‘The Most Popular Author in the World’?
The Introduction argues that Dickens's consciousness of the emerging mass culture of his day was fundamental to his popular art and to his unique place in literary and cultural history. It establishes that Dickens's popularity in his lifetime was so striking that it was seen as a cultural phenomenon in itself, transcending barriers of class, gender, age, and nation. It argues that numbers of readers were important to Dickens in a way that has not been fully appreciated, but that the statistical and sociological basis of Dickens's popularity is contested. It surveys Dickens's extra‐literary lives and suggests that the translatability of Dickens's works and image across multiple media has arguably been more crucial to his ability to establish a long‐term mass cultural presence than have sales of the novels themselves. It considers Dickens's mixed fortunes with literary critics and discusses theoretical approaches to the terms ‘mass culture’ and ‘popular culture’, and argues that ‘fancy’ or fantasy and a certain doubleness are integral to Dickens's cultural politics — in particular to his vision of an intimate public or imagined community existing between himself and a mass readership.
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