Essays on Victorian Fiction

Volume 47 (2016)



Dickens, Irving, and the American “Logocracy”
Nancy Aycock Metz

Focusing on the years surrounding Dickens’s first American journey, this essay looks at Dickens’s engagement with the concept of American society as a “logocracy,” or government by words. The term was given prominence in Washington Irving’s Salmagundi (1807–08) and afterwards widely circulated in American newspaper and periodical literature. Dickens’s representation of the New World both evokes and explores this paradigm of an American logocracy, viewing language as symptom and cause of a deep and uniquely American malaise. But Dickens offers a bleaker and more pessimistic interpretation than Irving’s. Where Irving saw hope in the respect accorded to a special class of orator/leader, Dickens laments the disappearance from public service of the entire leadership class. Where Irving emphasized the emptiness of verbal posturing, threats, and “windy war,” Dickens, in American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit sees an inevitable relationship between violent words and violent acts exacerbated by a dangerous conflation of written and oral forms of discourse. Most importantly, where Irving’ satire rhetorically erased the issue of slavery, Dickens moves the issue front and center. In these significant ways Dickens reshaped the discourse about “logocracy,” filtering it through the bitterness of his own disillusionment and bringing it forward into a political era that posed new dangers and challenges.


Charles Dickens’s Anti-American Rhetoric in Martin Chuzzlewit
Linda M. Lewis

By mimicking their phonology, morphology, syntax, and idiom, Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit portrays Americans as illiterate and ignorant. By quoting their mixed metaphors, grandiose boasting, and illogical syllogisms, he satirizes their political naïveté, chauvinism, hypocrisy, and greed. Thus Dickens embellishes anti-American criticism that had existed for more than a century. A rhetorical discrepancy of the novel, however, is that the anti-American narrator also employs rhetorical excesses, overblown metaphors, and illogical blunders (although committed with irreproachable grammar). As a result, Dickens undermines his own rhetoric and deconstructs his own argument against the hypocritical “new Adam” in his New World Eden.


“People mutht be amuthed”: Work, Play, and the Dickensian Disabled Child
John Paul M. Kanwit

This essay examines A Christmas Carol (1843), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), and Our Mutual Friend (1865). In the two Christmas books, Dickens tends to use disabled children symbolically, to protest the evils of capitalism in the figure of Tiny Tim and to convey pathos through Bertha Plummer. By contrast, Jenny Wren is a more fully-developed character with both desires and the resources to meet them. Thus, while at times viewing disabled children for their economic potential—a clear difference from how other Dickensian children are usually seen—Dickens demonstrates a developing tendency to depict disabled persons as subjects with creative and emotional needs, needs that some characters meet by controlling their own affairs. In particular, they use their work as a sort of play that subverts hierarchies and provides creative and emotional outlets. Intriguingly, illustrations for these narratives both undercut and extend these developments. Although the illustrations often maintain the social hierarchy by emphasizing able-bodied, middle-class domesticity, they also provide insights sometimes missing in the texts into the creative productions of disabled workers.


“The Master of the New Testament Put out of Sight”: Dickens’s Christology and the Higher-Critical Debate
Jude V. Nixon

Dickens’s stance on religion and Christianity, like his position on other seminal issues of the nineteenth century—science chief among them—is not immediately apparent. Most scholars do not readily find in Dickens any sustained engagement with the leading religious arguments of the period, such as Germanism (liberalism) and the conservative reaction to it in Tractarianism. No issue of the nineteenth century was as contentious as the debate over the Christology (views about Jesus or Christ), which so ruptured the epistemological ground upon which Victorians had comfortably rested that the received assumption about canonicity and consensus on matters of authority/authorship would never again be reconstituted in any kind of recognizable way. The damage that Essays and Reviews, this so-called Septem contra Christum, inflicted on doctrine, culture, and the collective imagination was incalculable. The Christological trace in Dickens can be found in his reaction to Pre-Raphaelite art, in Pictures from Italy, and in letters written during his Italian travels. His experiences in overtly Catholic countries such as France and Italy led him to examine and question his own religious views and to develop an evolving critique. Thus, his writings about France and Italy are as much about his writings about home. Any coming to terms with Dickens’s Christology must also engage The Life of Our Lord (1846–49), the Unitarian influence on Dickens, the many declarations about Christ in his correspondence, his critique of Millais’s Christ in the House of his Parents (1849–50) in “Old Lamps for New Ones” (1850), and his response to Essays and Reviews, where his most candid opinions on Higher Criticism would emerge.


