Type / Thesis

The Railway Images in the Victorian Period: A Study of “The Signal-Man” and Two Contemporary Paintings

Kuo-jung CHEN

Page / 65-86


Since the inauguration of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) in 1830, Victorian life and society had encountered an unprecedented transformation and challenge. On the one hand, the railway was a positive symbol of mechanical progress and technological advancement, introducing a hyper-efficient way of communication and transportation unimaginable in the previous decades. On the other hand, railway threatened the cherished ways of life and deep-rooted traditions, especially in the rural areas. It not only sharpened a sense of alienation and dislocation but also accelerated the derailment (physically and mentally) of family and social life, making it more difficult to assert one’s identity in a changing world. This article used Charles Dickens’s “The Signal-Man” and two contemporary paintings--Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed and Egg’s The Travelling Companions--to explore the railway images and people’s ambivalent attitudes in the Victorian period. In most of Dickens’s works, especially in his short story “The Signal-Man,” railway and its often hellish images served mainly as a negative catalyst for rural disintegration and human alienation. Though Dickens and many of his contemporaries recognized the ill effects of the railway, they had to acknowledge its benefits at the same time. Such ambivalence towards railway constituted a unique feature of the Victorian culture.

Keywords : Charles Dickens, J. M. W. Turner, Augustus Leopold Egg, Railway Images, Victorian Period
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