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Stella Pratt-Smith, Transformations of Electricity in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Science (Farnham: Ashgate, 2016) 176 pp. 9 B&W illustrations. £125.00 Hb. ISBN: 9781472419408

This book considers the literary representations and potential applications of electricity, as explored in British canonical, popular, and scientific works of the nineteenth century. Stella Pratt-Smith analyses the development of various theoretical and conceptual approaches to the intangible phenomenon of electricity and its transformative effects on scientific and technological modernity. She also evaluates the ways in which investigative responses to electricity were expressed as “amalgamations of scientific, literary, and cultural concerns” at a time when understandings of electricity were still being developed (1). Her book is comprised of five chapters that map the intersections of science and literature across a range of mainstream novels, poems, short stories, and scientific writing, which speculated on and portrayed the literal and figurative properties of electrical phenomena.

Pratt-Smith examines the period from 1830–1880, during which time journalists, novelists, poets, and short-story instructional writers influenced both public and scientific perceptions of electricity, as well as its futuristic applications. In chapter one, she goes on to historicize the work of Michael Faraday (1791–1867) whose discovery of electromagnetic induction, later known as Faraday’s law, enabled a wide-range of uses for energy transfer that forever altered human experience. Through fiction and non-fiction, writers “interpreted, transformed and created new associations with electricity” and made it “inseparable from literary, social, and material contexts” (4). Electricity demanded new conceptual forms of ‘spatial imagination’” that encouraged new figurative and narrative models (5). Pratt-Smith argues that mainstream novelists, such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot, represented electricity’s “role as a signifier of volatility, speed and invisibility, and . . . exploited this to convey the immediacy of emotions such as love and fear, as well as metaphysical connections" (34).

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, novelists began to use electricity as a subject of literary forms and, in so doing, made it “commercially viable as a source of popular literary sensation” (23). In the remainder of the chapter, Pratt-Smith deploys Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race to exemplify her argument that "novels [which] foregrounded electricity or wrote about it more directly . . ." were either "quickly pigeonholed—or even relegated—to the lower genre of 'science fiction'" (34). Her claim is interesting but, unfortunately, not fully substantiated before the chapter is concluded. She could have evidenced more clearly how specific literary works were devalued because of their thematic connection to electricity.

The second chapter considers nineteenth-century literary responses to the work of electrical pioneers Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879). In “Magnetic Curves” (1989), David Gooding suggests that metaphorical representations “can be articulated as instrumentally useful concepts before they are incorporated into a theoretical framework . . . [and] they shape the theories developed to interpret and explain the phenomena they describe [Gooding’s emphasis] (qtd. in Pratt-Smith 38). Pratt-Smith builds upon such thinking to examine how writings about electricity also stimulated speculation about “the nature of corporeality, perception, and interpretation” (39). Faraday, for example, employed verbal and visual representational models, rather than mathematical ones, to improve the public’s understanding of electricity. Analogous to Faraday, Maxwell used poetry as an “alternate form” for theorizing about electricity beyond “previously inconceivable realms of abstraction” (56). As Pratt-Smith notes, Maxwell’s poetry established the relation between “mathematical and verbal imagery and presents them as equally valid” methods of representing electricity’s transformative power (61, 60). Maxwell assumed a reductive stance by suggesting science and literature were equal, because they are interrelated and depend on similar figurative, narrative, and interpretive methods for understanding the present and conceptualizing the future.

Chapters three and four provide examples from popular non-fiction books and periodicals of the nineteenth century to illustrate how writing and editing practices affected non-specialists’ reading patterns and shaped public awareness of electricity. In so doing, they connoted the “interconnected nature of social, economic, and public cultures” of the nineteenth century (74). In chapter three, Pratt-Smith considers the ways in which William Whewell, founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, contributed to the investigation of electricity, “[which] exemplified the essential relationship between the active mind and scientific progress" (77). She also evaluates how the representative work of various writers informed collective understandings of electricity. Pratt-Smith argues that non-fiction writers "used the literary possibilities of the periodical to shape popular awareness of ideas about electricity” (84).Chapter four historicizes the emergence of the cheap periodical as a “regular venue” for introducing “short-fiction responses to electricity” from 1838–1884, a period during which time “ideas about electricity were at their least stable” (107, 111). “Unlike non-fiction writings,” as Pratt-Smith suggests, short fiction was created to “entertain, rather than disseminate accurate information” about electricity and technologies that were defining the future (113). Through examples of “comic ephemera” and “tales of the supernatural,” she contends that “electrical science and experimentation simultaneously emerged [from] and reflected contemporary interests and anxieties” (114), particularly in depicting how the mysterious and destructive qualities of electricity might “prey on man’s vulnerable sensibilities” (136). Pratt-Smith does not fully trace the consequential effects of these concerns on the selected genres or their readers. Without sufficient historical evidence of readers’ opinions, she cannot adequately assess how they “reflected on” (111) the value of short fiction.

