UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The printed image and the transformation of popular culture, 1790-1860 Anderson, Patricia J.


Scholarly consensus dates the onset of mass culture in England to the latter part of the nineteenth century. This study looks at cultural change from 1790 to 1860 and argues that the fundamental characteristics of a modern mass culture were already in place by about 1840. New printing technology, the growth of popular publishing, and the attendant broad dissemination of the printed word and image were central to the early initial emergence of a mass culture. And because the printed image became generally accessible and affordable, people did not necessarily need the ability to read in order to benefit from the offerings of a growing publishing industry. Thus, in a time when literacy was not universal, the printed image was the single most widely shared form of cultural experience. A new, markedly pictorial, mass culture emerged from the centre of the expanded and transformed version of an older popular culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The major artifacts of the emergent culture were four illustrated magazines, all of which achieved and maintained unprecedentedly high circulations, and whose written and pictorial content attracted a large and diverse--that is, mass--audience of middle- and working-class people, men and women, from various age groups, and from urban and rural locales all over Great Britain. In considering the content of these magazines and related contemporary artifacts, their place in working-class life, and certain individual producers and consumers of culture, Gramsci's theory of hegemony proves useful and, further, raises questions about the explanatory adequacy of certain other important models of the interaction of class and culture. Additionally the attempt is made to provide, and consistently work from, historically accurate, rigourous, yet widely applicable, definitions of the complex terms, "popular" and "mass". The leitmotif throughout is the relationship of common experience and high culture. A transformed popular culture and the new mass culture at its centre enriched people's lives in many ways. But high culture guarded its exclusivism and, for the most part, remained the preserve of wealth, social privilege and power.

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