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Fiction in the Age of Photography

Fiction in the Age of Photography

The Legacy of British Realism

Nancy Armstrong

ISBN 9780674008014

Publication date: 05/03/2002

Victorians were fascinated with how accurately photography could copy people, the places they inhabited, and the objects surrounding them. Much more important, however, is the way in which Victorian people, places, and things came to resemble photographs. In this provocative study of British realism, Nancy Armstrong explains how fiction entered into a relationship with the new popular art of photography that transformed the world into a picture. By the 1860s, to know virtually anyone or anything was to understand how to place him, her, or it in that world on the basis of characteristics that either had been or could be captured in one of several photographic genres. So willing was the readership to think of the real as photographs, that authors from Charles Dickens to the Brontës, Lewis Carroll, H. Rider Haggard, Oscar Wilde, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and Virginia Woolf had to use the same visual conventions to represent what was real, especially when they sought to debunk those conventions. The Victorian novel's collaboration with photography was indeed so successful, Armstrong contends, that literary criticism assumes a text is gesturing toward the real whenever it invokes a photograph.


  • In this engaging look at Victorian fiction, Armstrong show how the unprecedented popularity of photography affected and informed the works of major writers. Choosing well from classic Victorian novels, Armstrong examines the works of authors like Dickens, Emily Bronte;, and Oscar Wilde as she traces the development of realism and discusses the powerful visual clues that began to drive plot and determine how characters relate to one another. As much social commentary as literary criticism, the book brings to life a society obsessed with the camera and burdened with what Armstrong calls a 'mass visuality.' An important work.

    —Ellen Sullivan, Library Journal


  • Nancy Armstrong is Professor of English at Duke University. She is the author of Desire and Domestic Fiction and co-author of The Imaginary Puritan.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press