Nicholas Daly, The Demographic Imagination and the Nineteenth-Century City : Paris, London, New York (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press 2015) 272 pp. £22.99 Pb., $78.00 PDF, £62.00 Hb. ISBN : 978-1-107-09559-5
While the significance of nineteenth-century urbanization is well recognized, Nicholas Daly's new book explores the larger, though related, issue of demographic change over the period. Transformations in industry, medicine, sanitation, agriculture, and transportation may have changed how people in the nineteenth century lived. But changes in ageing and life-expectancy, fertility, the family, and immigration affected how many people were alive at any one time. Those living in the nineteenth-century thus had to come to grips with the explosive population growth (both rural and urban) that such advancements enabled. Stated differently, the number of other humans with which one co-existed in the nineteenth century expanded, creating what Daly calls a 'demographic imagination', ways in which a mass of individuals could be represented and conceived. By the end of the nineteenth century, as the concept of 'modernity' took hold, a general hostility towards the concept of 'the masses' can be identified, but Daly's book explores an earlier, and more varied, set of cultural responses to the problems posed by population growth.
In five chapters, the book outlines five aspects of the response to mass humanity : apocalyptic, criminal, supernatural, visual and proto-ecological. Through engaging various popular cultural products from Paris, London and New York, Daly provides insightful commentary on how changing understandings of population and mass humanity (and, importantly, the historical specificity of that population) were represented in theatre, opera, art, literature, print culture, and fashion.
In the first chapter, 'Under the Volcano: Mass Destruction', Daly provides compelling descriptions of the various popular and high art nineteenth-century treatments of volcanic subject matter in theatre, novels and painting, in England, France and elsewhere. Daly ties these examples to the specific history of the site of Pompeii as it was unearthed and studied during the period, providing 'a way of thinking at one remove about urban life in the present', as well as to eruptions which occured during the century and stirred up popular interest in the subject (21). The antiquarian interest in the ruins of Pompeii finds its aesthetic corollary in Romanticism. The demographic imagining here is often of a small group who 'escape volcanic disaster to form the nucleus of a new society. The city, and the surging crowd, are destroyed, and a more pastoral form of life can begin' (18. With a striking analysis of Edward Bulwer Lytton's work The Last Days of Pompeii, the chapter shows how by the end of the 1830s, interest in the volcano had shifted from the philosophical towards its potential as spectacle and special effect.
The second chapter considers the popular genres of of mystery and melodrama, in the underworld of urban crime to the 1840s that circulated from Europe to America. Such works take up common figures and tropes - the labyrinth, the crowd, the panorama, the document, the Goualeuse (or street singer) - to give shape to the struggles of those on the margins of society, often including the criminal. Looking at a number of variations between French and British crime fiction, Daly argues that such works give shape to the 'dangerous classes' that peopled local cities, providing 'highly colored tales of urban crime' but also 'realistic local detail'. (66) Again, tying his project to history, Daly underscores changes in transportation (omnibus, railways, commuter travel) together with changes in the representation of criminals (occurring around the time that England ended the transportation of criminals to Australia), and he connects these to the ever-shifting grounds of high and low cultural production in the nineteenth century.
The third chapter 'The Ghost comes to Town: the Haunted City', considers how magazines and annuals galvanized the modern literary ghost story transforming the locations of the supernatural from the gothic fictions of the eighteenth century to the spaces of the nineteenth, where private homes, public transport and the streets themselves are haunted. The popularity of supernatural stories was sustained by the expansion of periodical publishing in the mid nineteenth century. Drawing on the revival of folklore, atmosphere was created through the use of regional settings - country houses, rustic inns, college rooms and other picturesquely non-modern locales - which furthermore allowed for new supernatural possibilities made available by the equally new transportation networks. Interestingly, it would likely have been on and in such modes of transportation that these stories would have been read, heightening the uncannyness of the ghost stories themselves. Daly provides interesting analysis of acclaimed authors such as American expatriate Henry James and the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu.
The fourth chapter looks at print culture and the city, arguing that print not only invaded the city through magazines and novels, but through the ephemera of postering, advertisements and newspapers (which came to stand in for the precarious position occupied by certain sections of society). The figure of the bill-poster, the newspaper boy, and the journalist come into the fore in this period, but so too does the repurposing of such paper ephemera for secondary purposes, as Daly demonstrates in his analysis of visual imagery by Augustus Mulready, particularly of the wrapping of flowers to be sold by young women on the streets. This 'baffling array of actual texts' (108) now confronts the individual in public space, but significantly these textual traces are subsequently incorporated into paintings and prints that represent the urban environment, redoubling the textual content and insisting on it as part of the urban landscape.
The final chapter, 'Fur and Feathers: Animals and the City in an Anthropocene Era', begins by considering the non-human cohabitants of the nineteenth-century city - the horses, fox, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, rats, and birds - using census data in a compelling and dynamic way to show changes in agricultural distribution, housing, and public health. Daly then considers the anti-vivisectionist movement as it appeared in literature of the time, emphasizing such notable pro-animal writers as Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin, Robert Browning, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Bernard Shaw and others. , Daly shows how the forces of consumer cultures of fashion towards the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth led to an increase in the trade in feathers and fur, particularly for women's fashion. Arguing that there was a proto-ecological kind of thinking at play, Daly considers the discourses of anti-fur and anti-feather that circulated at the time, often blaming the female consumers rather than considering the often male-dominated world of trade.
In the introduction, Daly deftly points towards Franco Moretti's concept of 'distant reading' as a guiding principle, but fails to give strong data-based evidence of some of his points. Although Daly is tacitly arguing that the sheer volume of artistic material produced on the subject of volcanos, for example, is deserving of attention, one wonders if the data couldn't be more compellingly and quickly represented as an infographic lending the arguments visual support without getting caught up in, what are at times, lengthy enumerations. This is particularly evident given that demographics so easily lends itself to graphical representation. In lengthy enumeration, providing details such as the title, dates and authors of works, the sheer quantity of novels, theatrical productions, artworks, magazines, newspapers and items of fashion submerges the theme of the 'demographic imagination' . Yet surely this accumulation could have been given form through numbers in a series of infographics that would in turn allow them to be related directly to demographics. Because these lists, (sometimes given in the form of plot summaries of the major works) often come in advance of the laying out of the main argument of the chapter, they can be rather disorientating to read. The scope of Daly's project is commendable, embracing the long nineteenth century through the cultural lenses of England, France, and the United States. While such a broad scope does not allow for the book to make any definitive claims, this is justified because, as Daly points out, cultural forms in the nineteenth century are in constant motion: moving in multiple directions across the Atlantic and through Europe. In opening the possibility for comparison based on the popularity and afterlife of a cultural text as it invokes various figures of the 'demographic imagination', Daly's project is a delightful engagement with various material and aesthetic cultures of the nineteenth century.
Kathleen Morris, University of Toronto