Browning the Revisionary by John Woolford, Daniel O''Gorman

By John Woolford, Daniel O''Gorman

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Speeches, ed. R. H. Shepherd (1884) 289 All these examples, and the entire phenomenon of Victorian popular literature, may be seen as a manifestation of the humanism which on the political level inspired the period's series of Reform Acts: to bring literature to a newly-widened and newly-literate electorate was to act upon a belief in the principle of political equality, and on the local level that same principle inspired writers to seek popularity as a demographic extension of the principle governing literary production.

Preface In his anxiety to couple his audience with himself, Dickens imagines 'a dialogue of one' in which his own aesthetic instincts are ratified by their mirror-image in public taste. d. 413). The effect of such a philosophy, naturally enough, was an anxiety, still periodically condemned as commercial rather than principled, to shape The Problem of Audience 33 the work ofliterature according to popular demand. The above quotation shows that at the prompting of the public's approval of a short story, Dickens expanded The 0 ld Curiosity Shop into a full-length novel, as later he married off Pip to Estella when Bulwer Lytton expressed his dismay over the original unhappy ending of Great Expectations.

Martin Chuzzlewit could be packed off to America, or Miss Mowcher transformed from procuress into saint, in response to external approval or disapproval. Poets too were affected: Tennyson's serial publication of The Idylls of the King, and deference to critical opinion when revising poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's imitation of the plot of the best-sellingJane Eyre for her own best-seller Aurora Leigh (1856), are only the most conspicuous examples of an almost envious attempt by poets in search of popularity to take over part of the novelist's terrain.

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