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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.54, No.3, 429 ~ 442, 2008
The Sign of Four and Victorian Urban Spectatorship
Young Sun Choi
This paper aims to elucidate The Sign of Four as a text of urban spectatorship, placing it in the continuum of the nineteenth-century literature of urban exploration and considering the ways in which it reproduces, sustains and consolidates the key features of this particular literary genre. In tandem with the dominant rhetoric of contemporary urban writing, The Sign of Four envisages the modern city as ruptured, illegible, and thus potentially threatening, displaying a desire to regulate the seemingly uncontrollable forces of the city. The desire is embodied by the character of Holmes, an urban explorer, who, like his literary predecessors, surveys the city from a privileged standpoint. He navigates the urban space, venturing into ``outcast London`` and getting a firm grasp of the workings of the city through the eye of power. In doing so, he emulates the urban investigators who adopted the language of imperialism to map out their own cities, envisioning the slums or working class quarters of the imperial metropolis as a dark continent within, mysterious, inaccessible, and tainted with foreignness. His gaze of authority, in essence, signifies the agency and controlling power he exerts. Therefore, this bourgeois male spectator with stable selfhood, in the final analysis, personifies the very mechanism and operation of the institutional power intent on social policing. This particular mode of urban spectatorship or a visual mastery over the city constitutes a defining feature of the social vision of The Sign of Four; and in this respect, the text essentially reiterates the nineteenth- century preoccupation with the ordering of urban life. A rereading of the novel from an angle of urban studies thus adds a further dimension to this classic detective piece, suggesting the extent to which its worldview fits into the paradigm of the nineteenth-century social ideal.
Key Words
The Sign of Four, gaze, urban spectatorship, imperialism, power, social control,영미문학, 문화연구, 비교문학, 비평이론, English and American Literature, cultural studies, comparative literature, critical theory
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