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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Some grotesque patterns in the novels of Charles Dickens and in the British popular arts of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Kozakiewicz, Elizabeth Antonina


Recognizing that the grotesque is a common characteristic of much popular art, and recognizing that grotesque images are integral to the sensual world of Dickens' novels, the thesis seeks to discover what grotesque images are shared by Dickens and contemporary popular artists, and whether similar meanings can be attributed to their use in the caricatures, the pantomime, the gothic novels, and childrens' literature and in Dickens' fiction. The essence of grotesque art can best be understood from a survey of historical grotesque images and the thesis traces these briefly. The grotesque image usually involves the double face, two or three beings united within one formal structure. It may however be typified by its extreme ugliness, its deviance from aesthetic standards of beauty. Or it may exist as a mimic re-creation of man in man-made terms, through costume or mask, or as a puppet, robot or doll. The grotesque humour in the caricatures, the pantomime and the nursery rhymes, with its dispensing with boundaries between the animate and the inanimate and mimic re-creation of the world in new forms, implies a delight in the sensual qualities of the material world. In the gothic novels the grotesque images, particularly the complex of images revolving around prisons, are seen to function as physical manifestations of the obsessive reasoning and fears that plague the characters. The grotesques in the fairy tales are related essentially to the role of magic, supernatural power in these tales being wielded either through object-talismans or by grotesque figures. Dickens merges grotesques from all these sources into one fictional universe, and consequently any one grotesque in Dickens' work may recall imagery from several of these art forms, as well as the traditional images. The thesis does not attempt a comprehensive study of the grotesque in Dickens' novels. It examines only three novels, The Old Curiosity Shop, Our Mutual Friend, and The Mystery, of Edwin Drood, with references to A Tale of Two Cities and Hard Times, analyzing the thematic patterns that revolve, around the grotesques. In The Old Curiosity Shop the grotesque hallucinations of Nell, her grandfather, and the narrator are linked to their passivity, their fear of confronting or having to manipulate a naturalistic reality. Quilp and the other natural grotesques are, on the other hand, seen to resemble clowns, in their use of the grotesque image as a source of comedy, and in their skill at using this humour to control their environment. Our Mutual Friend is approached from one viewpoint only, though it is one considered vital to the nineteenth century British imagination, the relationship of its grotesque imagery to children's art. Through meshing picturesque figures of innocence with the vicious, the deformed and the decaying, Dickens establishes a vision of beauty growing out of the destruction of innocence and the imaginative vitality of anarchic grotesques. In The Mystery of Edwin Drood the architecture of the cathedral city gives material shape to the type of obsessive thinking that permeates The Old Curiosity Shop, and concurrently functions as a spell-bound environment for those who seek to deny their relationship with the brutal or ugly. As with the prisons of the gothic novels, this architecture breeds grotesque figures whom Dickens employs for a dual, purpose, to represent the hallucinations of his spiritually trapped characters, and as a natural artistic counterpart to the cold rigidity of the cathedral.

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