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Charles Dickens, and certain aspects of romanticism.

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posted on 19.11.2015, 09:00 by Pieter Dirk den. Hartog
The thesis examines certain aspects of Dickens's relationship to a number of his English Romantic predecessors, namely Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Hunt, De Quincey and Lamb. The central line of enquiry concerns the pre-occupation of these writers with the relationship between the adult self and its formative childhood origins, with the ways that "the child is father of the man", and the possible light that can be thrown upon certain of Dickens's novels by tracing the ways in which he inherits and modifies the fruits of this pre-occupation. Chapter one introduces this theme as an element of the Romantic outlook, and gives a summarised account of those manifestations of it in Dickens that are to be discussed at length later in the thesis, Chapter two begins with an account of the residual traces of the theme in the early novels, and then proceeds to a discussion of how the Wordsworthian-Coleridgean advocacy of a continuity between child and adult selves is developed in Charles Lamb in a manner at times more pertinent to Dickens's nature than it is in the major figures themselves. The dissimilarity between Dickens and Lamb on this score is also emphasised. Chapter three is a study of the inter-relation between the Romantic endorsement of continuity, and the 'sentimentalist'- derived idea of comedy as an essentially genial activity, followed by a study of Dickens's comedy in the light of these ideas. Chapters four and five offer readings of Dombey and Son and David Copperfield, stressing how Dickens, in marked contrast to Wordsworth but not unlike De Quincey, is in these novels sensitive to the tension between the claims of morality and the claims of continuity, the desirable integrity of the adult self to its childhood roots. Chapter six is a reading of Bleak House, being mainly an elucidation of Dickens's study in that novel of the consequences in later life of the absence of those conditions in childhood that the Romantics assumed to be the pre-conditions of healthy later life. Finally, chapter seven examines Little Dorrit along somewhat similar lines, but pays special attention to the novel's complex sense of the interdependence of 'continuity and what it feels to be the somewhat ambivalent ability to resignedly accept life's limitations as inevitable: Dickens's attitude to this interdependence is compared to and contrasted with Wordsworth's.


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University of Leicester

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