The Image of Time in David Copperfield
Tobias Wilson-Bates

This article explores the multimedia representation of time and memory in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield. In particular, it examines how Dickens and his illustrator, Hablot K. Browne, collaborated to create an interplay of image and text that adds a level of temporal depth to the fictional author’s account of his own life. By examining the recurrence and strategic placement of clocks in the serial etchings, one is able to identify additional levels of meaning that were obscured when the novel was reprinted in full following the serial run. Central to this study is a revaluation of how serial form involved various paratexts in producing parallel and sometimes competing fictions with the verbal narrative of the novel. Given the narrator’s dedication to tracing the formation of the material that constitutes his own personal narrative, Copperfield is ideally situated to reveal the underlying material and cultural discourses involved in textual production.


Bleak House to Great Expectations: Turnings, Catastrophes, Secrets
Jerome Meckier

The “turning” point chapter of Bleak House (ch. 29) and the pivotal one in Great Expectations (ch. 39) enable one to show how far Dickens had progressed as a novelist in the nearly ten years between them. So does his use in both novels of secrets and catastrophes. In 1861, Dickens preferred a novel’s pivot at the two-thirds mark to a “turning” at the midpoint. A “turning idea” smacks of melodrama; a pivot fosters a tragicomic perspective. Between 1852 and 1861, Dickens matured from a melodramatic or sensational realist into a tragicomedian with increasingly psychological concerns. His views on secrets and secrecy matured considerably. Pip’s attitude towards both is more complicated than Esther’s. Enhancing the irony in Pip’s catastrophe by alluding to the climax of Tales of the Genii has a greater psychological impact than the parallel with Krook’s combustion gave Lady Dedlock’s comedown nine years earlier. Pip reveals himself with a depth and complexity—indeed with a modernist’s sense of interiority—that neither Esther nor her fellow narrator can match. A panoramic masterpiece, Bleak House may be the more important novel, but in several respects the author of Great Expectations is the superior novelist.


“Broken . . . into a better shape”: Justice and Mercy in Great Expectations
David Penn

In this essay, I consider how the two endings of Great Expectations illustrate the novel’s tendency to precede tearful scenes of forgiveness with instances of lurid violence. If one considers the first ending to be a punishing event and the second ending a forgiving event, the two endings follow a pattern already established. The novel seems to want to emphasize forgiveness’s value and the harm in bearing grudges. The theme however, becomes complicated when one considers Dickens’s own role as distributor of authorial punishments and blessings, especially in the sense that events from the book may indicate the author’s own biases and prejudices toward his characters and the real-life figures they represent. While many critics have faulted the revised ending as lacking in intellectual sincerity, I postulate that the sincerity is in fact there—but it could not have existed if Dickens had not gotten that more spiteful ending out of his system first. When taken as a whole, Great Expectations indicates something fascinating about our tendency to use punishment as a means of validating forgiveness, even if it would seem to negate forgiveness’s value.


(Mis)Managing Closure in Our Mutual Friend: The Harmon Mansion Conceived as Heterotopia
Rosemary Coleman

As Dickens nears the end of his double-plotted novel Our Mutual Friend he must reconcile his two sets of protagonists and their separate narratives. In order to do so, he offers John Harmon’s recently redecorated mansion as a place of safety and happiness, where the Harmons, the Wrayburns, and the Boffins will create an idyllic society and “make all things right.” I read the architectonics of the Harmon mansion as the Dickensian equivalent of Foucault’s heterotopia, its four walls conceptualized as guarantees that problems of class, gender, and sexuality can be banished from this alternative space. But promises of perfection and purification are undermined by the text’s own unconvincing rhetoric as it describes the mansion’s spaces and objects, and the emotional relationships unfolding within its rooms. In the end, neither the novel’s inversions of gender nor its varieties of male fantasies can be confined within these metaphorical walls of brick and mortar. Desire cannot be contained within the boundaries of a spare room, nor nouveau-riche ambition hidden behind a phantasmagoria of flowers, birds, and fountains on a front staircase.


Dickens in the Eye of the Beholder: The Photographs of Robert Hindry Mason
Leon Litvack

This illustrated essay treats the complex web of relations between Charles Dickens and the London photographer Robert Hindry Mason (1824–85), who executed a fascinating series of portraits of the author and his circle in the early and mid-1860s. These depict Dickens in a wide range of poses, modes of dress, and locations; they vary from the formal and professional, to the seemingly informal and familial. Taken together, they constitute the most diverse group of Dickensian images captured by a single photographic operator. A close reading of sixteen selected images offers insight into the various guises in which Dickens—aided by his photographer—wished himself to be seen by his public, and memorialized for posterity. Through information gleaned from newspaper advertisements, exhibition reviews in the periodical press, law reports, criminal records, bankruptcy records, post office directories, references in the specialist photographic press, comments written on the back of individual prints, and brief references in Dickensian correspondence, Mason’s personality and working practices are usefully disclosed. This piece opens up an avenue of Dickens studies which has not been heretofore extensively explored; it also offers detailed consideration of how the professional and artistic elements of nineteenth-century photography contributed to the forging of Dickens’s public reputation.


