George Augustus Sala: A Visual Apprenticeship

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Abstract

This article traces Sala’s journey from childhood blindness through to the restoration of his sight and his immersion into the expanding nineteenth-century illustrative world as an engraver, illustrator and scene painter and to his eventual rejection of the visual for the written word. Using Paul de Man’s definition of modernity – that it involves ‘a freshness of perception that results from a slate wiped clear’ and that the human figures ‘that epitomise modernity are defined by experiences such as childhood or convalescence’ – the chapter will argue that Sala’s relationship to print culture was affected by this loss of sight and on its restoration he was endowed with a fresher, more modern and dynamic way of observing Victorian culture. The chapter goes on to work through Sala’s inner ideological struggle between pen and pencil, an ideological struggle that was mirrored within wider Victorian culture.It will highlight the influence that Sala’s early reading of the Illustrated London News and Punch had on his relationship to the visual and to his later satirical writing style. His early meetings with Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon, and his apprenticeship to the miniature painter Carl Schiller are highlighted, as is his illustrative work for The Man in the Moon, which led to his satirical attack on the Punch brotherhood, A Word with Punch. Sala’s work for The Lady’s Newspaper is discussed and the way this influenced his passion for clothes and clothing, as is his work for penny dreadfuls with their emphasis on sensation. His work for these two very different productions underlines his ability to transcend high and low culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-597
Number of pages21
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume40
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2012

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