She suggests that short fiction established metaphorical links between electricity, epilepsy, mental illness, and the supernatural. She locates these associations in Benjamin Lumley’s (1811–1875) portrayal of an extra-terrestrial world in which nature served as the “source of all electricity” (153). Lumley’s Another World: Fragments from the Star City of Montalluyah (1873) is the focus of Pratt-Smith’s last chapter. She describes the novel as "an extravagant fantasy about electricity [and] as a perfect route to technological advancement and social progress" (146). Pratt-Smith underscores Lumley’s certainty in exploring the “greater imaginative possibilities” of electricity, especially as a tool for improving medical practices. However, she is not able to determine how fictional works like Lumley’s directly influenced scientific developments and technological innovations, some of which appeared around the same time as his novel. Pratt-Smith concludes her study with Lumley, who critiqued the frivolous uses of electricity (e.g., using electricity to produce metal flowers) in an ideal world in which electricity dominated and transformed the natural world and its inhabitants. The similarities between Montalluyah and our own technological society are apparent, but Pratt-Smith does not emphasize this correlation.

Pratt-Smith provides a thoughtful and well-documented study for readers seeking an overview of how nineteenth-century British literature and science produced either parallel, conflicting, or hybrid responses to electricity. By examining a range of various sources, she carefully unpacks the complexities of electrical phenomena and evidences its transformative influences upon Victorian conceptions of the human self and the physical world.

Prof John C Murray, Curry College

Michael Tondre, The Physics of Possibility: Victorian Fiction, Science, and Gender (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2018) 242 pp. $45.00 Hb. ISBN: 9780813941455

Michael Tondre considers the ways in which mathematical physics influenced Victorian literature, science, and statistics from 1850 to 1880. His book is divided into two parts, with four chapters that survey a broad range of educational manuals, scientific research, and fictional works. He isolates representations of probability and traces their transformative effects on the depiction of alternative possibilities within four Victorian novels that altered the classical bildungsroman: George Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son (1859), Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1864-66), Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1846-48), and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-72). The works depict 'other ways of being and becoming, of growing in the world and escaping into altered futures' (4). Tondre’s first two chapters examine how probabilistic calculus stimulated the Victorian sciences and literature. Rather than arranging a 'dialogic conversation between science and literature,' Tondre proposes a more 'fluid model of network relations' by probing the holistic development of 'form, feeling, and historical experience in mid-Victorian culture' (12,13).

Chapter One reviews the historiographical thinking of the late 1850s to evaluate whether 'mathematical models of probability' supported 'deterministic conceptions of history or conditional conceptions of what might have been' (13). Tondre focuses on Meredith’s novel and exemplifies how alternative possibilities might represent the 'actual ideal' of his writing (29). Tondre briefly discusses Pierre-Simon Laplace’s 'demon,' a metaphor for an all-encompassing vision of past, present, and future, which was described in Laplace’s Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1801). He historicizes Laplace’s influence on the calculus of probability before considering the contributions of other British intellectuals, including Henry Buckle, Augustus De Morgan, and John Herschel. These theorists introduced 'arcane formulas' of probability to a growing market of middle-class readers intrigued by counterhistories and 'the plenitude of alternate routes between the past and the future' (34, 40). Tondre argues that Richard Feverel represents the 'shifting form of historical possibilities' for mid-Victorian readers (41), since Meredith evidences how systems of education affected conventional notions of masculinity. When these notions were infused with ideological-hegemonic aspects of power, control, and entitlement, they strengthened determinist views of historical causality. Consequently, the difficulty was in considering the concept of causation without also debating what might have happened if specific causes had been modified. By speculating on 'nonnormative potentials' (27), Victorians multiplied their alternate possibilities of becoming.

