This essay focuses on the relationship between certain popular visual forms, such as the city sketch and the panorama, and the making of an urban novelistic aesthetic, of which Charles Dickens's Bleak House (1852-53) is the most developed embodiment. In order to delineate the specific features of this urban aesthetic I turn to the very different ways in which William Makepeace Thackeray in Pendennis (1848-50) and, especially, Vanity Fair (1847-48) articulates the city and those who inhabit it-despite Thackeray's familiarity with the representational modes that developed in the relatively "lower" forms of visual culture. Through this process of differentiation I show how this urban aesthetic involves distinct ways of negotiating such problems as the tension between the dispersive and the centralizing impulses of the city, as well as the threat that the teeming, socially unpredictable life of the city posed to the traditional domain of the novel, the middle- or upper-class home. Finally, by setting off Dickens's mode of figuring character against Thackeray's more self-consciously literary methods, I highlight the ways in which the urban aesthetic that underlies Bleak House affected Dickens's methods.
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