Essays on Victorian Fiction

Volume 51, No. 2 (2020)
Published by Pennsylvania State University Press



A "Prentice-Knight in Days of Yore": The Culture and Drama of Apprenticeship in Dickens's Barnaby Rudge
Alex Feldman, University of Haifa

Readings of Dickens's historical novel, Barnaby Rudge (1840–41), have typically regarded its late-eighteenth-century plot, which includes an account of the Gordon Riots, as allegorizing the civil unrest of the 1830s and early 1840s. Critics have thus tended to address the ambitious and unruly apprentice, Sim Tappertit, and his conspiracy of disaffected adolescents, in the contexts of Chartism, Trade Unionism, the revived Protestant Association of Dickens's own period, or the socio-economic conditions of Victorian London. But the name of Tappertit's secret society, “the 'Prentice Knights,” its ideology and symbolism, also gesture towards an alternative, historical framework: the seasonal festivities and chivalric fantasies associated with apprentice culture, from Mediaeval and Early Modern England to Dickens's own time. Linking Sim Tappertit both to George Barnwell, apprentice-protagonist of George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and back to the citizen drama of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages, in plays such as Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599) and Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), this article illuminates the actions and characterization of Sim Tappertit and his 'Prentice Knights with reference to the social and literary history of apprentice misrule.

Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, apprenticeship, George Barnwell, Francis Beaumont


Barnaby Rudge, True Crime Style
Susan Cook, Southern New Hampshire University

This article interprets Barnaby Rudge's fraught murder mystery plot through contemporary true crime podcasts. It argues that true crime podcasts illuminate a way of reading Dickens's crime plot as intrinsically connected to his historical plot. It begins by discussing true crime podcasts, the position they enjoy in our present-day, true-narrative-consuming culture, and their stylistic techniques. From there, it explains how Barnaby Rudge preempts many of these same stylistic techniques: Dickens's novel and true crime podcasts are comparable not only for how both feature a storyteller/participant and are heavily reliant on stories being told, but also on how crime is narrated messily and asynchronously. Finally, this article concludes by exploring some of the implications of bridging these forms of media—implications for reading Dickens as well as for listening to podcasts.

Barnaby Rudge, true crime, podcasts, storyteller, historical fiction


The History of Barnaby Rudge and the Culture of Imitation
Adam Abraham, Auburn University

This article argues that Barnaby Rudge is the product of two simultaneous developments in the late 1830s. First, Charles Dickens's print-cultural fear of diminishment through authorial repetition was exemplified by his predecessors Walter Scott (as revealed in Lockhart's biography) and William Harrison Ainsworth (whom Dickens befriended). Second, a culture of imitation arose in which cheap imitations of Dickens's works threatened to confuse the book-buyer and flood the market with similar wares. This article will examine one imitation, Barnaby Budge, from 1841, to demonstrate how such plagiaristic works read and misread their sources. Although Dickens's Rudge can be considered a Scott-like historical novel, it is not so much a capitulation to an older model of novel-writing; rather, this book of riot and rebellion marks Dickens's own break with the past and present.

Barnaby Rudge, Barnaby Budge, Walter Scott, William Harrison Ainsworth, imitation


"Looking Two Ways": A Pivotal Paragraph in Bleak House and Esther's Missing Self-Reflection
Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., California State University, Sacramento

This article initially argues that Dickens's pivotal paragraph uniquely requires and inspires 24 pages of text to explore its 158 words in the novel. Esther's “looking two ways” paragraph describes, often through ironic forms of comparison and contrast, her twilight perspectives and projections as she looks through an inn window (or windows) during her and Bucket's search for her mother, Lady Dedlock. The paragraph remarkably looks before and after in the text as it contextually explores the “middle way” dynamics of four major clarifying approaches to Esther's self-development: the via negativa, Holy Grail myths, liminal motifs, and the Freudian uncanny. These four approaches sometimes support one another and sometimes conflict with, if not challenge, one another. Throughout, the article not only discusses and documents Esther's problematic self-development and Dickens's profound artistry in detailing that development, but it also examines the extent of reader involvement in evaluating both Esther and Dickens.

