The Realism of Seeing the Text in Nineteenth-Century Fiction
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The Realism of Seeing the Text in Nineteenth-Century Fiction


“The Realism of Seeing the Text in Nineteenth-Century Fiction” investigates the way material features of nineteenth-century texts imagine the relationship between seeing and reading. It specifically examines literal illustrations, visual depictions of alphabetic textuality, that serve as both visual and verbal representations that engage readers in a self-conscious oscillation between seeing and reading. Nineteenth-century technological advances and aesthetic concerns made printing literal illustrations not only possible and commonplace but also essential to their respective fictions’ experiments with realism. While an abundance of scholarship elaborates the many roles that conventional illustrations play in nineteenth-century fiction, almost none of these studies explore literal illustrations’ unique contributions. This dissertation fills this critical void and argues that seeing and reading these representationally complex components of nineteenth-century fiction reveals these fictions’ preoccupation with the relationship between the material form of books and the fictional worlds these books make accessible. Building on scholarship on the phenomenology of reading and book history, I examine the form and function of four varieties of literal illustrations as they appear in fiction by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, Bracebridge Hemyng, and Arthur Sketchley. Reading the material texts of nineteenth-century fiction from the inside out, I elucidate the representational abilities and narrative effects of interactive, typographic illustrations in Chapter 1, detail-driven pictorial initials in Chapter 2, voice-destabilizing illustration captions in Chapter 3, and metaleptic yellowback title lettering in Chapter 4. These chapters reveal the role that literal illustrations, and the material text more broadly, play in theorizing and producing experiences of interactivity and immersion, reality effects, narrative voice, and narrative dimensionality. In slowing readers down during the otherwise automatic reading process, literal illustrations offer glimpses into how some of the most central components of the experience of reading fiction materialize on the page and in our minds.

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