The Amusements of the People: Cultural Politics, Class, Commerce
This chapter explores Dickens's cultural vision and practice, both characterized by what could be called a dramatic impulse to shape‐shift or to transform boundaries (of self, politics, language, and cultural mode) into dialogic thresholds. The second section analyses the partial alignment between Dickens's politics and his cultural politics and surveys the vexed history of attempts to label Dickens's politics. It argues that Dickens's privileging of cultural politics over politics as a means of influencing public affairs make it inevitable that his cultural politics seem contradictory or paradoxical when framed by the logic and language of ‘politics per se’. The oxymoronic idea of paternalistic populism thus comes closest to capturing Dickens's complex attitudes to popular culture. The final section looks in detail at Dickens's notoriously imprecise political discourse to argue that it is conscious and strategic rather than, as so often is assumed, naive or disciplinary: in particular, it maintains that Dickens's vagueness when writing about class arose from a sophisticated sense of the constitutive function of language, an idealistic desire to offset the experiential power of the idea of class and an instinct to maximize his commercial appeal.
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