Tondre deploys Collins’s sensation novel in Chapter Two to demonstrate fiction’s ability to test 'modern notions of time as empirical, homogenous, linear, and shared' (63). In narrating the character of Ozias Midwinter’s story, Armadale considers how murderous acts might be reproduced along the line of descent from father to son. Midwinter ( Armadale) suggests the influence lineage has on him while reading his father’s confession: 'As long as there is a page left, I shall read it. And, as long as I read it, my father gets the better of me, in spite of myself!' (qtd. in Tondre 76). Collins places the character within a 'curve of temporal possibilities' to explore both statistical and sensorial timescapes (63). Midwinter’s persistent strategy of hesitation allows him to withdraw from the social and cultural orthodoxies of Victorian experience and 'open up the prospect of divergent trajectories to the future, so that deviations in the present lead to new routes of living' (84). Collins’s novel 'upholds the value of fiction in negotiating between competing observations on the present' without fully embracing a 'single, composite claim of truth' (73). By experiencing various temporal disorientations, Midwinter 'learns to stand back from the world that threatens him' to produce a future that may distinguish him from the previous generation (86).

Tondre’s final chapter considers how Charles Darwin’s conceptions of chance variation and nonreproductive altruism were fictionally imagined in Dickens's Dombey and Son, the story of a wealthy owner of a shipping company who hopes to raise the 'perfect Dombey' to inherit his business. His young son’s death leaves him without an heir, as he regards his daughter Florence in Chapter One as 'merely a piece of base coin that couldn't be invested — a bad boy'. Tondre misses the opportunity to elaborate on the instructional pressures of 'brain forcing,' which traumatize Paul’s education at Blimber Academy and accelerate his demise. His affliction inspired Robert Brudenell Carter's On the Influence of Education and Training in Preventing Diseases of the Nervous System (1855) and his subsequent article 'On the Artificial Production of Stupidity in Schools' (1859). In his article, Carter describes the condition of young boys and girls 'crippled alike in mind and body by the effects of excessive and premature study.' Sally Shuttlesworth explores this condition more fully in The Mind of the Child (2010). Tondre might have enriched his argument further by reflecting on Carter’s or Shuttlesworth’s work.

Dombey’s wish to extend his lineage 'conflates the drives toward production and reproduction, mixing the domains of Dombey House and home' to satisfy his '"master-vice" of self-interest' (qtd. in Tondre 107). In criticizing the 'narcissism of patriarchal controls, the narrative accentuates how character can shift between generations' (113) to reveal the genetic and hereditary factors that propagate lines of descent. The novel identifies 'binarisms between failure and development, [and] sexual stagnation and reproduction' to expose the fractures in both genealogical and social processes that might be mended through alteration (113).Through the characters of Walter Gay and Florence, Tondre traces 'how abstemious sexual sacrifice [or failure] could yield more roundabout routes of communal regeneration,' particularly in introducing new genetic, moral, and social combinations to ensure the future of the Dombey lineage (96, 109).

In departing from Victorian science’s pessimistic calculation of diffusion as loss, Tondre suggests that Eliot repurposes the 'theory of energy diffusion as a model of eternal fulfillment' within Middlemarch(127). In Chapter Four, Tondre evaluates Eliot’s use of diffusion within her narrative structure to 'open possibilities for social improvement' (127). In so doing, she counterbalances the 'fact of individual defeat' with the 'prospects for moral amelioration' (127). Through what Tondre calls 'diffusive reading,' Eliot’s novel accumulates 'ethical influence through ongoing cultural circulation' (128) among its readers. It also becomes a tool for channeling the 'futile feelings' (131) of characters such as Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate into a meaningful contribution to the 'life of the collective' (144) beyond Middlemarch.

Tondre offers a robust commentary on his selected novels while also documenting the convergence of physical sciences and historiographical thinking in the mid-nineteenth century. He evidences how fictional works 'contributed to theories incipient in science' (167) and redirected the 'physics of variation toward [more] progressive social agendas' in Victorian Britain. Tondre constructs a comprehensive framework of historical, scientific, and literary artefacts to help readers recognize the boundlessness of possibility and the inherent value in striving toward it.

John C Murray, Curry College

Jason D. Hall, Nineteenth-Century Verse and Technology: Machines of Meter (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2017) 288 pp. £80.00 Hb. ISBN: 9783319535012

This book considers the 'ways in which machine culture impacted on fundamental conceptions of what poetic meter was and how it worked' (2). Jason Hall moves from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century but hinges himself theoretically on metrical and mechanical developments of the nineteenth century. In subsequent chapters, he explains how 'new epistemologies for conceiving beats, periods, and rhythmical modulations' found various modes of expression through nineteenth-century communicative and agricultural machines, such as the telegraph, steam thresher, kymograph, and poetry processor (5).

