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Rachel Teukolsky, Picture World: Image, Aesthetics, and Victorian New Media

Picture World

Image, Aesthetics, and Victorian New Media

Rachel Teukolsky

This book studies the modern media world as it came into being in the nineteenth century. Machines were harnessed to produce texts and images in unprecedented numbers; in the visual realm, new industrial techniques generated a deluge of affordable pictorial items, consumed at intimate scale. These early forms of a widely shared media culture transformed the nineteenth-century experience of everyday life. The phrase “new media” today might bring to mind cyberspace, hypertext, and other digital innovations. But media invention itself is not new: every epoch has had to confront the unruly and transformative effects of new communications technologies. Picture World turns to the small-scale printed matter of the Victorian media revolution, the mass-printed photographs, posters, cartoons, and illustrations typically designated by scholars as ephemera. Though the word “ephemera” implies objects existing on the margins of a weightier dominant culture, the book relocates these items to a central role, using them to illuminate Victorian ideas about aesthetics, art, and visual value.

Each of the book’s chapters explores a keyword in Victorian aesthetics, a familiar term whose meanings are disrupted when paired with a new media object. “Character” shows new dimensions when considered with caricature, in the new comics and cartoons appearing in the mass press in the 1830s; likewise, the book understands “realism” through pictorial journalism; “illustration” via illustrated bibles; “sensation” through carte-de-visite portrait photographs; “the picturesque” by way of stereoscopic views; and “decadence” through advertising posters. These juxtapositions capture the book’s methodology, which finds deep meaning in ephemeral objects typically excluded from categories of high art. Picture World uses the relics of the nineteenth century’s cultural life to interrogate its deeply-held values, arriving at insights still relevant in our own media age.

Rachel Teukolsky is an Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on aesthetics, visual culture, and media history in nineteenth-century Britain. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University with a double major in English and Art History, and subsequently received a PhD in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She is author of The Literate Eye: Victorian Art Writing and Modernist Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2009), awarded the Sonya Rudikoff Prize in 2010 for best first book in Victorian studies.

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