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‘Humanity invested with a new form’: The Post Office and the Hospital in Household Words c. 1850

Jonathan Potter (Birmingham City University)

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Published Date:

January 2021


Household Words, Victorian Periodicals, Division of Labour, Industrialisation, Systemisation, Networks


This essay explores some of the techniques employed to present new infrastructural formations to a general reading public through close examination of writings about the postal system and the hospital in Dickens’s popular general interest magazine, Household Words. Reading these articles against Marc Augé’s account of late twentieth-century ‘supermodernity’, I argue that the newly extended reach of such systems is presented as a way out of chaotic overabundances of detail, especially in busy urban environments, as well as a means to acquire a greater mastery over the world. Yet at the same time, these articles also seek to reform the role of the individual in relation to these systems, subjugating individual agency to the primacy of systemic control. This essay aims to deepen our understanding of the reception and portrayal of infrastructural industrialisation in Household Words specifically, and the periodical press more broadly, in the years immediately following the Great Exhibition.

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36 - 56

Date of Publication:

January 2021

About the author

Jonathan Potter (Birmingham City University)

Jonathan Potter is a lecturer and researcher at Birmingham City University. His research mainly focuses on intersections between Victorian visual and literary cultures, and he recently published his first monograph, Discourses of Vision in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Seeing, Thinking, Writing (2018).

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