Bleak House, via negativa, Holy Grail myths, liminality, the Uncanny


The Trouble with Tattycoram: Emotional Labor and the Dependent Woman in Little Dorrit
Abigail Arnold, Independent Scholar

While the concept of emotional labor (the presentation of a feeling as part of a job) is generally applied to a twentieth- and twenty-first-century context—indeed, Arlie Russell Hochschild, who coined the term, explicitly contrasts it with nineteenth-century labor—we can in fact use it to illuminate the particularly gendered labor of Victorian contexts, especially among women of ambiguous social status. This article examines Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit through the lens of emotional labor, focusing on the characters of Tattycoram and Mrs. General, whom this article terms “dependent women.” These two women occupy ambiguous positions, caught between the worlds of emotion and work and required to perform affection and gratitude in order to maintain themselves. While Tattycoram and Mrs. General handle this differently—Tattycoram resents it, while Mrs. General exploits it—examining them both in this light illustrates a continuity between conceptions of feeling and work in the nineteenth century and in contemporary contexts while also highlighting the uncertainties and unique tensions of the dependent woman's position. The presence of emotion makes Little Dorrit's dependent women's lives uniquely difficult by leaving both them and their employers uncertain as to their ultimate status or where they belong.

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, emotional labor, gender, work


"Yup, So-Jeer": Interlanguage and Ruptured Translation in Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins's The Perils of Certain English Prisoners
Jacob Kurt Nielsen, Brigham Young University

Coauthored by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners is a tale of linguistic subversion in colonial spaces. Christian George King demonstrates a linguistic phenomenon called interlanguage, or a quasi-language that partially resembles both English and his native language. King's interlanguage disrupts the linguistic hierarchy of the tale by opening possibilities for miscommunication. To combat this linguistic tension, colonists must rely on translation—specifically, on the mistaken belief that all non-English languages, including an interlanguage, can be translated perfectly into English. Yet the very notion that meaning can be perfectly translated is shattered by interlanguage's ability to cultivate both intimacy and resistance in the translator—intimacy, because the colonizers see enough of their own language in the learner to lull themselves into thinking that meaning is transparent; and resistance, because the foreign parts of the learner's speech that remain serve as a continual reminder of the unconquered tongue. While interlanguage is most apparent in King's speech, it is also present in the construction and coauthorship of “The Perils” itself. Indeed, interlanguage proves a useful concept for thinking about any textual moment in which individual voices combine into a hybrid voice that cultivates the illusion of cohesion.

Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, interlanguage, translation, coauthorship


The Squid and the Lentil: A-Hundred-and-Fifty Years under the Sea
Aaron Worth, Boston University

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1869–70), this article traces three vectors of Verne's, and the novel's, influence, in relation to three genres or modes of writing: science fiction, as it began to emerge as a sharply delineated category in the early twentieth century; French literary theory and philosophy, in which Verne's work appeared as a favorite touchstone of influential writers including Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Pierre Macherey; and weird fiction, for which Twenty Thousand Leagues, with its monstrous squid, has been retroactively constructed as a (minor) foundational text.

Jules Verne, science fiction, literary theory, weird, H. G. Wells


Dickens "was dead: to begin with": Charles Dickens's Ghostly Afterlife in Neo-Victorian Narratives
Shari Hodges Holt, University of Mississippi

As we commemorate the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of Charles Dickens's death, this article considers Dickens's afterlife in neo-Victorian narratives of the new millennium, surveying texts that resurrect and reconstruct Dickens as a fictional character. Substantiating Marie-Luise Kohlke's and Christian Gutleben's assertion that “neo-Victorianism is by nature quintessentially Gothic” (4; author's emphasis), the narratives in this survey Gothicize the author, portraying him as a ghost, a ghost-buster, or a metaphorically haunting presence who conjures Victorian-era anxieties that have contemporary relevance. Commercial franchises capitalizing on Dickens for heritage nostalgia (e.g., the Assassin's Creed video games) playfully portray him as a ghost-buster who exorcises troubling spirits, while bio-fictions depicting Dickens's fraught relationships with women (e.g., The Invisible Woman) resurrect Dickens as a stalking presence in women's lives before and after his death. Neo-Victorian novels concerned with Dickens's creative and commercial legacies (e.g., Dan Simmons's Drood) concoct murder mysteries featuring Dickens the mesmerist, whose insidious power over fans, critics, and fellow authors raises troubling questions about celebrity culture and the arts. Similarly, postcolonial narratives (e.g., the television series, The Terror) often conjure Dickens as a specter of imperialism's traumatic legacy. Such neo-Victorian resurrections illustrate how Dickens perpetually haunts the intersection of Victorian and contemporary worlds.

Charles Dickens, heritage culture, nostalgia, neo-Victorian film, television adaptations, transmedia studies, gender, The Invisible Woman, video games, Assassin's Creed Syndicate