Mass media critique in Charles Dickens’s "Martin Chuzzlewit" and William North’s "The City of Jugglers; or, Free-Trade in Souls"
The Victorian period is arguably the era when the mass media was born. In the nineteenth century, a myriad of factors allowed newspaper circulations to increase substantially and transformed the paper from something that was read only by the most affluent members of society into the cultural and social epicenter of Victorian life. The abolishment of press taxes, the advertising duty, the stamp duty, and the paper duty permitted publications to lower their prices, print more editions, and have larger pages. Locomotion advances, and the electric telegraph, lead to news traveling faster and from farther away than it ever had before. A litany of printing innovations revolutionized the printing industry and allowed for unprecedented volumes of material to be produced at rapid speeds. These technological improvements and changes in policy granted Victorian periodicals the ability to significantly shape the public’s political and social consciousness. Furthermore, they allowed the press to become a Foucauldian force that could eviscerate the reputation of public figures. Newspapers’ growing popularity also threatened to culturally displace the novel and attenuate the novel’s ability to act as a meaningful social influencer. Scholarly attention has been paid to how many prominent critics and essayists (e.g. Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, Philip Gaskell, etc.) responded to the press’s stark growth and its inculcating potential, but little attention has been spent analyzing how novelists reacted to the new media landscape that threatened them both as citizens and artists. In this project, I’ve chosen to analyze Charles Dickens’s "Martin Chuzzlewit" (1844) and William North’s "The City of the Jugglers: Or Free-Trade in Souls" (1850) since they are the Victorian novels that arguably present the first comprehensive “literary media critique.” I also hope to position Chuzzlewit and Jugglers as critical texts for media archeologists who are striving to understand how literature was utilized by novelists to critique the mass media during its nascent development.