The Stereoscope and Popular Fiction: Imagination and Narrative in the Victorian Home

Jonathan Potter

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Abstract

The stereoscope was a popular parlour toy that provided a powerful psychological viewing experience in the heart of the domestic space. In this article, I consider the stereoscope’s position as an instrument that was experienced, and often represented, in relation to the imaginative narrative processes of memory and fantasy. By reading the stereoscope’s position within popular fiction, the article seeks to uncover the way in which the stereoscope was consumed. The article shows that for many in the mid-Victorian period, the stereoscope operated as an everyday narrative-forming experience with a strong relation to the popular periodical fiction that was read alongside it in the domestic space. The first section of this article considers the cultural and psychological position of the stereoscope within the home, reading this alongside a number of short stories published in the popular periodic press. The second section consists of an analysis of the stereoscope’s involvement with psychological dualism and self-doubling, issues which stem, in particular, from the device’s reliance on photography. These aspects of the device are explored in relation to a nineteenth-century short story which draws a problematic relation between one’s self and one’s portrait. Finally, the article draws these issues together to show the importance of imaginative narratives within the stereoscopic experience. The viewing conditions of the stereoscope encouraged viewers to engage in an anticipatory, open-ended, and imaginative fantasy narrative. It is this unique narrative character of stereoscopic viewing experiences which most prominently distinguishes the device from other visual media.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-362
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Volume21
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2016

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Keywords

  • Stereoscope
  • Popular Fiction
  • Narrative
  • Fantasy
  • Memory
  • Photography
  • Short Stories
  • Periodicals
  • Optical Toys
  • Domesticity
  • Visual Culture
  • English literature

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