rationale for the reading tours was inflected differently from Dickens's other related cultural activities: in particular, the erosion of class conflict through culture was not projected as a conscious aim of the tours. His vacillation on the tours between the need for solitude and the need to experience himself as ‘a man of the crowd’ is a reflection on both his celebrity and that central problem of mass modernity, the relationship between the individual and the crowd. His habit of counting people who had come to hear him signals both a desire to substantiate his ideal of an intimate public, and anxieties, particularly in an American context, about its possible unreality.

Keywords:   personal, public readings, commerce, reputation, class, the crowd, modernity, intimate public, America, community

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