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Dickens's Sublime Artifact

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Extract

John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture was among the books that Charles Dickens read at the seaside resort of Broadstairs during the summer of 1851. In November of that same year he commenced his great novel about the city, Bleak House (Forster 505). This work began the period of Dickens's last creative outpouring, in which he wrote the remarkable series of books that have sometimes been referred to as the dark novels. The connection between these events may be found in one of the central chapters of The Seven Lamps, “The Lamp of Power.” There Ruskin identifies the sublime in architecture as “a severe, and in many cases mysterious majesty, which we remember with an undiminished awe, like that felt at the presence and operation of some great Spiritual Power” (100). It is important for Ruskin that the architectural sublime – since it is based in a human construction – resembles but is not equivalent to the operation of a “great Spiritual Power.” In Modern Painters, he also located “the first step” of the sublime in “human power,” explicitly placing the origin of this inherently superhuman quality within humanity itself (128).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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