It’s Not Victorian Literature, It’s HBO

Our guest columnists are scholars Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson.

There are few works of greater scope or structural genius than the series of fiction pieces by Horatio Bucklesby Ogden, collectively known as The Wire; yet for the most part, this Victorian masterpiece has been forgotten and ignored by scholars and popular culture alike. Like his contemporary Charles Dickens, Ogden has, due to the rough and at times lurid nature of his material, been dismissed as a hack, despite significant endorsements of literary critics of the nineteenth century. Unlike the corpus of Dickens, The Wire failed to reach the critical mass of readers necessary to sustain interest over time, and thus runs the risk of falling into the obscurity of academia. We come to you today to right that gross literary injustice.

The Wire began syndication in 1846, and was published in 60 installments over the course of six years. Each installment was 30 pages, featuring covers and illustrations by Baxter “Bubz” Black, and selling for one shilling each. After the final installment, The Wire became available in a five volume set, departing from the traditional three…

The genius of The Wire lies in its sheer size and scope, its slow layering of complexity which could not have been achieved in any other way but the serial format. Dickens is often praised for his portrayal not merely of a set of characters and their lives, but of the setting as a character: the city itself an antagonist. Yet in The Wire, Bodymore is a far more intricate and compelling character than London in Dickens’ hands; The Wire portrays society to such a degree of realism and intricacy that A Tale of Two Cities — or any other story — can hardly compare…

There is an awareness of literary canon in Omar Little, a certain level of dramatic irony. The street children and rabble, so Dickensian in their miscellany, always announce his presence, and even as The Wire grows and expands, so does the legend of Little. The Wire is aware of the mythic quality of its character, and allows the rest of the cast to observe it, indirectly commenting on the literary traditions from which Omar Little sprang. Only in the Victorian Age could Romanticism, Gothicism, and poignant satire come to a head in such a trenchant examination of the way such archetype endures. It is lamentable that our culture today, sorely devoid of new mythos, could not produce a character of such quality and social commentary.

“When It’s Not Your Turn”: The Quintessentially Victorian Vision of Ogden’s “The Wire” [The Hooded Utilitarian, via Daring Fireball]

I thought this was about the TV show. :-/

Oh, wait. I’m so fucking confused. OMAR!

I suspect that Harry Shearer has something to do with it.

@Mistress Cynica: I let other people find it for me, of course.

@nojo: Don’t try to finger blame me! I fell asleep during the first episode of the Wire, despite every cultured person I know saying “YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!” Maybe I work too closely to the criminal justice system, but I don’t get it. I’ve now tried watching it three times and I fall asleep each time. Give me an episode of Deadwood any day over that…

@SanFranLefty: So I’m watching Season One of Dexter over the weekend, and thinking, This Is It? A bog-standard Seventies detective show with no identifiably human characters derived from a conventional work of commercial fiction with a “shocking” twist?

Amusing enough, in a what’s-on-Instant-Netflix sort of way. But they’re leaning real hard on the gimmick.

me too. could NOT get into it. even with my daughter, a rabid fan who participates in trivia games about it, demanding i stick with it.

@nojo: stick with it. the gimmick evolves into clever twists and turns. and it’s good bloody fun.
i just found 2 new shows that have me interested: Nurse Jackie with the amazing Edie Falco and United States of Tara with the fabulous Toni Collette.
the fourth seasons are about to start and i just discovered them. hey, i have a full plate.

@baked: a full plate and darling dogs, too. Near a grandchild too. I hope you’re finding your life Good. Love ya.

love YOU lynn…i always perk up when i see your aqua snowflake!

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