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2.11 - Charles Dickens and the Gothic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2020

Catherine Spooner
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Dale Townshend
Affiliation:
Manchester Metropolitan University
Angela Wright
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

This chapter explores the pervasive ways in which Gothic forces and affiliations appear in Dickens’s writings. The word ‘Gothic’ is rare in his work but an awareness of Gothic tropes, plottings and conventions is vital to understanding it. Gothic is used in highly innovative ways: to explore asymmetrical power relations of many sorts; to limit-test the idea of the ‘human’; and as radical social critique. The diabolical and uncanny are particularly powerful modes, and Dickens is pioneering both in his use of ‘virtual’ Gothic in A Christmas Carol and in the creation of ‘paranoid Gothic’ in the violent same-sex eroticism of Our Mutual Friend and theMystery of Edwin Drood. Gothic is also an essential component of such scenes as Miss Havisham’s resemblance to ‘waxwork and skeleton’ in Great Expectations and Fagin’s and Monks’s appearance at the sleeping Oliver Twist’s window. The chapter discusses a wide range of Gothic presences in these and other works, concluding with a discussion of Dicken’s remarkable late essay ‘Nurse’s Stories’ (1863), a complex ‘meta-Gothic’ reflection on uncanny repetition and its simultaneously comic and diabolical power in subjective experience and narration.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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