Dickens, His Parables, and His Reader
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Abbreviations for Works by Charles Dickens
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The statement of Eugene Wrayburn, a facetious character of the 1865 Charles Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend, sounds quite postmodern. But it omits the obvious: “a reader’s Reading of a novel.” Indeed, some reader response theory, notably phenomenology, declares that a reader “performs” a literary text, just as an actress performs a role or as a percussionist performs a musical score....
1. The Child as Christian Pilgrim in Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop
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It is no exaggeration to label Victorian sensibilities about infancy and youth a “cult of childhood.” In Victorian literary works, for example, Jane Eyre suffers the terrors of the red-room, Maggie Tulliver attains peace only beneath flood-waters of the Floss, orphaned Heathcliff withstands vicious pummeling from the Earnshaw heir, and Smike is brutalized by Squeers at Dotheboys Hall. In ...
2. The Mortal and Immortal Houses of Dombey and Son
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The moralizing narrator of Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son, Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation warns: “Let him remember it in that room, years to come. The rain that falls upon the roof: the wind that mourns outside the door: may have foreknowledge in their melancholy sound, per-chance. Let him remember it in that room, years to come!” (DS 273, repeated ...
3. Prodigal Children and Tearful Reunions in David Copperfield
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Upon David Copperfield’s return from a three-year sojourn in Europe where he has mourned the death of his “child-wife” and taken to task his “undisciplined heart,” he and his elated friend Tommy Traddles repeatedly embrace, rejoicing in laughter and tears. In David Copperfield tears are not unmanly or weak. Excepting the schoolboys who are routinely flogged in Mr. Creak-...
4. Casting the First Stone: Judgment Day in Bleak House
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Dickens’s Bleak House (1852–53) is an apocalyptic text; its central metaphor, the Judgment. It harshly judges contemporary times (neglect of the poor, unmet sanitation needs, the “philanthropy” of single-minded missionaries, and perversions of the legal system, especially judgments—or the lack thereof—in the Court of Chancery). The characters quote Old Testament law that exacts ...
5. “Forgive our Debts as We Forgive our Debtors” : Indebtedness in Little Dorrit
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In Dickens’s 1855–57 novel, Little Dorrit, Mrs. Clennam serves as the ultimate depiction of rigid, unforgiving religion. Not only do the narrator and her sup-posed son, the unheroic hero Arthur Clennam, judge Mrs. Clennam’s Christianity and find it wanting, but to prove her hypocrisy, the text also employs the familiar “Lord’s Prayer” that Jesus taught his disciples. The prayer suggests that, ...
6. Allegory of the Martyred Savior in Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities
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“Don’t fear me. I will be true to the death,” Dickens’s hero Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities (1859) assures the “Sheep of the Prison,” who will enable him to exchange places with the man for whom he has come to die (TTC 436). Seeing these words, Dickens’s Victorian reader probably heard an echo of: “[B]e thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” the promise of ...
7. The Good and Faithful Servant of Our Mutual Friend
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Our Mutual Friend (1864–65) is a vast and gloomy novel, its city landscape polluted by sooty skies, the muddy river, perpetual fog and mist, mounds of refuse, burning debris, pelting sleet, and dusty wind. Even church towers are cold and grey in the “grey dusty withered evening” (OMF 386). The whole city of London—a “heap of vapour . . . enfolding a gigantic catarrh” (OMF 417)—...
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Thirteen months before his death, Dickens was forced to cancel the final twenty-five readings of his farewell tour because of debilitating pain and his medical advisers’ counsel that he should not push on. As result, his public worried for his safety, begging letters poured in requesting financial assistance to individuals who intended to outlive him, and some of the pious intervened ...
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Page Count: 311
Publication Year: 2012