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The Hero as Spectacle Carlyle and the Persistence of Dandyism
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The Hero as Spectacle
Carlyle and the Persistence of Dandyism

James Eli Adams

"The Dandiacal Body," Carlyle's savagely witty attack on dandyism in Sartor Resartus (1833–34), has long been recognized as a crucial document in the early Victorian construction of a distinctively middle-class culture. In Carlyle's satire, the dandy becomes the grotesque icon of an outworn aristocratic ethos, a figure of self-absorbed, parasitic, purely ornamental existence, against which Carlyle evokes a heroism founded on a superbly self-forgetful devotion to productive labor. But the dandy and the Carlylean hero are far less securely opposed than this familiar account suggests. The dandy, I want to argue, haunts Carlyle's writings less as an emblem of moral indolence or economic parasitism than as an arresting figure of theatricality, which incarnates a problematic of audience and authority central to Carlyle's vocation as a writer. Far from presenting an assured "nonchalance," as in Jerome Buckley's conventional account, Carlyle's dandy is an anxious, almost plaintive, creature.[1] His sole desire, Teufelsdröckh says, is "That you would recognize his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or even failing this, a visual object. . . . Your silver or your gold . . . he solicits not; simply the glance of your eyes . . . do but look at him, and he is contented."[2] Carlyle thus seizes the paradox that Carnus would echo more than a century later: for all the dandy's defiance of convention, in Camus's words, "he can only be sure of his own existence by finding it in the expression of others' faces."[3] The dandy is a theatrical being, and as such is antithetical to the ideal of the Carlylean hero, whose essential self-hood is typically bodied forth in a "savage" disregard for social decorum and the public gaze. At the same time, however, the dandy's very theatricality clearly figures a powerful impulse in Carlyle


the aspiring writer—an impulse Carlyle wryly acknowledges in early caricatures of both dandies and himself as acolytes of an ascetic religious order. "They affect great purity and separatism," Teufelsdröckh remarks of the dandy "tribe," "distinguish themselves by a particular costume . . . ; likewise, so far as possible, by a particular speech . . . ; and, on the whole, strive to maintain a true Nazarene deportment, and keep themselves unspotted from the world" (207). But it takes one to know one: throughout his early correspondence Carlyle imagines himself—and his hero, Teufelsdröckh—as just such a spectacle of estrangement from "the world." In early 1833, for example, when Carlyle was pondering a permanent move to London, he wrote to a friend there: "If I break forth in Cockney-land, like some John Baptist, girt about with a leathern girdle, proclaiming anew with fierce Annandale intonations: 'Repent, you cursed scoundrels, for &c &c,' ye will not think it miraculous."[4] While repudiating the dandy's coat in favor of the prophet's mantle, Carlyle nonetheless imagines his vocation in emphatically visual terms: he, too, will be making a spectacle of himself, outwardly distinguished from the dandy only by the particulars of his own idiosyncratic costume and idiom.

The dandy's desire for visibility thus comes to figure an aspiration closely akin to Carlyle's own longing for literary authority. To be sure, the affinities between the dandy and the literary prophet were frequently borne out in the successful careers of Victorian men of letters. Disraeli, Dickens, and Matthew Arnold—to name just three—all made early claims to social distinction and dissent in the form of a dandyism that would eventually be overshadowed, but not necessarily superseded, by the authority accorded to their writings as social criticism. Baudelaire, the dandy's greatest apologist, trenchantly grasped and idealized the social logic informing this connection. Dandyism, he contended in "The Painter of Modern Life" (1862), is a distinctly contemporary heroism, "the last spark of heroism amid decadence," which responds to the crisis of authority that structures so much Victorian social discourse. Amid the transition from aristocracy to democracy, dandyism atises in a spirit of "opposition and revolt" to affirm "a new kind of aristocracy" anchored in personal distinction rather than economic or social status.[5] Baudclaire's dandy thus manifests visually, and as "a kind of religion," a claim to cultural authority that would resist the ever more powerful reign of the marketplace and bourgeois respectability.[6] This is a figure remarkably akin to the Carlylean man of letters, who is likewise engaged in a project of anxious self-construction and is eager to claim and transfigure the space of cultural authority left vacant by the waning of tradi-


tional models. The dandy, one might say, incarnates with special vividness the quest for visibility that, as Linda Shires notes in the preceding essay, "The Author as Spectacle and Commodity," is an increasingly prominent feature of nineteenth-century literary careers.

For Carlyle, however, that same quest profoundly threatens the ideal of essential self-hood on which heroism is founded. The charismatic authority to which Carlyle himself aspires can he confirmed only by the submission of an audience, yet any appeal to "the world's suffrage," as Carlyle puts it in Heroes and Hero Worship (350), undermines the self-forgetful integrity of the true hero. The dandy epitomizes this corrosive predicament since he incarnates the Carlylean demon of self-consciousness in an emphatically public arena. Thus, while Carlyle repudiates dandyism as a social phenomenon, his writings remain incessantly preoccupied with the dandy as a figure of masculine identity under stress. In this regard, "the Victorian epitaph of the Regency dandy," as Ellen Moers called "The Dandiacal Body," also anticipates the remarkably persistent afterlife of the dandy in Victorian writing.[7] This persistence of dandyism is registered in the works of male Victorian writers who represent heroic masculine vocations as self-conscious spectacles. Like the dandy, these writers seek to represent forms of value and identity that are beyond social mediation and the laws of the market; yet their works inevitably reinscribe those authorizing forces by presenting heroic activity as a form of theatricality responsive to a public gaze.[8] The shared preoccupation takes widely varied forms, since it addresses shifting relations of hero and audience, and the figures on which I focus are chosen in part to stress that variety. The spectacle of the Carlylean hero, which Carlyle deploys as a visual and linguistic affront to bourgeois decorum, is developed by Dickens into an exploration of secrecy under hostile surveillance, and in Pater is transmuted into an image of the critic as charismatic priest, beckoning his audience toward initiation into arcane experience. As a group, however, these very different writers all represent heroic masculinity and its attendant disciplines as an aesthetic project offered up to an imagined public gaze.[9] The prominence of the hero as spectacle confirms a persistent affinity between dandy and prophet, and thereby makes plain that "the hero as man of letters" is a far inure complex, anxious, and unstable norm of gendered identity than most recent criticism allows.

Over against the figure of the dandy, Carlyle typically represents his heroes as spectacles of wholly unselfconscious labor. As Carlyle mocks the paradoxical deference to public opinion inherent in the dandy's theatri-


cality, he proposes for his own heroes an absolute self-forgetfulness. But the rigor of the ideal may be measured by the remarkable power Carlyle accords to the audience: the autonomy and integrity even of heroic self-hood are jeopardized whenever the hero becomes conscious of himself as a spectacle. Of course such a suspicion of theatricality is a recurrent structure of Western discourse; Samuel Johnson, for example, whose career was such an important model for Carlyle, frequently represents the professional author's exposure to the pressures of the marketplace as a demeaning theatricality like that of prostitution.[10] But Carlyle is distinctive in his tendency to push this mistrust to its logical extreme: at points in his writings, any utterance that finds a receptive audience is suspect, because the audience itself is presumed to be debased. "Thought will not work except in Silence; neither will Virtue work except in Secrecy," Teufelsdröckh proclaims (164). Thus Carlyle's repudiation of spectacle is closely bound up with his celebrations of "the great Empire of Silence, " as he puts it in Heroes and Hero-Worship: "Let others that cannot do without standing on barrel-heads, to spout, and be seen of all the market-place, cultivate speech exclusively,—become a great forest without roots" (449).

In his pervasive resistance to self-conscious self-display, Carlyle's puritanical inheritance is reinforced by the legacy of romanticism and its celebration of fidelity to personal vision. This legacy helps to explain why Carlyle's attacks on the dandy so strikingly parallel Mill's exactly contemporary insistence in "What is Poetry?" that the true poet is oblivious to any audience: "no trace of consciousness that any eyes are upon us must be visible in the work itself"[11] Mill's lyric poet shares with the Carlylean hero the challenge of affirming integral, autonomous self-hood in modern life; poetry that fails to display the requisite authenticity is deprecated as a mode of theatricality, mere "oratory." An even more suggestive analogue to Carlyle's attacks on the dandy is an exactly contemporary poem, Tennyson's "St. Simeon Stylites," in which a figure drawn from early Christian asceticism stages a similar preoccupation with heroic spectacle. Here, too, an aspiring hero's pursuit of a divinely authorized self-transcendence is apparently compromised by an appeal to worldly spectators. Critics typically read Tennyson's monologue—much as they have read "The Dandiacal Body"—as a satire of self-regarding monomania. But like Carlyle's attack on dandyism, which similarly satirizes the conflation of asceticism and spectacle, Tennyson's apparent satire is animated by the poet's uneasy proximity to its object. Tennyson in "St. Simeon Stylites" represents the very anxiety enter-


tained by the speaker of In Memoriam in lyric 21, when he imagines a hostile audience commenting on his display of grief: "He loves to make parade of pain."[12] The comment embodies two distinct but closely related apprehensions: first, the fear that the poet might seem indecorous or "unmanly" by expressing his grief; second, that his grief will seem, not spontaneous utterance, but calculated performance—an exorbitant theatrical "parade of pain." Precisely this latter objection sums up most commentary on Tennyson's aspiring saint, but Tennyson clearly feared its application to his own activity as a lyric poet.[13]

For Tennyson as for Carlyle, then, a crisis of authority is figured as a moment of self-conscious visibility, in which the poet's or prophet's claim to divine inspiration, and the essential selthood that derives from it, would he exposed as a vain, calculated appeal to an earthly audience, and the aspiring hero be judged a monomaniac or "quack." (Carlyle himself suggests the parallel in Past and Present [1843], where he attacks the histrionismn of failed "liturgies": "Stylitisms, eremite fanaticisms and fakeerisms; spasmodic agnostic posture-makings. . . ."[14] ) In this sense, Carlyle's wry account of himself as John the Baptist in Cockney-land stages a shaping anxiety of his career: is the prophet's stance truly founded on a divinely authorized identity, or does it betray a theatrical appeal to the public gaze—that abject dependence epitomized in the figure of the dandy? This challenge is taken up in Carlyle's descriptions of heroic appearance, which consistently drive a wedge between the hero's demeanor and social decorum. Thus Cromwell, for example, intimates his heroic stature by disrupting the elegance that surrounds him: "Rude, confused, struggling to utter himself, with his savage depth, with his wild sincerity; and he looked so strange, among the elegant Euphemisms, dainty little Falklands, didactic Chillingworths, diplomatic Clarendons!" (Heroes, 442). The figure that is "rude," "wild," "strange"—leading attributes of nearly all Carlylean heroes—seems to affirm an elemental social autonomy, and thus an essential manhood, by its very resistance to the forms of civility. "Virtue, Vir-tus, manhood, hero -hood, is not fair-spoken immaculate irregularity" (443). This rhetorical strategy develops Carlyle's insistent opposition between the real and the sham, the hero and the quack, as a contrast between "savage depth" and polished, theatrical surfaces. But that strategy is echoed throughout Victorian literary and social discourse, within which moral authority is typically located in a charismatic subjectivity or interiority that is bodied forth in verbal and visual disruptions of social decorum. Thus Ruskin, for example, will echo the "savage depth" and "wild sin-


cerity" of Carlyle's Cromwell in his celebration of the "savagery" of Gothic architecture; Charlotte Brontë similarly attributes irresistible moral force to Jane Eyre's quiet but tenacious affronts to decorum.[15]

In this context, Carlylean spectacle has the cultural centrality Nancy Armstrong illuminates in her account of the invention of a classless subjectivity in late-eighteenth-century discourse, a subjectivity constnicted in opposition to what Armstrong calls "the aristocratic body."[16] Although Armstrong identifies this phenomenon with the creation of the domestic woman, Carlyle's writing clearly attempts to claim and reconfigure the authority of that subjectivity for masculine heroism. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a single piece of writing that exemplifies Armstrongs scheme inure explicitly than Sartor Resartus, which constructs Teufelsdröckh as a disembodied subjectivity, emphatically opposed to "the dandiacal body" as depth is to surface. And that construction would come to shape contemporary reception of Carlyle, not only in such grandiloquent labels as "the Sage of Chelsea," but also in visual representations. Julia Margaret Cameron's haunting photograph of Carlyle in 1867, for example, turns the sage of Chelsea into an icon of Thought, removed from any distracting signs of social affiliation, by isolating the famous countenance in soft focus in an enveloping darkness. That strategy is tellingly analogous to the narrative "chiaroscuro" that Carlyle deployed in creating the disembodied and deracinated Teufelsdröckh.

But this same insistence on the social autonomy of the Carlylean hero-prophet leads to subtle discords when the figure is represented in a densely specified public context. Ford Madox Brown's panorama of Victorian labor, Work, probably the most famous visual tribute to Carlyle's "gospel of work," inadvertently raises an awkward question: as Carlyle slouches against a railing at one edge of the canvas, apparently in casual conversation with the theologian and Christian socialist F. D. Maurice, just what sort of work is he engaged in? The catalogue of Brown's exhibition in 1865 anticipated just this question, describing Carlyle and Maurice as those who "seeming to be idle, work, and are the cause of well-ordained work and happiness in others."[17] Ironically, however, even this apology represents the prophet as an outwardly passive but profoundly efficacious source of impetus and guidance, whose work is thus closely akin to the "influence" of the domestic woman.[18] And when Carlyle's own influence seemed to fail, this unstated convergence became a focal point of contemporary attacks. Thus W. J. Courthope complained in 1874 that Carlyle's influence had been an enervating, effeminizing force—that his attacks on "present action of every kind"


had in fact given rise to a "gospel of inaction" that led directly to the "culture" of Arnold and Pater.[19]

In a profound historical irony, Carlyle's attack on the dandy as a "No-man" left his own vocation exposed to similar attack. How does one attach a normative masculinity to a model of heroism that inheres less in action than in a mode of being—or rather, that makes being itself a mode of action, much along the lines of the dramatic monologue? Carlyle anticipates the challenge in Sartor: "For the shallow-sighted, Teufelsdröckh is oftenest a man without Activity of any kind, a No-man; for the deep-sighted, again, a man with Activity almost super-abundant, yet so spiritual, close-hidden, enigmatic, that no mortal can yet foresee its explosions, or even when it has exploded, so much as ascertain its significance" (76). Is the outwardly idle literary man truly a seer, or merely another form of dandy? The model of the prophet, with its attendant rhetoric of "wild" and "savage" integrity, speaks directly to this concern.[20] Yet this model cannot be disentangled from the theatricality that informs all ascetic discipline. The hero always works (in the Miltonic phrase that Carlyle frequently echoes) in his "great Taskmaster's eye"; in this regard, the Carlylean hero, like the desert eremite, is on display even in the midst of solitude. But in an age less assured of such transcendent surveillance, the aspiring hero's court of appeal becomes the eye of the British public. And that self-conscious appeal to an earthly audience, Carlyle insists, brings the sure ruin of the hero's mission. "If he cannot dispense with the world's suffrage, and make his own suffrage serve, he is a poor eye-servant; the work committed to him will he mis -done" (Heroes, 350). The appeal to an audience reflects a poverty of faith, a lack of confidence in one's "own suffrage," which in turn ushers in the reign of the dandy: "Genuine Acting ceases in all departments of the world's work; dextrous Similitude of Acting begins. . . . Heroes have gone out; quacks have come in" (402).

In effect, then, Carlyle struggles to disown all the theatrical associations bound up with one of the radical verbs of his thought—"to act." But how is one to separate "Genuine Acting" from its "dextrous Similitude"? And how is an audience to recognize the difference? The distinction is ostensibly enforced by the hero's persistent affronts to social decorum; the hero, that is, confirms his divine inspiration in part simply by defusing the suspicion that his behavior could be motivated by anything else. Hence an often overlooked satisfaction for Carlyle in the prophet's role: his sense of divinely authorized vocation could draw strength from his familiar early experiences of feeling himself an alien in his own country Indeed, one can guess that this concerted association


of integrity with the position of the outcast, "wild" prophet, whether Orson or Ishmael or John the Baptist, informs not only the distinctive and difficult prose style, but also the increasingly violent and rebarbative rhetoric of Carlyle's later career. That rhetoric preserves the integrity of the rebarbative prophet by distancing an increasingly eager public embrace of the sage of Chelsea. In this respect, Carlyle is faithful to a potent logic in his own writings: the prophet whose claims are readily acknowledged is typically a quack in disguise. For the prophet, one is tempted to say, nothing succeeds like failure. Even here, however, Carlyle cannot extract himself from the paradoxical dynamic captured in his wry description of himself as John the Baptist: to preserve his autonomy, and to defuse the suspicion that his prophecies are mere quackery, and his acting merely theatrical, Carlyle constantly remakes himself and his heroes as spectacles of estrangement from the world.

In effect, then, Carlyle's concern with spectacle captures the stresses of self-consciousness in an emphatically social dynamic. In most accounts of Carlyle, self-consciousness is treated as a solitary, private predicament, one aspect of the all-encompassing "speculation" that draws the seeker into a bottomless "vortex" of introspection, in which all belief is drowned. This emphasis is in keeping with the traditional approach to Carlyle as a religious sage, whose attacks on self-consciousness represent (broadly construed) a repudiation of Cartesianism. But Carlyle's representation of the dandy teases out the tropes inherent in "self-reflexion" to figure self-consciousness as the awareness of oneself in the mirror of an audience's gaze—a mirror that in Carlyle's accounts has a seemingly irresistible power to undermine the autonomy and integrity of heroic selfhood. Carlyle's ascetic stylistics, that is, enacts an unceasing struggle between an ideal of essential selfhood and an identity mediated by an audience—that decentered, unstable identity vividly figured in the Carlylean dandy.

But of course the autonomy of the aspiring hero is inevitably compromised by self-consciousness. As Carlyle concedes in Sartor, the silence that would manifest heroic self-sufficiency is "nearly related to the impossible talent of Forgetting" (37). And the impossibility of such self-forgetfulness entails that "Genuine Acting" can never be entirely severed from its "dextrous Similitude," theatricality. Like Tennyson's aspiring saint, the Carlylean hero-prophet can conceive of heroic self-transcendence only in a form that subverts the aspiration, as an appeal to an audience. Carlyle deftly acknowledges the predicament in Heroes and Hero-Worship, when, for example, he recounts an anecdote of Chatham, who, forgetting in the heat of Parliamentary debate that he is act-


ing the role of a sick man, "snatches his arm from the sling, and oratorically swings and brandishes it!" (402–03). The irony is unexpectedly complex. Carlyle might seem to claim that Chatham inadvertently exposes his own theatricality when the "fire" of commitment burns away self-consciousness and he forgets the demands of his role. But in fact the passage describes the exchange of one role for another: the flourish of Chatham's arm does not express some essential self but answers to the demands of oratory. And Carlyle goes on to suggest that such a condition is paradigmatic of struggling heroism. "Chatham himself lives the strangest mimetic life, half hero, half quack, all along. For indeed the world is full of dupes; and you have to gain the world's suffrage!" (403).

Contradictory imperatives—one must dispense with the world's suffrage, but one must gain the world's suffrage—are inscribed throughout the elaborate, sometimes self-baffling rhetorical strategies of Carlyle's writing. "The thing we called 'bits of paper with traces of black ink'," Carlyle remarks in "The Hero as Man of Letters," "is the purest embodiment a Thought of man can have"; writing is the mode of labor most faithful to "the true thaumaturgic virtue" of man, the least distorted or contaminated by mediating forces (393). And if, in the credo from Sartor, "Our works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments" (124), writing is the truest mirror. It is important to give that trope its due weight: as an escape from disabling self-consciousness, work ideally also would displace the literal mirror that figures so powerfully in the mock-aristocratic ethos of the dandy, reflecting to the beholder not the corporeal body but the "natural lineaments" of spirit. But even the Carlylean hero must find something more than his own image in the glass: he, too, requires an observer to acknowledge his achievement. Hence Carlyle's preoccupation in his early correspondence with trying to imagine what audience—if any—his works might find. As he wrote to Mill, pondering that "dangerous instrument," irony, "I cannot justify, yet can too well explain, what sets me so often on it of late; it is my singularly anomalous position to the world. . . . I never know or can even guess what or who my audience is, or whether I have any audience: thus too naturally I adjust myself to the Devil-may-care principle" (Letters, 6, 449). Like so many of Carlyle's accounts of his own writing, this seems to disclaim any suggestion of concern for his audience; vet "the Devil-may-care principle" mockingly signals the self-reflective calculation informing even what are ostensibly the most spontaneous or impulsive features of Carlyle's prose. As in his self-portrait as John the Baptist in Cockney-land, Carlylean irony perpetually stages "a singularly anomalous position to the world." One's


book, like one's self, is never wholly one's own, but is constructed as an ongoing transaction with an audience, real or imagined.

In stressing the visibility of the dandy, then, Carlyle points us to the central preoccupations and rhetorical strategies of his own self-fashioning. As it represents the failure of essential, autonomous selfhood, Carlyle's preoccupation with the hero as spectacle cannily anticipates the Lacanian understanding of language as a self-estranging specularity, in which every human being constantly and vainly looks to discover a coherent selfhood.[21] But the mirror worlds of both Lacan and Carlyle render in visual terms the predicament staked out in Hegel's master-slave dialectic. The master—whether Carlylean hero or Lacanian subject—depends on the recognition of the slave to confirm his mastery, and thereby becomes locked into the worldly rivalry he had ostensibly transcended in his very identity as master. Carlyle's account of the dandy renders this paradox as satire. But Tennyson's poetry reminds us that some version of Hegel's paradox is endemic to post-Romantic conceptions of authorship, which are riven by a conflict between the ideal of transcendent genius and the demands of the marketplace—the conflict captured in Tennyson's representation of the poet as a spectacle.

That struggle for authority has a still more mundane and pervasive counterpart in Victorian discourse as it informs the Victorian preoccupation with defining the true gentleman. As the ideal of the gentleman grows increasingly latitudinarian, at least in theory, it also gives new urgency to the seemingly banal challenge of distinguishing between sincerity and performance. If the status of a gentleman is not inherited but is instead realized through behavior, how does one distinguish the "true" gentleman from the aspirant who is merely "acting" the part? With the rise of an ideal subjectivity defined (unlike the Augustan gentleman) in opposition to theatricality, the subtle but profound divisions between gentleman and dandy assume increasing importance. Indeed, the dandy persists in Victorian moral discourse as a sort of Derridean supplement to the gentleman. Both figures define themselves in resistance to economic competition, or (more broadly) to economic schemes of value; both ideals at least in principle repudiate self-interest, claiming devotion to a rigorous and impersonal code of duty (thus the ascetic pretensions of dandyism that Baudelaire celebrates and Carlyle mocks). Whereas the code of the Victorian gentleman is ultimately religious, that of the dandy is fundamentally social. Carlyle stresses this distinction in mocking the anxious visibility of the dandy which marks him with the theatricality purged from the true gentleman (or


Carlylean hero), whose authenticity is manifested as an absence of self-consciousness. As Charles Kingsley put it, the "secret" of the gentleman was "very simple, if one could attain it; but he attained it by not trying to attain it, for it was merely never thinking about himself."[22] Kingsley here enlists Carlyle's "anti-self-consciousness theory" (Mill's phrase) to enforce a familiar Victorian mystification of social authority. Like many middle-class men, Kingsley repudiates aristocratic notions of the "gentleman born," yet he implicitly appeals to a new version of that concept when he disowns the anxious self-consciousness of the aspiring gentleman. The mystification is founded on the ability to separate the true gentleman from the dandy—his inauthentic, because theatrical, shadow.

By the end of the century, the difficulty of distinguishing gentleman and dandy will be celebrated as an exhilarating paradox; for Wilde the true gentleman's identity is always a pose. In mid-Victorian literature, however, the potential complicity of the two figures is repeatedly represetned as a mark of profound social and moral disorder.[23] This preoccupation is perhaps most obvious and sustained in Dickens's Great Expectations, but it informs the obsessive representation of disaffected, deracinated men of privilege throughout Dickens's later fiction. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) situates the concern in especially clear relation to Carlyle. The novel is famously indebted to Carlyle's French Revolution, but less often noted is the broadly Carlylean quest for a vocation that Dickens's hero, Sydney Carton, enacts, one figured in the very image of a wanderer in the wilderness that typically distinguishes the Carlylean hero: "Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance."[24] The "mirage" is a social incarnation (appropriately hazy) of the virtues that distinguish Carlylean earnestness: "honourable ambition self-denial, and perseverance." Carton glimpses from afar an image of vocation, that Carlylean mirror in which he will finally discover the lineaments of his spirit. His progress toward his glorious end thus seems to reenact the historical displacement of an aristocratic (or dandiacal) idleness by a distinctively bourgeois heroism.

Yet Dickens's portrait of Carton reproduces the complicity of dandy and hero suggested in Sartor Resartus . Indeed, as the central male characters exchange places in the novel, the positions of dandy and hero are reversed. In this novel of mirrors and doubles, Carton makes his entrance as Darnay's "double of coarse deportment," whose "especially reckless" and "careless" manner bespeaks a radical lack of self-discipline redundantly emblazoned in his "careless," "slovenly," "torn" attire.


Much as Brummell would have protested such regalia, Carton is clearly a Carlylean dandy-dilettante, inasmuch as he is a standing affront to the "earnestness" so vividly engraved in Darnay's countenance. At the same time, however, Carton's disregard for decorum is a feature he shares with the Carlylean hero, in whom it likewise affirms a tenacious integrity and potential self-sufficiency, which will of course support Carton in his crowning self-sacrifice.[25] For Carton as for Carlyle, one's capacity for redemption is measured by one's capacity for contempt of the existing order—including (and perhaps most important) self-loathing. And of course Carton's ultimate triumph will be that of the literally self-made—which is to say,re-made—man, who confirms the profound affinities of dandy and prophet. In taking Darnay's place on the scaffold, Carton strikingly realizes the power of pure appearance: it is an eminently theatrical achievement, a triumph of impersonation, realized through Carton's capacity to capture the gaze of an eager public "curiosity" (363) that is riveted by his features, but is incapable of fathoming them. As it confirms the authority of an identity wholly mediated by a public gaze, Carton's triumph emulates that of the Carlylean dandy. At the same time, however, Carton's self-fashioning builds on a truly heroic capacity of self-denial—ultimately, of self-annihilation. For the reader, as for the young seamstress who alone detects Carton's impersonation, the spectacle on the scaffold is not Evremonde, but a more general image of triumphant manhood, Everyman, modeled on Christ. Indeed, the presence of the young seamstress seems designed in part to encourage just this abstracting gesture—to make the reader see the particular triumph of the "stranger" as a manifestation of divine will: "I think you were sent to me by Heaven" (363).

Carton's specularity (and that of Dickensian heroism generally) differs importantly from Carlyle's in its motivation, which in turn reflects the very different context in which Dickens imagines the hero as spectacle. When Carlyle contemplates his permanent move to the alien world of London, he imagines himself concertedly making a spectacle of himself, proclaiming his alienation in the guise of a latter-day John the Baptist. In revolutionary Paris, Sydney Carton does not have to incite such attention; he cannot help becoming the object of a gaze, since the Revolution, as Catherine Gallagher has pointed out, functions in the novel as an omnipresent stare.[26] Under such surveillance, Carton's only path to efficacious heroism lies in trying to become, so to speak, merely a sight rather than a spectacle; he must avoid arresting that omnipresent stare until he has the opportunity to remake himself as the simulacrum of another man. So pervasive and bewildering is the surveil-


lance in this world of mirrored pseudonyms and disguises—Jacques upon Jacques upon Jacques—that a form of intimacy can be established simply as a momentary lapse of the play of impersonation, or even, paradoxically, by addressing someone as "stranger." This is the word uttered by the young seamstress to signal her recognition, as they are about to leave the prison, that Carton is not whom he purports to be—or rather, that he possesses a selfhood apart from his role as "Evremonde" (347).

Carlyle, too, frequently insists on "the mystery of a Person," but as an ontological attribute, an index of the divine origin that can never be fully fathomed by any human being (Sartor, 99). In Dickens's novels such mystery principally takes the form of a social structure, secrecy, which is generated by, and in turn sustains, a pervasive dynamic of surveillance. That surveillance is of course what makes Dickens's novels so responsive to Foucauldian readings. As Gallagher points out, A Tale of Two Cities shares with the Revolution the belief that hidden identities and plots lurk everywhere, and hence that every human being requires investigation; both novel and revolution are sustained by these premises. This shared preoccupation shapes the famous opening of the novel's third chapter, where the narrator announces the "wonderful fact" that "every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other," and that death marks "the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality," the secret that is Everyman's "natural and not to be alienated inheritance" (21). In thus linking secrecy with mystery and death, Dickens energizes the vigilant reflexivity of surveillance throughout the novel.[27] To contemplate the opacity of another person is always to be reminded of one's own secrets, and thus of the disjunction between outward appearance and some "inner" identity, a disjunction that creates the possibility of exposure. In this passage, then, Dickens follows Carlyle in urging that secrecy is not merely a social strategy but an ontological condition. In doing so, however, the novelist augments his professional resources, since he lays claim to a limitless supply of secrets to be fathomed. In thus naturalizing secrecy, moreover, Dickens implicitly aligns himself with the paranoid revolutionary imagination, for whom appearances are always hiding something; from such a perspective, there are no innocent spectacles.

In a sense, contemporary critics are all complicit with Dickens's revolutionaries; we are all out to penetrate appearances. But Dickens's is not the only possible response to a hermeneutics of suspicion. In the early writings of Walter Pater, we can see a writer developing at almost


exactly the same time a very different set of rhetorical strategies out of a shared preoccupation with mystery and spectacle. In effect, Pater's self-construction embraces the implicit theatricality of ascetic discipline that Carlyle struggles to disown. This emphasis informs even the characteristic "reserve" of Pater's protagonists, an attribute that incorporates an imagined public gaze in the construction of those apparently solitary subjects: one can be silent in private, but reserve characterizes subjects in relation to an audience. Much recent criticism would read such reserve principally as a mode of defense against hostile surveillance. But reserve may also embody a deliberately, even ostentatiously, public withholding of information; onlookers, whether readers or spectators, assume that the reserved subject is concealing something that, by virtue of being concealed, must be important. But to the audience that assumes every surface is hiding something, and that every secret is "special," the mere intimation of a secret becomes a source of fascination, inviting an audience to invest the rhetoric of concealment with secrets of its own.

Wilde sets forth this strategy more tendentiously: "What Dorian Gray's secrets are, no one knows. He who finds them has brought them."[28] But a vivid precedent for Wilde's rhetorical enticement is established in Pater's "Leonardo da Vinci" (1868), where Pater lays claim to critical authority by intimating his possession of "strange" and "sinister" secrets about Leonardo's art (and hence the artist) that he never fully discloses. Leonardo, he urges, seems "the possessor of some unsanctified and secret wisdom," whose art is "a cryptic language for fancies all his own."[29] As a gesture of fidelity to Leonardo's enigmatic images, such ostentatious reticence resembles the rhetoric of mystery in Dickens's novel, whose very tropes Pater appropriates. Here, too, subjectivity resides in what Dickens calls "the depths of this unfathomable water" (21), the realm epitomized in Pater's account of the Gioconda, who "has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her" (99). But in Pater this rhetoric of mystery also works to rival and even displace the "fascination" of Leonardo's painting; Pater's prose, that is, would emulate Leonardo's images in suggesting that his words also have a meaning "far beyond the outward gesture or circumstance" (93).

In this sense, I have argued elsewhere, Pater's prose strategies can be seen as a mode of reserve that is responsive to forms of self-presentation in middle-class Victorian life, forms from which Pater elicits a transgressive theatricality that Wilde will exploit more extravagantly.[30] Here I want to argue that Pater develops this strategy out of a concerted engagement with Carlylean spectacle, which begins in Pater's earliest surviving essay, "Diaphaneitè" (1864). This is an unlikely conjunction if


one associates Carlyle's influence with echoes of his distinctive voice. But what Carlyle offered Pater and many other aspiring men of letters was an imaginary structure that gave social form and significance—what we now call "visibility"—to literary careers not focused on the production of poetry or fiction.

The very title of "Diaphaneitè" signals Pater's preoccupation with literal as well as social visibility, which the essay connects to a Carlylean model of heroism. Pater sketches a "character" of consummate psychological harmony and integrity, an ideal clearly indebted to Carlyle's insistence that self-consciousness is a mark of disease. Indeed, the opening paragraph signals an increasingly explicit revision of Carlylean heroism when it clearly alludes to Carlyle's influential diagnosis: "As if dimly conscious of some great sickness and weariness of heart in itself, it ["the world"] turns readily to those who theorise about its unsoundness."[31] The perfect integrity and autonomy of the diaphanous character rebukes such sickness, but those who possess that character also incite the violent hostility reserved for the "revolutionist." "Poetry and poetical history have dreamed of a crisis," Pater writes, "where it must needs be that some human victim be sent down into the grave. These [those who possess the diaphanous "character"] are they whom in its profound emotion humanity might choose to send" (253). As throughout Pater's writings, particularly his late Imaginary Portraits, cultural renewal is associated with the violent sacrifice of the agents of change. Here he seems to imagine a Dionysian ritual sacrifice shading into the Christlike atonement embodied in Carton's fate in A Tale of Two Cities . And indeed, in this very early essay Pater calls on a revealing "poetical history" to illustrate the sacrifice he envisions: "'What,' says Carlyle, of Charlotte Corday, 'What if she had emerged from her secluded stillness suddenly like a star; cruel-lovely, with half-angelic, half-demonic splendour; to gleam for a moment, and in a moment be extinguished; to be held in memory, so bright complete was she, through long centuries'" (253). Writing from the secluded stillness of Brasenose College, the young Oxford don turns to Carlyle's French Revolution for a model of his vocation, but he finds it, not in Mirabeau or in what he calls the "dim blackguardism" of Carlyle's Danton, but in Charlotte Corday, Thus at the very outset of his career Pater envisions his vocation under a public gaze; and his conception of his triumph is uncannily like that of Sydney Carton.

But Pater also elicits more openly the stresses of gender informing Carlyle's and Dickens's representations of heroism as self-conscious spectacle. In "Diaphaneitè," as Carolyn Williams points out, Pater represents a "paradoxical union of sheer passivity with 'unconscious' activ-


it."[32] But this conjunction also describes the Victorian ideal of domestic womanhood, as well as the paradox of Carlylean heroism—recalling not only Sydney Carton on the scaffold but also the representation of Carlyle as one of those who, "seeming to be idle, work, and are the cause of well-ordained work and happiness in others." Whereas Carlyle recoils from this potential conflation of feminine "influence" and masculine heroism, Pater concertedly blurs the boundaries. He boldly appropriates for his enterprise a powerful emblem of gender transgression, a woman of decisive and murderous action whose crowning achievement was to become an unfathomable starlike spectacle of heroic self-sacrifice, cruel-lovely, half-angelic, half-demonic. The title and governing trope of "Diaphaneitè" reinforce this identification of the critic's agency with a spectacle that fascinates an audience by confounding its gendered decorums. "Diaphaneitè" may at first suggest an ideal of transparency, an effort to dispel the mystery and secrecy that so fascinate Dickens. In this light, Pater seems to be extending Carlyle's celebration of sincerity as the first attribute of the hero. "The artist and he who has treated life in the spirit of art," Pater writes, "desires [sic ] only to be shown to the world as he really is; as he comes nearer and nearer to perfection, the veil of an outer life not simply expressive of the inward becomes thinner and thinner" (249). But Pater concedes to the audience much greater authority than Carlyle; the leading "desire" here is not so much fidelity to an inner self as the presentation of that self to "the world. Furthermore, although "the veil or mask" that divides inner and outer life might disappear at some Utopian vanishing point, that veil also defines the very realm of interiority that is the basis of Pater's self-construction as a critic. In a world without masks, there would be no "inward" life at all; nothing would be held in reserve, because there would be nothing to withhold. In fact, whatever transparency Pater imagines for his critical persona tends to be that of what he elsewhere calls "receptivity," which is the transparency of a one-way mirror, allowing "the transmission from without of light that is not yet inward" (251).

Thus Pater in his earliest surviving essay associates his critical enterprise with icons of gender transgression; more precisely, he underscores the construction of critical subjectivity as the masculine appropriation of attributes conventionally denominated feminine. This strategy anticipates the more daring subversion of gender that distinguishes the powerfully homoerotic rhetoric of the Leonardo essay. But even in that essay, Pater pays a characteristically oblique tribute to Carlyle's example—one that subtly collapses Carlyle's rhetorical opposition of


dandy and prophet. The seductive "fascination" that Pater discovers in Leonardo's art—and seeks to reproduce in his own prose—is for Pater epitomized in one particular image. It is incarnated in Leonardo's John the Baptist, whose "treacherous smile . . . would have us understand something far beyond the outward gesture or circumstance" (97). As in Carlyle, John the Baptist is a persona of the critic. But in Pater's rendering, Carlyle's rebarbative prophet has given way to a figure who anticipates the dangerous enticements of the fin de siècle. One might object that Pater's St. John derives less from Carlyle than from Gautier, who explicitly likens the prophet to the dandy. But the figure nonetheless reaffirms the logic that Carlyle found so unsettling: the prophet in the wilderness and the dandy shadow each other with remarkable persistence as spectacles of masculine estrangement from "the world."

These figures of masculine vocation bear out Geoffrey Galt Harpham's argument that ascetic imperatives are central to cultural discourse, and that programs of ascetic discipline are always aesthetic projects.[33] But the kinship of prophet and dandy in Victorian discourse also suggests how the play of such discipline complicates familiar, gendered categories of Victorian cultural history—most notably, the Carlylean man of letters. "Carlyle has led us out into the desert," Clough famously complained to Emerson, "and has left us there." For Clough the desert was a place of moral confusion and betrayal; the writings of Carlyle, Tennyson, Dickens, and Pater, however, remind us that the desert also has a long history as a realm of anxious, incessant masculine self-fashioning. It is an arena especially fitted for the hero as spectacle.


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