This book is about Thomas Hood, a nineteenth-century writer and illustrator whose work is characterized by play. It argues that looking closely at Hood illuminates three areas of nineteenth-century cultural production that modern scholarship has yet fully to explore: the output of the years 1824-40; comic poetry; and the grotesque. These three areas of discomfort are linked, each of them threatens boundaries that are convenient for literary criticism. The book explores Hood's early career at the London Magazine, restoring the dynamic context in which he began experimenting with voice and genre. It examines the connection between the London's liberal politics and its culture of play. The book concerns with the effects of Hood's remarkably pluralistic approach to words, texts, and readers, both as material entities and as imaginative projections. It considers Hood's puns, their effects, their detractors, and the cultural politics of punning in the nineteenth century. The book examines the politics of Hood's play in relation to nineteenth-century debate about labour and leisure. Hood's work in relationship to the so-called 'minor' or 'illegitimate' theatre of the 1820s and 1830s is analyzed. Hood's work plays out the possibilities of an emergent cultural democracy: his poetry is practically and ideologically allied with the forms, subjects, and modes of illegitimate theatre. Hood's upbringing in a changing print culture makes him unsually alert to and appreciative of the play of language, the serendipitous intertextuality of the street where signs are in constant dialogue with one another.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that looking closely at Thomas Hood illuminates three areas of nineteenth-century cultural production that modern scholarship has yet fully to explore: the output of the years 1824-40; comic poetry; and the grotesque. It explores Hood's early career at the London Magazine. The book focuses on Hood's remarkable pluralistic approach to words, texts, and readers, both as material entities and as imaginative projections. It considers the grotesque as a richly fruitful axis for understanding Hood's work across different genres. The book also considers Hood's puns, their effects, their detractors, and the cultural politics of punning in the nineteenth century. It examines the politics of Hood's play in relation to nineteenth-century debate about labour and leisure.
Thomas Hood, with his quick eye for public signs and advertisements, instantly notes unintended coalescence between the most prosaic of building materials and the most ethereal of literary fabrics. His upbringing in a world of print makes Hood hyper-aware of the porousness of language and its susceptibility to plural readings within the marketplace of competing representations. Hood hailed from Dundee, which, having completed an apprenticeship to a bookseller. Both Hood and Charles Dickens stage incidents where one kind of writing is mistaken for another, with inflammatory results. Though Hood as an adult did not become a Glasite, his own principles echo palpably with the resonance of his dissenting heritage. After the end of his formal schooling, as an apprentice engraver with literary aspirations, Hood joined a local 'Social Literary Society' whose membership, he remembered, included Quakers and Methodists.
This chapter explores the dynamics of the London and its culture of play provide vital clues to Thomas Hood's literary development and the relationship between his writing and that of his contemporaries. The London Magazine incorporated writers of different political hues and resisted identification with any party interest. Through the mask of 'The Lion's Head' at the London, Hood began to experiment with the freedoms of printed voice, learning from the examples of Charles Lamb, John Hamilton Reynolds, and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright. Hood and Reynolds established a fraternal friendship early in Hood's period at the London and their writing shares a delight in parody and in jokes that involve literary translocation. Hood's poem 'The Last Man', offers another example of his ambivalence about romantic motifs and nuanced response to literary predecessors.
This chapter considers Thomas Hood's poetry in relationship to the so-called 'minor' or 'illegitimate' theatre of the 1820s and 1830s. The London Magazine inculcated a strikingly warm and broad approach to theatre, extolling drama as a medium that presents and solicits interaction grounded in natural fellow-feeling. Hood's first book of poetry, Odes and Addresses to Great People, written in collaboration with John Hamilton Reynolds, has an explicitly theatrical background. In Odes and Addresses, Hood and Reynolds similarly eschew the model of the lone poet mounted on Pegasus, countering it with an image of the author as showman, urban topographer, saluting the metropolitan audience as subject. Hood's monologues, with their emphasis on the process of viewing and the theatre of the everyday, draw attention to social and class identity as itself an effect of performance.
This chapter argues that Thomas Hood is a primary exponent of the grotesque in the early nineteenth century. A closer investigation of Hood's use of the grotesque can help us to understand not only his own work in different genres but also the typicality and topicality of the grotesque idiom in this period. Hood's preoccupation with the grotesque is a feature of his work from his earliest contributions to the London Magazine to late poems such as 'The Elm Tree: A Dream in the Woods', and 'Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg'. 'Lycus the Centaur', like 'The Two Peacocks of Bedfont' and 'Hero and Leander', was reprinted in Hood's volume of 'serious' verse The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies. Hood's grotesquerie is strongly coloured by his imbrication in an expanding market in which change is omnipresent and omnipotent, and subjects and objects can be exchanged with shocking ease.
This chapter describes puns and punning. It argues that Thomas Hood's puns should be viewed not as a curious tic or an embarrassing antic but as intrinsic to his perception and deployment of language. Punning is crucially, associated with social disinhibition. It carries both positive cultural memories of infant play, the pleasures of orality prior to communicative responsibility, and negative adult connotations of unstable, potentially anti-social verbal excess. The fine line that the pun walks in the nineteenth century between social and anti-social behaviour, unconscious vulgarism and highly deliberate transgression of class rules, makes it a loaded trope. Hood exploits the delicate balance between pleasure and displeasure to the full, making the 'tied trope' central to his personal high wire act. In Hood's blackly comic poems the pun acts as the 'double figure', the agent and product of grotesque combination.
This chapter examines the relationship between Thomas Hood's engagement with the subject of recreation and the changing face of work. Hood's play offers a counter discourse, rooted in intimacy and childhood memory, to the inhumane rhythms of incessant and mechanical work. Hood's writing at the London Magazine is concerned with issues of public order and the growing number of restrictions on public behaviour in city streets. In articulating and mediating the relationship between middle-class leisure and working-class labour, Hood provided a model for many other nineteenth-century writers and artists. The Sabbatarian movement was prominent and powerful in early nineteenth-century Britain; it opposed Sunday labour and secular Sunday leisure pursuits that associated with intemperance and impiety. One of the most acute challenges that Hood makes to academic critics is that the fact that analysing literature is our work may blind us to the elemental function of poetry as play.