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Ahead of its Time: Dickens's Prescient Vision of the Arts

John, J. & Wood, C. (2024). Ahead of its Time: Dickens's Prescient Vision of the Arts. In: John, J. & Wood, C. (Eds.), The Edinburgh Companion to Charles Dickens and the Arts. . Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.


Dickens’s relationship with the Arts has confounded or silenced some of the most eminent critics from his day to ours. His own reticence on the topic likewise makes the idea of a book on Dickens and the Arts a little odd or dissonant. Though as this volume makes clear, he was well versed in a range of high and low arts, he was seemingly determined to embrace, if not the wrong side of the cultural track, metaphorically speaking, a different track. The Introduction is structured around four broad areas which are key to an understanding of both the ideological underpinnings of shifting definitions of the Arts, and to an understanding of the reasons for Dickens’s complex relationship to the idea of the Arts: money/materialism; hierarchies of privilege; yardsticks of criticism or artistic judgement; the public good. There is an uneasy relationship between ‘the Arts’ and all four areas, between Dickens and all four, and between Dickens and the Arts understood via these frames, which are commonly invoked in discussions of the Arts. The contention of this volume is that, far from being a philistine who had no interest in the Arts, Dickens’s apparent reticence in an industrial age where the value and function of the Arts was uniquely important in public debate, masks a complex and sophisticated vision (if not theory) of the Arts in the modern era, which is, and was, ahead of its time. Dickens’s philosophy of art in fact works to complicate in subtle ways the idea of an opposition between idealist and integrationist views of the aesthetic, though its most characteristic thrust is integrationist.

Publication Type: Book Section
Publisher Keywords: money; materialism; modernism; taste; hierarchies of privilege; yardsticks of criticism; the public good; idealism; integrationism
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Departments: Presidents's Portfolio
[thumbnail of 01 John Wood Dickens’s Prescient Vision of the Arts.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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