Two early examples suggest the importance of visual art in Dickens’s conception of his own role. One is the title of his first book, Sketches by Boz and Cuts by Cruikshank, which doubly insists (the parallel of the two artists, the author as sketcher) upon the similarities of writing and drawing. The other is the first image in the last number of Nicholas Nickleby, Daniel Maclise’s portrait of Dickens, subsequently incorporated as the frontispiece to the first edition (figure 1), a formal representation of the writer and the fact of his literary success. Replacing the fourth illustration of the final number, in some sense this image also illustrates; but rather than picturing some portion of the text, the portrait refers beyond it and beyond the writer’s mere textual presence to his life as a public figure. We see Charles Dickens supplanting Boz, a personage emerging from a pseudonym, his face rather than his prose the guarantor of identity, as if visuality has replaced the uncertainty of a mere name, mere words, with a self both recognizable and authentic (“Faithfully yours,” as the valediction over his signature declares). With this new public image attached to his writing, Dickens complicates the very conception of his “identity” (a term that can refer to the singular essence of some thing or person as well as to its equivalence to something or someone else): to know the writer we must see his face – see it, that is, formally rendered by a major contemporary painter. Presenting the “real” Dickens with a picture, illustrating the author, the portrait locates both the writer and his fiction within Victorian visual culture.
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