Victorian Soundscapes

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"Far from the hushed restraint we associate with the Victorians, their world pulsated with sound. This book shows how, in more ways than one, Victorians were hearing things. The representations close listeners left of their soundscapes offered new meanings for silence, music, noise, voice, and echo that constitute an important part of the Victorian legacy to us today. In chronicling the shift from Romantic to modern configurations of sound and voice, Picker draws upon literary and scientific works to recapture the sense of aural discovery figures such as Babbage, Helmholtz, Freud, Bell, and Edison shared with the likes of Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, Stoker, and Conrad."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Picker is suggestive, intelligent and insightful.... There are enough fine chords struck and suggestions made so his own soundscape keeps resonating after the book is closed.... [He] is subtly and ingeniously his dissection of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda."—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"A pioneering work on an important topic.... Fascinating.... Important for [its] interest in how the senses register modernity, and for the broader social implications of the ways in which the outside world penetrates the bodily sensorium, whether the ear accommodates, or is jarred by, the impact of technology and of commerce."—Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

"[A] brilliant interweaving of diverse texts and fields around the Victorian cultural response to the perceiving body."—Albion

"Poised to propel further study of Victorian acoustic culture, an outgrowth and counterpart to widespread study of visual technologies."—Victorian Poetry

"Picker's Victorian Soundscapes brilliantly evokes not only the sheer noisiness of nineteenth-century city life, but also the vibrancy of authorial response to it.... His approach is absorbingly persuasive."—Dickens Quarterly

"Informed and freshly provocative. These close readings of fin-de-siècle literary texts underscore Picker's primary contribution to the field. Victorian Soundscapes adds a new sonic layer of meaning to literary works about which we thought we'd heard it all before."—Victorian Studies

"The past few years of scholarly work have treated us to an amazing playback of Victorian sounds, with John Picker's excellent book holding a central place in that recovery effort.... An elegant orchestration of some of those sounds that teaches our scholarly ears how to listen better. No one who reads it will fail to appreciate, as the Victorians did themselves, their acoustic culture."—Jonathan Grossman, Modern Philology

"The kind of work that Picker exhibits here represents the best of contemporary cultural criticism."—Victorian Literature and Culture

"Picker amplifies 'the faint murmur of soundscape studies,' which have reached their steadiest 'hum' in work on the twentieth century, through this 'ear-opening' study of sound in Victorian literature and culture."—Modern Language Quarterly

"One of the most exciting recent developments in the history of consciousness has been a heightened awareness of listening: an exploration of how acoustic environments, the technologies of sound, and the means of vocal communication shape our sense of ourselves and of the worlds we live in. John Picker's Victorian Soundscapes speaks on this topic with an assured voice. It offers the attentive ear both a rich trove of historical lore and an incisive analysis of how modern acoustics became a part of modern subjectivity. The book is rewarding both as a study of Victorian 'close listening' in its own right and as a source of resonant case studies in the emerging field of cultural acoustics."—Lawrence Kramer, Fordham University

"In this impressively researched book, John M. Picker has broken ground for a new field of social history, the widening of the Victorians' aural experience, from street musicians to the phonograph and the telephone, and its significant bearing on sound and silence in the literary works of the period."—Richard D. Altick, Ohio State University

"In this wonderfully rich contribution to the history of sensory experience, John Picker demonstrates that Victorian daily life was increasingly awash in sounds both subtle and strident—from the lapping of waves and the uproar of street noises to phonographed recordings of human voices. Combining accounts of science and technology with analyses of literary representations, Picker's case studies authoritatively establish the importance of a sensory modality to whose meanings a wide range of Victorian writers were remarkably attentive."—Janice Carlisle, Tulane University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195151916
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/4/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John M. Picker is Associate Professor of English at Harvard University

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Tramp of a Fly's Footstep 3
1 "What the Waves Were Always Saying": Voices, Volumes, Dombey and Son 15
Babbage and Dickens: A Library of Air 15
"Away, with a Shriek, and a Roar, and a Rattle" 20
Forever and Forever through Space 34
2 The Soundproof Study: Victorian Professional Identity and Urban Noise 41
Scatterbrain London 41
"Blackguard Savoyards and Herds of German Swine" 45
Writers' Block 52
Embodying Noise: The Leech Case 65
"Great Facts" 77
3 George Eliot's Ear: New Acoustics in Daniel Deronda and Beyond 82
On the Other Side of Silence 82
Helmholtz and Eliot: Sympathetic Vibration 84
"On the Verge of a Great Discovery": Talking Cures 100
4 The Recorded Voice from Victorian Aura to Modernist Echo 110
Tennyson's Talking Machine 110
"Send Me Mr. Gladstone's Voice" 113
Sinful Speech 126
Sound Bites 133
Coda: The Victor Dog 142
App Dickens's Prospectus for the Cheap Edition (1847) 147
Notes 151
Bibliography 193
Index 211
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