Hall analyzes how the systematic logic of the railway and telegraph provided mechanistic standards of linearity and spatio-temporal homogeneity that echoed the principle features of Coventry Patmore’s temporal metrics in the 'Measurement, Temporality, Abstraction' chapter (7). As Hall notes, 'The growth of the railway resulted in the homogenizing of time as well as space', and it reframed people’s lives within 'a larger narrative of temporal orientation' that accustomed Victorians to the '"metrical discipline of time" associated with Patmore and New Prosody' (23, 25).

Similarly, the metrics of telegraphy externalized new conceptions of time and space, which became features of daily life routines. Hall correlates how the telegraph’s 'units of electrically transmitted data' were quite similar to 'existing conventions for prosodic notation and scansion' that were internalized by millions of Europeans and North Americans (33). Hall also considers how the thresher machine became an 'alternative way of construing the effects of mechanization' on metrical abstraction, speech rhythms, and machine-generated rhythmical movement as well (34).

In 'Meter Manufactories', Hall describes the prosodic education of Victorian schoolboys and suggests that the monitorial system provided 'loci of metrical orthodoxy, as well as a [contentious] site of pedagogical, philological, and ideological' thinking, particularly for education reformists (63). Hall describes how monitorial schools, founded on the methods of Andrew Bell (1753-1832) and Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), taught assembly skills to working-class children. As Hall suggests, prosodic instruction replicated the'“mechanistic tasks, processes, and principles [...] of the expanding factory system' within the classroom (63). In so doing, it helped factory-model schools produce docile pupils capable of internalizing rules of instruction and regimentation that spread systemically among Victorian schools, factories, and industries.

Hall articulates how pronunciation and phonetic instruction became a fundamental stage of monitorial schooling in which both learner and language were rendered component parts of a larger educational apparatus' that replicated serial assembly (66). Through syllabic methods of reading and writing, children were taught how to speak in a 'mechanistic, stop-and-start manner' that echoed the 'division of labor characteristic of nineteenth century factory production' (68, 66). Hall concludes the chapter by evaluating various critiques of 'mechanical metrical instruction' (93).

Hall assesses the utility of various machine versifiers and historicizes succinctly the extension of politicized, prosodic debates in popular periodicals of the mid-Victorian period. He considers how inventor John Clark’s Eureka became another site for contesting 'technological embodiment and parodic indictment of the Victorian science of prosody' (9). The Eureka much like the factory system 'depended upon a segmentation of processes, breaking down complex mechanical operations into a series of simpler tasks that could be performed in isolation from one another' (117). Hall qualifies Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine as a precursor of artificial intelligence and evaluates Victorian concerns over the automation of human labor.

Through its own 'discriminating prosodic processes', Clark’s automaton functioned not by understanding versification or the 'dactylic properties of hexameter', but by reducing the prosody of this mixed measure to 'a predetermined fixed, and readily repeatable series of data' (128), which produced random outputs. Much like the Victorian school boy 'whose daily regime of scholastic prosody consisted of manufacturing nonsense hexameters one after another, Clark’s Eureka [...] had no real understanding of the meters it manufactured' (122); however, it inspired 'wide-ranging discussions about work, diversion, automation, and intelligence', which allowed for multiperspectivity on these controversial and timely issues (113).

In 'The Automatic Flow of Verse', Hall provides an interesting history of the new breed of prosodist – phrenologists, physiologists, physicians, and surgeons – who investigated the man-machine’s ability or deficiency in producing metrical verses through the conscious mind and mechanistic body. Prosodists from different disciplines explored the 'mechanics of meter in relation to brain functions and other somatic factors, such as respiratory rhythms, speech pathologies, and cerebral diseases' (175). In so doing, prosodists debated whether '[m]eter might be brought to bear on the body by the mind with positive effects, or it might be an embodied assertion [made] uncontrollable by conscious intervention' as Hall claims (197).