Accepting Adèle in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Alexandra Valint

Adèle, Jane Eyre’s pupil in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, is often caricaturized by critics as a shallow flirt and mini-Blanche, even though, throughout the novel, Adèle is spirited, affectionate, and obliging. Although critics often suggest that Jane is disappointed in or apathetic towards Adèle, I argue that Jane sincerely cares for her student. While critics liken Adèle to Céline and Blanche, Adèle actually resembles Jane—both are orphaned, speak French and English, are described as “foreigners,” espouse skepticism, and exercise their artistic talents. In line with scholarship that shows female friendship’s centrality in Victorian literature, I draw attention to the warm friendship between Adèle and Jane and show how their friendship paves the way for Jane and Rochester’s friendship-turned-romance. Adèle, while like Jane, never serves as a simple double for her or as a mere mechanism for the novel’s central romance. Both Jane and Rochester, at times, problematically project their own selves and pasts onto Adèle, which the novel critiques by revealing the self-centered motives behind such attempts and by highlighting the gap between the faulty projections and the real Adèle. More broadly, my focus on Adèle, one of the novel’s main child characters, points to the novel’s acceptance of children’s worldliness and its critique of the Romantic child.


A Court Duel as Performed by Wilkie Collins, with an Analysis of the Manuscript, Playbill, and Advertisement
Robert C. Hanna

Wilkie Collins, along with his brother, a cousin, four friends, and professional actresses Jane Mordaunt, Mrs. Tayleure, and Mrs. H. Hughes, appeared in one amateur performance of A Court Duel, from the French Un Duel sous le Cardinal de Richelieu by Lockroy and Badon, on 26 February 1850. The venue was London’s Soho Theatre, previously Miss Kelly’s Theatre, in support of the Fund for Promoting Female Emigration to Australia, specifically seamstresses living in poverty. This article examines the performance’s advertisement and playbill, including the venue and charity; identifies the amateur and professional performers; summarizes the play’s intricate plot; lists major differences between the original play and its English translation; analyzes the manuscript (Act III of which is in Collins’s handwriting); considers why Collins might have selected this play for a charitable performance; and reviews themes and plot events in the play subsequently explored by Collins in his own literature from 1850 through 1860. The article then presents the full text of A Court Duel.


Supplement to “Recent Dickens Studies: 2013”
(The Dickensian, Spring, Summer, and Winter Issues, 2013)
Natalie B. Cole

N.B. Unfortunately, because of time constraints caused by our production schedule, the survey “Recent Dickens Studies: 2013” in Volume 46 could not include discussion of the articles in The Dickensian. To correct this regrettable omission, we are pleased to provide this supplement. —The Editors


Recent Dickens Studies: 2014
Dianne F. Sadoff

This essay surveys the 2014 scholarship on Dickens, summarizing and commenting on the approximately 135 articles and books published in that year. Although the review’s sizeable and occasionally overlapping categories indicate the richness and breadth of this critical conversation, some subjects remain central, as they have been in recent years. Clearly, the scholarship’s global modes and tropes continue to flourish and its transnational authorship to grow, as does the fascination with Dickens’s journalism and his edited periodicals, now easily accessible online, after digitalization. The new cognitive turn in literary studies also merits attention here, as psycholinguistics benefits from new quantitative methods of analysis. And, of course, Dickens’s tales continue to be adapted or remediated for new audiences, historically situated in the postmodernist period. The headings in this review, then include the following: Victorian Print Cultures; Language, Linguistics, and Cognition; Interdisciplinary Criticism; Adaptation and Performance; The City and Modernity; Global Dickens; and Biography and Biographical Criticism.


Charlotte Brontë: A Bicentenary Bibliography
Sara L. Pearson

This essay seeks to achieve two goals: to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth with a survey of scholarship on her life and works, and to bring together Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens through a summary of critical work that engages with both authors in tandem. The essay begins by examining these scholarly perspectives on Brontë and Dickens before turning to a résumé of classic and cutting-edge work on Charlotte Brontë, organized according to categories that have also been the focus of recent Dickens review essays in Dickens Studies Annual. Of necessity, this summary has been highly selective, including the most important ground-breaking works from the past as well as the highlights of recent studies from 2011 to 2015. The categories are as follows: Biographies and Biographical Criticism; Primary Sources and Reference Works; Influences and Intertextualities; Space and Place; Psychology; Gender; Capitalism, Industry, the Material World; Religion; Style and Narrative; Adaptation, Afterlives, and Performance; Transatlanticism; Bodies, Illness, and Disability Studies; Victorian Print Culture; and Global Brontë.