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UBC Theses and Dissertations

House, the family and domesticity as central images in Dickens' novels Cromwell , Alexandra Freya


More than any other Victorian novelist, it is Dickens who has been regarded as a fit subject for reading aloud in the family group. This thesis represents an attempt to understand how, in his fiction, Dickens regards and makes use of the concept of the family group, how the domestic interior relates itself to other aspects of the novels. It soon becomes apparent, as this inquiry is made, that the image of the domestic interior is central to Dickens’ novels and the thesis undertakes an examination of, primarily, two novels in order to demonstrate that this is so. The two novels chosen, Martin Chuzzlewit and Bleak House, were written with an interval of about nine years between them. The former stands at the end of what might be called the first stage of Dickens’ career but it looks, in some respects, towards the later novels, of which Bleak House is one of the first. In Martin Chuzzlewit we see a novel whose concerns are with the family and the problems of authority, paternity, selfishness and altruism. These concerns are expressed through descriptions of the places in which family groups reside or by an investigation of what takes place within those residences. Investigated, too, are the reasons for which the Individual leaves home and the consequences of such a leaving. It is concerns such as these which link the English and American sections of the novel. Bleak House raises similar questions but extends and examines them in a structure which embraces English society as a whole. The examination, that is, is more complex than that undertaken in Martin Chuzzlewit. Nevertheless, it too is concerned with family life and, through his observations on a number of households and the individuals included in and excluded from them, Dickens expresses his criticism of society in its entirety. The house is a house but it is also a metaphor for the larger organization of England. Through understanding the quality of the life lived within the houses which Dickens describes, the reader can understand many of the values embodied in the novels. Dickens recognized that the nature of a nation's life as a whole is largely dependent upon the nature of the life lived within each individual household. The connection between the house and the civilization is a close one, as we see in Martin Chuzzlewit. Houses, however, are relatively fixed structures and in Bleak House the notions of tradition, of time and change, decay and corruption are explored through their association with the house, and hence the novel’s concern with the new industrialism which is examined as it defines itself in relation to domesticity and the family circle.

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