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A sociological analysis of the novels of Charles Dickens

Brown, James (1977) A sociological analysis of the novels of Charles Dickens. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.8fjzxjehbzkr


This thesis argues that the reflection of society in Dickens's mature novels is not mechanical, passive or superficial but a creative, critical, and generalising reflection of the essential aspects of everyday social relations within Victorian industrial society, though this is mediated through both class values and literary conventions. The development of the mature novels' social vision from the episodic social criticism of specific abuses in the earlier fiction is related to changes in the social/economic climate of Victorian England and especially to the growth of urbanisation. Dickens's novelistic attitude to the mid-Victorian middle classes is explored in its full complexity, for although Dickens was lionised by a predominantly middle-class reading public and always wrote in accordance with middle-class standards of propriety and delicacy, and despite his utilisation of selected middle-class values as moral positives and structural organising agents within his novels, Dickens cannot be satisfactorily labelled as a 'bourgeois' writer or apologist. Indeed he uses the traditional entrepreneurial middle-class values (characteristic of an earlier stage of English capitalist development) to implicitly criticise the contemporary social/economic experience of the mid-Victorian middle-class itself, towards whom his novels are increasingly hostile. Dickens's complex and uneasy stand in mid-Victorian society resulted in many characteristic tensions and inconsistencies in his novels, and these are explored through a detailed analysis of five of the later novels. This reveals a characteristic lack of resolution between a tragic social vision and the demands of a 'happy' closed plot ending, the latter operating in a mutually reinforcing partnership with an organising framework of middle-class values to make novels which are critical and oppositional to Victorian capitalism acceptable to a middle-class reading public.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © James Melville Brown
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform

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