Abstract

The Moment of Tom and Jerry ('when fistycuffs were the fashion')

The early 1820s craze for Pierce Egan's and Robert and George Cruikshank's Life in London has long seemed both deeply puzzling and yet somehow emblematic of its age. Brewer proposes that the mania becomes far more explicable if we focus, in a very precise way, on the interplay between serial publication, the so-called "illegitimate" theater, and the geography of London, especially insofar as those relations, in turn, line up with the peculiar and rapidly shifting reputation and mood of the metropolis in these years. By carefully mapping out Life in London part by monthly part, and dramatic adaptation by dramatic adaptation, we can both recover the underlying aesthetics of the craze (which revolved around questions of the adequacy of representation) and further theorize what Franco Moretti has termed the "profoundly social aspect[s]" of form: the ways in which the forms of individual texts are not only shaped by forces beyond their bounds and beyond their control, but also how the significance of those individual forms largely emerges from their perceived relations with one another. In short, by slowing down and zeroing in upon the very particular qualities of "the Moment of Tom and Jerry," we can begin to think in new ways about how literature works in the world more generally.