This thesis aims to investigate how reading is related to photography and the law in mainly English but also some American fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the 1920s. I contend that late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century fiction creates an opposition between photography and the law in order to discipline its readers in certain kinds of reading practice. I see photography used in the fiction as a subversive, contrary form of seeing and reading associated with perceived outsiders and literalism and as a foil used to delineate ideas of legitimacy and authorised and acceptable reading practices.
I link ideas of art, law, photography and reading in order to understand what kind of reader and reading fiction aimed to produce, and how such constructions legitimated the structures of power of the political elite from the invention of photography to the nineteen-twenties. I do so by concentrating on close readings of fictional work, including authors such as Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. The study aims to illuminate how vision and reading are tied together and how visual codes are involved in how reading is experienced, conceptualised and carefully regulated. It also suggests how legal knowledge and methods of reading were a prime influence on fiction, its themes, how it was read and its readers.
The representation of photography and reading in fiction itself can be linked to the legal prohibition of photography and photo-realistic artwork from the courtroom in the 1920s. Thus, the analysis of fiction itself illuminates the conceptualisation, truth status, authority and construction of the law and the way in which the law preserves its status through the ways in which it is read and envisaged.