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By S. Thornton

From 1830 to 1870 advertisements introduced in its wake a brand new figuring out of the way the topic learn and the way language operated. Sara Thornton provides a very important second in print tradition, the early reputation of what we now name a 'virtual' international, and proposes new readings of key texts by means of Dickens and Balzac.

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Additional resources for Advertising, Subjectivity and the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Dickens, Balzac and the Language of the Walls

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Thus we see that advertising text can be made to speak against itself, can be made to come up with values and truths which differ vastly from those intended. It is a self-subverting system and needs only a certain type of reader to produce or unravel through interpretation its possible meanings. There is no act of defacing here or physical sabotage, only an act of reading. The city dweller becomes aware that his reading is paramount in the transmission of the text and that any act of reading may well amount to a sabotage or enrichment of the message.

The irreverence of Punch extends here to ‘our great national literature’, now profane and fallen and flaunting itself on the walls. This breaking open of literature and the sharing around of its treasures in order to create advertising text and sell goods is obviously now sufficiently widespread, even banal, in 1864 to warrant such a satiric article. Misbehaving with language: ‘Families Supplied in Casks and Bottles’ The accidental collage created by one poster partially obscuring another is something we have already seen in Parry’s painting with the incongruous enjoinment ‘Vote for – King Arthur’, which shows how chance can bring suffrage and serfdom into an intimate bond – a false bond of course which is the joke.

In the reactions to advertising in Punch, we see how dead metaphors come alive to us once they are on the walls – a concern of much of the journalism on advertising which suggests that the new ‘perpendicular’ writing had done something to our relationship to the written word. Language is less a purveyor of truth and more a game of endless proliferating half-truths, disseminating way beyond the word of God or the seriousness of the literary canon – a free-for-all in which linguistic play rather than exegesis is de rigueur.

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