Hall evidences how a new prosodic science created 'models of meter predicated on abstraction, proportionate spacing and the artificial segmenting of rhythmic flow' in his final chapter (10).  He considers the ways in which recording instruments were used to capture 'the rhythmic data of the voice itself' (218). Hall also reflects on the '"imaginary" metrical modulus and the material properties of corporeal, voiced rhythms' (222). He further examines how mechanized innovations encouraged a 'reconceptualizing of not only the discrete properties of metrical verse [...] but also the practice of scansion' (222). He details how experimental physiologists employed Carl Ludwig’s Kymograph to discern patterns in physiological functions of living organisms. From this point, Hall plots a progressive course toward experimental psychologists and phoneticians who created graphic records of the 'infinitesimally fine measurements' of human voice (232). Consequently, they were able to develop a visual language for representing the 'material characteristics of the metered line that the unaided ear could not perceive' (237). Prosodic science, however, did not achieve an 'indisputable metric law, verified by machines and agreed by like-minded experts' but instead 'fell into obscurity' as Hall concludes (242).

Hall’s book is well-documented and deserves consideration proportionate to its theoretical undertaking. It also provides compelling socio-historical evidence of the relation between prosodic education and mechanized serial production in the nineteenth century. By placing his argument at the intersection of various theoretical disciplines, he articulates a comprehensive framework for assessing the literal and conceptual 'meshings between meter and machinery' (18) in the nineteenth century.

John C Murray, Curry College

Peter Merchant and Catherine Waters (eds), Dickens and the Imagined Child (Farnham: Ashgate 2015) 226 pp. £70.00 Hb. ISBN: 9781472423818

This book contributes to an already abundant field of criticism of Dickens and his work. It is divided into three parts, with twelve essays focused on various aspects of childhood in Dickens’s life and literature. Part One examines the portrayal of the Dickensian child as a character type, using the examples of Oliver Twist (1838), Dombey and Son (1846-48), Bleak House (1852-53); Part Two considers the relation between childhood memory formation and its retrieval through storytelling; and Part Three focuses on childhood experiences of reading and writing from Dickens’s childhood reading of tales and adventures, to the fictional child readers in his works and his own children who wrote and published the Gad’s Hill Gazette (1864-1866) under his tutelage.

In the first chapter of the collection, 'Dickens and the Knowing Child', Rosemarie Bodenheimer examines how Dickensian childhood is defined by abnormal contradictions. The Dickensian child must pretend to be a child 'so as not to threaten common notions of childhood innocence and dependency' on adults who might seek to exploit him or her (13). By hiding an awareness of adult realities, the Dickensian child slips into 'pathological states of denial or masochistic collusion' (18) that delay his or her emotional and psychological growth. Instead of growing up, Dickensian children, such as Jo from Bleak House, simply move elsewhere and adjust to the demands of their situation, as Bodenheimer argues.

Galia Benziman examines the figure of the lost child as a central theme of Oliver Twist in 'Who Stole the Child?: Missing Babies and Blank Identities in Early Dickens'. She argues that Dickens vacillates between aspects of 'social realism, melodrama, and fairy tale', in Boz’s “The First of May” (1839) and Oliver Twist to portray the lost child as a signifier of unstable and situational identity. Benziman concludes that the 'recognizing gaze' of an adult might restore the child to an 'equally valuable and individuated human being' (39-40).

In her essay '"No magic dwelling-place in magic story": Time, Memory and the Enchanted Children of Dombey and Son' Carolyn W de la L Oulton examines how myth and fantasy are used to bridge polarized visions of childhood within the Romantic tradition and commercial world. She explores these antagonistic visions through motifs such as 'the changeling, the witch and the enchanted princess' (44). In so doing, she articulates how cultural myths shape and define the relationship between children and the adults that either guide or oppose them. The myths of childhood affect perceptions of time and become as Oulton suggests, the 'basis of adult memory and action' (49).

Part One of the collection concludes with '"In a state of bondage": The Children of Bleak House', in which Jennifer Gribble claims that Dickens integrates the doctrine of original sin into his novels, 'from Oliver Twist onwards' (57), to create a model for redemption through 'good works and lively faith' (71). Of particular interest is Gribble’s analysis of how the hereditary curse affects the children of Bleak House, many of whom fail to escape from bondage to an uncaring system and punitive ideology (71).

The first essay of Part Two examines the complex relationship between Dickens’s memories and three of his autobiographical novels: David Copperfield (1849-50), Great Expectations (1860-61), and Bleak House. In 'The Adult Narrator’s Memory of Childhood in David’s, Esther’s, and Pip’s Autobiographies', Maria Teresa Chialant suggests Dickens’s novels 'can be read as a repetition' of his painful experiences at Warren’s Blacking Factory (79). Through writing and storytelling Dickens, much like his characters, is able to assert 'narrative control' over the traumatic memories of his past 'while remaining open and undefined in relation to them' (81). As Chialant concludes, Dickens endures the ordeals of childhood, reimagines himself, and writes retrospective narratives to plot his progression into adulthood.

