Dickens and His Urban Museum: The City as Ethnological Spectacle
Nineteenth-century ethnological shows involved the display of thousands of colonized people in a variety of urban settings, including zoos, cabarets, private apartments, and scientific institutions. Charles Dickens reacted strongly against this type of spectacle in the pamphlet ‘The Noble Savage,’ written in 1853 and explained his reaction further in Bleak House, published the same year. Chapter 7 shows how Dickens’ ‘human museum,’ already visible in most of the writer’s novels, takes a particular ethnological bent in Bleak House, where England’s ‘home-made savages’ are shown as victims of middle-class ‘telescopic philanthropy’. Following contemporary ethnological terminology, the novel describes Victorian capitalism’s own ‘nomads,’ in a city where the ghostly macrocosm of empire is always present.