Intellectual Incorrectness: Melodrama, Populism, Cultural Hierarchies

Juliet John

in Dickens's Villains

Published in print March 2001 | ISBN: 9780198184614
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191714214 | DOI:
Intellectual Incorrectness: Melodrama, Populism, Cultural Hierarchies

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This chapter discusses intellectual incorrectness in melodrama, populism, and cultural hierarchies. The history of the academic study of English literature provides ample explanation for the suppression of melodrama in literary histories before the 1960s. While this book freely draws on recent theoretical instruments, it also contends that there remains a vast gap in our knowledge of the 19th-century stage and our understanding of the cultural and ideological significance of its modes of representation. Both melodrama's formal characteristics and the social and cultural conditions of its birth contributed to its popularity. As melodrama was originally designed for those who could not read, 19th-century stage melodrama offered Dickens inclusive, populist, indeed anti-intellectual aesthetics. Melodrama's emergence encapsulates the struggle of the lower classes to attain representation, and the attempts of some in power to prevent their empowerment. Early stage melodrama is a site of struggle for cultural and political power.

Keywords: 19th century; Charles Dickens; melodrama; melodramatic aesthetics; populism; cultural hierarchies; cultural power; political power

Chapter.  7847 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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