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This article is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

‘Go to Work on a Braque!’
some notes on advertising in poetry
N.S. Thompson
If you look at photographs of the typical Victorian or Edwardian cityscape, above the streets and corners you will see a mass of advertising, and most of it verbal rather than visual. If there were a visual element to the advert, it would most probably be an image of the product itself and one found in a newspaper rather than a hoarding. Leopold Bloom is a salesman of such adverts in Joyce’s Ulysses. Not only does he sell advertising, Bloom shows an acute awareness of the construction of adverts, especially for Hely’s the stationer’s and Keyes the grocer’s, not to mention his imagined advert that wickedly twists the famous song in The Merchant of Venice: ‘O tell me where is fancy bread, at Rourke’s the baker’s it is said.’

This targeted use of language meant to influence the public and attract consumption goes back much further than the Victorian era. One of the places it is first seen is in the murals and graffiti of Pompeii and Herculaneum, especially the walls of brothels, which advertised what was on offer both formally in menus and informally in the graffiti of customers both satisfied and dissatisfied. A modest example would be for a certain young woman in the brothel district: ‘At Nuceria, look for Novellia Primigenia…’ Closer to our age, in one of the first essays on advertising in The Idler, 40, 20 January 1759, Samuel Johnson wrote ‘Promise, large promise, is the soul of the Advertisement’. He claimed that ‘In lapidary inscriptions a man is not ...

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