The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 15, 2009 - Literary Criticism - 208 pages

While the Victorian novel famously describes, catalogs, and inundates the reader with things, the protocols for reading it have long enjoined readers not to interpret most of what crowds its pages. The Ideas in Things explores apparently inconsequential objects in popular Victorian texts to make contact with their fugitive meanings. Developing an innovative approach to analyzing nineteenth-century fiction, Elaine Freedgood here reconnects the things readers unwittingly ignore to the stories they tell.

Building her case around objects from three well-known Victorian novels—the mahogany furniture in Charlotte Brontė’s Jane Eyre, the calico curtains in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, and “Negro head” tobacco in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations—Freedgood argues that these things are connected to histories that the novels barely acknowledge, generating darker meanings outside the novels’ symbolic systems. A valuable contribution to the new field of object studies in the humanities, The Ideas in Things pushes readers’ thinking about things beyond established concepts of commodity and fetish.


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User Review  - jemsw - LibraryThing

This is a solid work of criticism, despite its relatively diminutive size. Freedgood takes particular instances of "things" in Victorian novels--Jane Eyre's mahogany furniture, Mary Barton's checked ... Read full review


Reading Things
Mahogany Furniture Deforestation and Slavery in Jane Eyre
Checked Curtains and Global Cotton Markets in Mary Barton
Negro Head Tobacco in and around Great Expectations
Standardizing Meaning in Middlemarch
Victorian Thing Culture and the Way We Read Now

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About the author (2009)

Elaine Freedgood is associate professor of English at New York University.

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