Victorian Negatives

Literary Culture and the Dark Side of Photography in the Nineteenth Century

By Susan E. Cook

Subjects: Nineteenth-century Studies, Literature, Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies, Art
Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Hardcover : 9781438475370, 218 pages, August 2019
Paperback : 9781438475363, 218 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. The Daguerreotype: Dickens’s Counterfeit Presentment

2. The Solarized Print: Little Dorrit’s Sun and Shadow

3. The Forensic Photograph and the Cabinet Card: Failing to Observe with Sherlock Holmes

4. The Double Exposure: Double Negatives at the Fin de Siecle

5. The Postmortem Photograph: Photographing (in) Wessex

Conclusion Photographic Absence and the Vampire’s Modern Celebrity

Works Cited

Argues that the photographic negative gives a new way of understanding Victorian debates surrounding origins and copies as well as reality and representation.


Victorian Negatives examines the intersection between Victorian photography and literary culture, and argues that the development of the photographic negative played an instrumental role in their confluence. The negative is a technology that facilitates photographic reproduction by way of image inversion, and Susan E. Cook argues that this particular photographic technology influenced the British realist novel and literary celebrity culture, as authors grappled with the technology of inversion and reproduction in their lives and works. The book analyzes literary works by Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, Cyril Bennett, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, and Bram Stoker, and puts readings of those works into conversations with distinct photographic forms, including the daguerreotype, solarization, forensic photography, common cabinet cards, double exposures, and postmortem portraiture. In addition to literary texts, the book analyzes photographic discourses from letters and public writings of photographers and the nineteenth-century press, as well as discussions and debates surrounding Victorian celebrity authorship. The book's focus on the negative both illuminates an oft-marginalized part of the history of photography and demonstrates the way in which this history is central to Victorian literary culture.

Susan E. Cook is Associate Professor of English at Southern New Hampshire University.


"Victorian Negatives offers an enjoyably readable overview of photographic technologies' impact on Victorian literature and culture." — Studies in English Literature

"…richly evocative … In encouraging its readers to imagine having never seen the material object of a negative, not having had to imagine the eventual reversal of its lights and darks, Victorian Negatives conjures myriad implications of and attachments to the negative as both material object and immaterial realm." — Victorian Studies

"This is a fascinating and extremely specific discussion of the ways in which photography, more precisely negative technology, was 'culturally embedded' in the Victorian era. It is this precision that makes the book most compelling; as Cook herself notes, most literary scholars treat photography as a monolithic whole, but she offers a welcome specificity." — Antonia Losano, author of The Victorian Painter in Victorian Literature