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 Quick Article Search

   Newest Articles

 Response Essay
 Monika Fludernik

 Experience, Affect, and Literary Lists
 Eva von Contzen

 Posthuman Narration as a Test Bed for Experientiality
 Marco Caracciolo

 The Curse of Realism
 Karin Kukkonen

 More than Minds
 Jonas Grethlein

 Toward the Non-Natural
 Maria Mäkelä

 Two Conceptions of Experientiality and Narrativity
 Dan Shen

 Against Nature
 Brian McHale

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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 9, Issue 2 (June 2011) : 297-309
“Part of the Dreadful Thing”
The Urban Chronotope of Bleak House
Elana Gomel
Rubric A: Literature and the Ideas of Space
Rubric B: Dickens



This essay addresses the paradox of Dickens as an urban writer through exploration of his narrative space. On the one hand, like Mayhew, Engels, and other Victorian urban explorers, Dickens is a fierce critic of the social ills of the industrial metropolis. On the other hand, Dickens is ranked alongside Baudelaire and Benjamin as the creator of a new vocabulary for urban pleasures, such as flânerie, consumption, visual distraction, and psychological stimulation.

 This ambiguity of Dickens’ urban attitudes is encapsulated in the doubleness of his urban chronotope. The city of Dickens is often imaged in vertical terms as the dichotomously divided space of the rich and the poor. But equally often, it is structured horizontally as a maze, network, or ring of contagion that unites all the city dwellers in a complex ecology of mutual interdependence. These two axes of representation correspond to the two types of urban involvement, that of the reformer and of the flâneur. In Bleak House they are epitomized by the omniscient narrator's “bird’s eye” view of society and Esther’s “street level” vision of it.

The essay explores the tension and interaction between the detached aesthetics of flânerie and the passionate involvement of social reform in the narrative fabric of Dickens’s world. It analyzes the narrative architecture of Bleak House by focusing on the techniques of vision and focalization rather than on the novel’s thematic concerns and/or characters’ actions.


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