Skip to main content
×
×
Home

PRIMITIVE CRITICISM AND THE NOVEL: G. H. LEWES AND HIPPOLYTE TAINE ON DICKENS

  • Peter Melville Logan (a1)
Extract

In a controversial article on the life and fiction of Charles Dickens, George H. Lewes ponders the inexplicable preference of readers for the novelist's too-simplistic characters over the more complex characters of other writers. He finds an answer in the primitive reaction to fine art: “To a savage there is so little suggestion of a human face and form in a painted portrait that it is not even recognized as the representation of a man” (“Dickens” 150). The implication, it would seem, is that readers turn to Dickens because they are similarly incapable of appreciating more refined modes of art. Today the remark reads as gratuitous and insulting to readers, to Dickens, and to the other cultures Lewes stereotypes as savage. At the same time, the casual nature of the passage also suggests that it reflects commonly held beliefs about primitive life, beliefs we do not have but that Lewes and his readers took for granted. He was clearly safe in assuming such a body of common knowledge, for many other articles in the Fortnightly Review (in which Lewes's article appeared in 1872) had similar references to primitivism. Reading through the journal issues of the time, the extent to which anthropological concepts had escaped the covers of books on primitive society and taken up residence in the pages of review essays on contemporary issues – from history, to life in the colonies, to life in Britain itself – is striking. In its print context, the comment about savages and art is less isolated and inexplicable than it is representative of a broad turn to the topic of primitivism in social commentary and analysis during the 1870s.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      PRIMITIVE CRITICISM AND THE NOVEL: G. H. LEWES AND HIPPOLYTE TAINE ON DICKENS
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      PRIMITIVE CRITICISM AND THE NOVEL: G. H. LEWES AND HIPPOLYTE TAINE ON DICKENS
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      PRIMITIVE CRITICISM AND THE NOVEL: G. H. LEWES AND HIPPOLYTE TAINE ON DICKENS
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
References
Hide All
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “Race.” Critical Terms for Literary Study. Eds. Lentricchia, Frank and McLaughlin, Thomas. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. 274–87.
Arnold, Arthur. “The Political Enfranchisement of Women.” Fortnightly Review 11.62 (1872): 204–14. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Ashton, Rosemary. G.H. Lewes: A Life. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.
Bagehot, Walter. “Physics and Politics: Nation-Making.” Fortnightly Review 10.60 (1871): 696717. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. Knowing Dickens. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007.
Buzard, James. Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-Century British Novels. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005.
Chesterton, George K. Charles Dickens: A Critical Study. New York: Mead, 1910.
Colvin, Sydney. Rev. of Orissa, by W. W. Hunter. Fortnightly Review 11.66 (1872): 732. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Dames, Nicholas. The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Dickens, Charles. “To G. H. Lewes.” ? 9 June 1838. The Letters of Charles Dickens: 1820–1839. Eds. House, Madeline and Storey, Graham. Vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1965. 403–4.
Eliot, George. “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Essays of George Eliot. Ed. Pinney, Thomas. New York: Columbia UP, 1963. 300–24.
Eliot, George. “To John Blackwood.” 7 Mar. 1870. The George Eliot Letters. Ed. Haight, Gordon S.. Vol. 5. New Haven: Yale UP, 1955. 81.
Evans, Brad. Before Cultures: The Ethnographic Imagination in American Literature, 1865–1920. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005.
Flibbert, Joseph T.Dickens and the French Debate over Realism: 1838–1856.” Comparative Literature 23.1 (1971): 1831. JSTOR. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Ford, George Harry. Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel-Criticism since 1836. New York: Norton, 1965.
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. 7 ed. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011.
Greenhut, Morris. “George Henry Lewes as a Critic of the Novel.” Studies in Philology 45.3 (1948): 491511. JSTOR. Web. 17 Nov. 2012.
Greiner, Rae. “Stupid Dickens: A Panel Discussion.” Introduction. Dickens Studies Annual. Vol. 46. New York: AMS P, 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.
Haight, Gordon S.Dickens and Lewes.” PMLA 71.1 (1956): 166–79. JSTOR. Web. 25 June 2012.
Kahn, Sholom Jacob. Science and Aesthetic Judgment: A Sudy in Taine's Critical Method. New York: Columbia UP, 1953.
Kuklick, Henrika. The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
Lawrenny, H.Custom and Sex.” Fortnightly Review 11.63 (1872): 310–23. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Lewes, G. H. Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences: Being an Exposition of the Principles of the Cours de philosophie positive by August Comte. London: Bohn, 1853.
Lewes, G. H.Criticism in Relation to Novels.” Fortnightly Review 3.15 (1865): 352–61. British Periodicals. Web. 28 May 2013.
Lewes, G. H.Dickens in Relation to Criticism.” Fortnightly Review 11.62 (1872): 141–54. British Periodicals. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.
Lewes, G. H.Grote's History of Greece: The Homeric Poems.” Westminster Review 46.2 (1847): 381415. Wellesley Index. Web. 11 Oct. 2014.
Lewes, G. H. The Principles of Success in Literature. Ed. Dallam Armes, William. Berkeley: U of California Student's Co-Operative Association, 1901.
Lewes, G. H. The Study of Psychology: Its Object, Scope, and Method. Ed. Eliot, George. London: Trübner, 1879. Web. Vol. 4 of Problems of Life and Mind. 5 vols. 1874–79.
Logan, Peter Melville. Victorian Fetishism: Intellectuals and Primitives. Albany: State U of New York P, 2009.
Lyall, A. C.Religion of an Indian Province.” Fortnightly Review 11.62 (1872): 121–40. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Martineau, Harriet, ed. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. New York: Blanchard, 1855.
Montesquieu, Charles de Secondat. The Spirit of the Laws. Trans. Cohler, Anne M., Basia Carolyn Miller and Harold Samuel Stone. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989.
Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009.
Stang, Richard. The Theory of the Novel in England: 1850–70. London: Routledge, 1959.
Stephen, Leslie. “Warburton.” Fortnightly Review 11.62 (1872): 154–75. British Periodicals. Web. 20 May 2016.
Stocking, George W. Victorian Anthropology. New York: Free P, 1987.
Stoehr, Taylor. Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1965.
Sully, James. “Poetic Imagination and Primitive Conception.” Cornhill 34.201 (1876): 294306. British Periodicals. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Taine, Hippolyte. “Charles Dickens: son talent et ses oeuvres.” Revue de Deux Mondes n.s. 1. 1 Feb. (1856): 618–47. Revue des deux mondes. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Taine, Hippolyte. History of English Literature. Trans. Van Laun, Henri. 4 vols. 1883. New York: Ungar, 1965.
Tjoa, Hock Guan. George Henry Lewes: A Victorian Mind. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1977.
Trollope, Anthony. “George Henry Lewes.” Fortnightly Review 31 o.s., 25 n.s. (1879): 15–24. British Periodicals. Web. 28 Aug. 2012.
Tylor, Edward B. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1871. Internet Archive. Web. 15 May 2016.
Wellek, René. A History of Modern Criticism: 1750–1950: The Later Nineteenth Century. Vol. 4. 5 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965.
Winter, Sarah. The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens. New York: Fordham UP, 2011.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed