Victorian Popular Fictions 2.2 4 Potter

Picture Stories, 1840-1860, or Problems with Photographs

Jonathan Potter

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“Picture” stories, a whole genre of short fiction denoted by the central role of a picture, were common in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, from the 1840s to the 1860s. They featured in periodicals publishing fiction aimed towards middle- and lower-class readers, such as Ainsworth’s Magazine, Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal, Bentley’s Miscellany, and Sharpe’s London Magazine of Entertainment and Instruction for General Reading. Titles usually made the genre obvious: e.g. “The Story of a Picture” (1842), “The Fatal Picture” (Elder 1843), “The Adventures of a Picture” (Medwin 1843), “The Unfinished Picture: A Reverie” (Kenney 1845), “The Lost Picture” (1853), “The Unowned Picture” (1856), and “Memoirs of an Old Picture” (1859). Many of the “pictures” in these stories of the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s are paintings, but not all. Picture stories about photographs often worked in radically different ways from those stories about paintings, with photographs posing a new set of problems for viewers. This essay is about how writers of picture stories explored those problems, and aims to uncover how and why paintings and photographs work differently within this genre of short fiction.

Key Words

Short stories; photography; painting; visual media; literary form; visuality; cartes-de-visite; stereoscopes; Victorian periodicals.

Date of Acceptance: 1 October 2020

Date of Publication: 25 October 2020

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation

Potter, Jonathan. 2020. “Picture Stories, 1840-1860, or Problems with Photographs.” Victorian Popular Fictions 2.2: 59-75.

ISSN: 2632-4253 (online). 



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