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Charles Dickens and the Image of Women

David Holbrook

Publication Year: 1995

How successful is Dickens in his portrayal of women? Dickens has been represented (along with William Blake and D.H. Lawrence) as one who championed the life of the emotions often associated with the "feminine." Yet some of his most important heroines are totally submissive and docile.

Dickens, of course, had to accept the conventions of his time. It is obvious, argues Holbrook, that Dickens idealized the father-daughter relationship, and indeed, any such relationship that was unsexual, like that of Tom Pinch and his sister—but why? Why, for example, is the image of woman so often associated with death, as in Great Expectations? Dickens's own struggles over relationships with women have been documented, but much less has been said about the unconscious elements behind these problems.

Using recent developements in psychoanalytic object-relations theory, David Holbrook offers new insight into the way in which the novels of Dickens—particularly Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Great Expectations—both uphold emotional needs and at the same time represent the limits of his view of women and that of his time.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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p. xi

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pp. 1-26

In previous studies I have dealt with the image of woman as she haunts the work of creative writers—Sir James Barrie, Shakespeare, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and D. H. Lawrence. With these I found, as I supposed, that insights from psychoanalysis...

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1. Bleak House: The Dead Baby and the Psychic Inheritance

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pp. 27-54

Bleak House is in one perspective a thriller, a detective story; but its special power to grip us and move us derives from its deeper content, which has to do with a central theme in Dickens—that of inheritance—the inheritance of each...

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2. Religion, Sin, and Shame

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pp. 55-69

We need now to turn back to the sexual theme, for we cannot discuss love without discussing problems of sexuality, marriage, and procreation, and woman as the focus of these. What was Dickens's position...

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3. Little Dorrit; Little Doormat

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pp. 70-82

Little Dorrit which was published in 1856, is another novel about inheritance with illegitimacy in the background. Once again, an illegitimate infant is brought up by a harsh mother substitute who inflicts on the child a fierce and punitive...

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4. At the Heart of the Marshalsea

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pp. 83-125

One of the crucial scenes in Little Dorrit is that between Little Dorrit and her father in chapter 19, book 1. The chapter provides a clue to the symbolism of the Marshalsea: like the Court of Chancery and the Jarndyce case, it is the embodiment...

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5. Great Expectations: A Radical Ambiguity about What One May Expect

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pp. 126-146

I found myself startled, when I came to work on this book, to discover Great Expectations coming so late in the Dickens canon. I suppose because of its similarity in some respects to David Copperfield, I had assumed it to be an earlier work...

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6. Finding One Another's Reality: Lizzie Hexam and Her Love Story in Our Mutual Friend

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pp. 147-163

It was a remark of Merryn Williams's that sent me back to Our Mutual Friend, to appreciate the great strength of Dickens's portrayal of Lizzie Hexam: "Lizzie Hexam and Helena Landless are both strong, responsible women ... with no charm...

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7. Dickens's Own Relationships with Women

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pp. 164-176

Toward the end of his life, Dickens was a rich man: he left some ninety three thousand pounds.* His worldwide reputation was secure. He had difficulties with his children, and his marriage had been at an end for some time...


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pp. 177-179


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pp. 181-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780814744871
E-ISBN-10: 0814744877
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814735282
Print-ISBN-10: 0814735282

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 1995

OCLC Number: 859685937
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Charles Dickens and the Image of Women

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Subject Headings

  • Dickens, Charles, -- 1812-1870 -- Characters -- Women.
  • Women and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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