Victorian commodities : reading serial novels alongside their advertising supplements
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Victorian serial novels were bound with pages upon pages of advertisements marketing goods to readers, yet the relative inattention paid to this significant material component of the novel is surprising. This project explores the interaction between fictional narrative and commercial advertisements, and aims to recover the material context in which three Victorian novels—Bleak House, Middlemarch, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—were first published and read. These three case studies—a novel published in 20 monthly serial numbers, another packaged in the rare format of eight “books” in bimonthly installments, and the third published in a monthly magazine in three excerpts—are exemplary of a larger phenomenon in Victorian book production wherein fiction and commerce were inextricably bound. This project investigates the ways in which the advertisements can be reconceived as a significant element of the novel, mediating the reader’s experience of the text. The Bleak House chapter examines how the advertisements for hair products in the “Bleak House Advertiser” serve to highlight an aspect of Charles Dickens’s text about Victorian responses to the mass of new consumer goods and individuals’ desire to control the physical aspects of their world. The following chapter considers George Eliot’s (Mary Ann Evans’s) Middlemarch, finding that just as the narrator’s asides compel readers to attend to the temporal difference between the 1830s setting of the novel and the 1870s perspective of the serial edition, sewing machine advertisements in the advertising supplement of the novel serve to remind readers of their role as observers of past events. The examination of Mark Twain’s (Samuel Clemens’s) Huck Finn, as published in three excerpts in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, demonstrates that the magazine articles, the excerpts from Huck Finn, and the advertisements all engage in a project of unifying the nation and alleviating the physical and metaphorical wounds of war. The unity of the message emerges when the excerpts are read together with the many advertisements for wheelchairs and other such implements for disabled bodies. The dissertation ends with a chapter indicating the merits of further analysis and critical discussion of advertisements in the undergraduate literature classroom.