Jane Avener locates the birthplace of Dickensian fancy within novelistic landscapes in 'A Medway Childhood: The Dickensian "arrière-pays"?' Avener employs 'arrière-pays', as defined by Yves Bonnefoy, to illuminate her analysis of Dickens’s Great Expectations and essays from The Uncommercial Traveller(1860). In so doing, she convincingly establishes a 'rapprochement between two writers so manifestly different' (94) whose imaginations were both haunted and inspired by memories of originary landscapes.

In '"Ten thousand million delights": Charles Dickens and the Childhood Wonder of the Pantomime Clown,' Jonathan Buckmaster considers Dickens’s vision of the clown as a 'touchstone to childhood wonder' (113). Buckmaster describes Dickens’s childhood fascination with pantomime as well as its influence on the 'grotesque consumption' (111) depicted in his earlier works. Buckmaster examines Dickens’s Introduction to the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1838) and traces 'echoes and "after images"' (127) of Grimaldi’s clownish trope of gluttony in characters appearing in Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1842-44). As Buckmaster convincingly argues, in reinventing the pantomime clown Dickens makes Grimaldi’s routines more accessible to a new audience.

In the last essay of Part Two, Peter Merchant >considers Dickens’s influence on Thomas Anstey Guthrie’s narrative methods in '"A kind of odor of Salem House": David Copperfield and Thomas Anstey Guthrie'. Merchant describes Guthrie’s works, such as Vice Versâ (1882) and A Long Retrospect (1936)as derivatives of Dickens’s narrative structures and techniques. As a 'literary disciple' (146) of Dickens, Guthrie struggles to reconnect the 'experiencing self of the past and the remembering self of the present' (145). Merchant suggests, Guthrie is unable to fully differentiate his memories from the 'memories he derived from reading Dickens' (137).

Part Three of the collection begins with Laura Peters’s essay 'Savage Stories: Charles Dickens, "The Noble Savage" and the Childhood Imagination'. Peters argues that public exhibitions became sites of memory. From within these sites “scientific theories of racial hierarchies” (162) were developed to support Victorian notions of superiority, particularly as related to non-indigenous colonization. As Peters suggests, the same notions are locatable in works, such as 'The Noble Savage' (1853). She concludes that Dickens’s storytelling, itself, resembles an 'act of [colonial] conquest' through which sites of memory are used to affirm 'white, male patriarchal authority' (164). Peters offers a valuable argument that might be further enhanced through a closer textual reading.

Wu Di analyzes the figure of the child reader in Dickens's Dombey and Son, David Copperfield and Hard Times  (1854). In his essay 'Child Readers in Dickens’s Novels,' Di describes how the Dickensian child reader is immersed in an 'imaginative or dream world' of conflicting beliefs and desires (169). By 'transitioning from passive listening to active writing' (178), the child reader develops self-awareness and self-confidence that enables him or her to bridge the gaps between belief and desire. In so doing, the child reader lays the foundation for his or her maturity. Through a careful analysis of the selected novels, Di evidences Dickens’s understanding of the ways in which children learn to read and develop both aesthetic and sympathetic responses to literary texts.

The final essay of the collection considers Dickens’s use of creativity and theatricality to stimulate his children’s play at periodical publication. In 'Playful "Assumption": Dickens’s Early Performative Creativity and its Influence on His Sons’ Family Newspaper, the Gad’s Hill Gazette', Christine Alexander describes how Dickens’s children imitated their father’s performative creativity. Through the act of performative creativity, a child is able to observe and imitate adult behavior. Dickens’s sons experimented with 'print culture of the adult world' (195), but they failed to match their father’s literary prowess. Alexander efficiently mines biographical material from Henry Fielding Dickens’s recollections of his father and also from existing issues of the Gad’s Hill Gazette to  document her compelling claims historically.

Dickens and the Imagined Child is an enjoyable collection of essays that provide distinct interpretive models for analyzing representations of child and childhood in the novelist’s works, life, and culture. The collection will serve as a valuable resource for curious readers and scholars of Dickensian writing in all of its various narrative forms and stylistic functions.

John C Murray, Curry College