Jo Briggs
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‘All that is solid melts into air’
Representing the Chartist crowd in 1848
in Novelty fair
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Chapter two considers how, in depicting the Chartist crowd, forms typically linked with the fashioning of a stable middle-class identity proved slippery. In early April 1848 threatening working-class bodies were conjured into existence in order to justify the recruitment of special constables and the banning of the Chartists’ proposed march with their ‘monster petition’ to Westminster. However, just as quickly these bodies proved spectral as the protest was pronounced a failure. The Chartists’ failure, as covered in the press, was twofold: the crowd gathered on Kennington Common rapidly dispersed, and a Parliamentary committee exposed large numbers of the signatures on the petition as fake. However, these failures also resulted in the questioning of two means of representation closely associated with bourgeois identity, the daguerreotype photograph and the signature. The chapter ends with a consideration of the relationship between visual culture and crowds as a corrective to John Plotz’s claim of a special relationship between literature and crowds in the 19th century.

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Novelty fair

British visual culture between Chartism and the Great Exhibition


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