Picture Stories, 1840-1860, or Problems with Photographs

Jonathan Potter*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    “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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)59-75
    Number of pages17
    JournalVictorian Popular Fictions
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 25 Oct 2020


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


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