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About this book

This stimulating study takes a fresh look at two of Dickens' most widely-studied texts. Part I uses carefully selected short extracts for close textual analysis, while Part II examines the historical and literary contexts and key criticism. The volume is an ideal introductory guide for those who are studying Dickens' novels for the first time.

Table of Contents

Analysing Bleak House and Hard Times

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
The aim of this book is to take a fresh and critical look at two of Dickens’s most studied novels, developing our insights from the close analysis of extracts from the text. Bleak House and Hard Times were written between 1852 and 1854, and they share some qualities. Both novels open with a powerful critique, announcing that the text will campaign against Chancery (Bleak House) and Utilitarianism (Hard Times) respectively.
Nicholas Marsh

1. Facts and Fog: Opening Salvos

Abstract
Both Hard Times and Bleak House open with passages that are justly famous: frequently anthologised as examples of fine writing, and much used in the classroom to teach critical analysis. Each opening is a Dickensian tour de force, and each declares war upon a target that is anathema to the author. We begin our study with a detailed look at these opening statements, in part because it is the obvious, almost unavoidable first approach to these two novels, and in part for two other reasons: first, as an introduction to the rhetorical features of Dickens’s style, and second, to use these passages as a benchmark against which we can measure the novels as wholes. How successfully, having declared war, does Dickens fight and win his battles in the rest of the book?
Nicholas Marsh

2. Characterisation (1): From Grotesques to Intimates

Abstract
This chapter begins by examining how people are introduced into Dickens’s world. We know, from having read the novels, that a number of the characters are caricatured: often, one feature of their personality is so exaggerated as to become ridiculous. Typically, Dickens will have fun at their expense, but in terms of characterisation these are the simplest and shallowest figures in the novels. They are so one-dimensional that we can call them grotesques. We begin by looking at the reader’s first meeting with two of these figures in Hard Times. Here is the passage introducing Mrs. Sparsit, Bounderby’s housekeeper:
Nicholas Marsh

3. Characterisation (2): Women

Abstract
This chapter looks at Dickens’s female characters, in an attempt to distinguish between characterisation that uses gender-specific language or stereotypes, and the more general picture of women as part of each novel’s population. As soon as we think about the female populations of Hard Times and Bleak House, we may start considering three groups. First, many of the women are filled with vanity, jealousy, spite, greed, ignorance and foolishness. Then, in stark contrast, there are good women such as Mrs. Bagnet and Mrs. Rouncewell, or Louisa Gradgrind/Bounderby. Finally, there are angelic women of infinite loyalty, love and patience, the obvious examples being Ada in Bleak House, and Rachael in Hard Times (as well as Sissy Jupe, who plays an active role in the final chapters). It is with these paragons, therefore, that we begin our investigation.
Nicholas Marsh

4. Morality and Society

Abstract
This chapter focuses on Dickens’s portrayal of English society, which means that we will consider a wide variety of issues. These will include fashion, the law, industry, class, politics and economics. We will consider how these issues are played out by a wide variety of people, each with their own personal morality and placed into controversial circumstances. We will also look for the characters’ own attempts to understand their predicament in society and the world, with Dickens’s use of simple statements such as Jo the crossing sweeper’s ‘He was wery good to me’ and ‘I don’t know nothink’. Our aim, having examined the society Dickens depicts, is to define the moral response the author gives to the social and political evils he describes.
Nicholas Marsh

5. Rhetoric, Imagery and Symbol

Abstract
This chapter brings together the features of style, and the uses of metaphor, we have found during the detailed studies of extracts carried out in Part 1, so as to provide a fuller description of Dickens’s characteristic prose style than any one of Chapters 1 to 4 could accommodate. To do this, we look at a further extract chosen from each of the novels we are studying, but we also refer back to passages we have met in previous chapters.
Nicholas Marsh

6. Summative Discussion and Conclusions to Part One

Abstract
In this chapter we bring together the outcomes of our studies in Chapters 1 to 5. With regard to Dickens’s techniques, whether in his manipulation of characters or themes, or in his sentence-by-sentence rhetorical patterns, we have reached some insights that can be summarised:
1.
Dickens’s writing is always elaborately patterned;
 
2.
Dickens is exceptionally present, keeping his reader company, and urging us to join him in his emotions and to agree with his opinions;
 
3.
Dickens usually begins characterisation by depicting a grotesque. Some characters later develop psychological or emotional depth;
 
4.
Dickens uses a range of shallow or ‘grotesque’ background characters to create an illusion of a real population for the world of the text;
 
5.
Dickens’s writing is usually rich in figurative ideas; often these ideas are ‘literalised’ and developed subsequently, giving rise to a narrative mode that depends on metaphor; and
 
6.
Dickens sometimes allocates significance to elements of the narrative, as symbols; and occasionally he undertakes a narrative project we could call ‘magic realism’.
 
Nicholas Marsh

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

7. Charles Dickens’s Life and Works

Abstract
Charles Dickens wrote a vast amount, and lived a full life. This short chapter can do little more than summarise his life and works as briefly as possible, and mention issues relevant to our two texts.
Nicholas Marsh

8. The Place of Hard Times and Bleak House in English Literature

Abstract
Dickens wrote fourteen and a half novels, the half being the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood. He wrote eight before and four and a half after our two texts. The first novel was The Pickwick Papers (serialised 1836–1837). This began as a series of loosely connected anecdotes about Mr. Pickwick, but the stories were increasingly extended through several episodes. Dickens was leaning towards full-length narrative. At the same time, with Pickwick and the other club members, and the enormously popular Sam Weller, he was developing his brand of comical characterisation. Oliver Twist was serialised from 1837 to 1839, overlapping with Pickwick. The pathetic little hero, colourful band of boy-thieves, terrifying villains Fagin and Sykes, and sacrificial heroine Nancy, were all larger than life. Like Pickwick, this novel achieved instant popularity, and these two established Dickens’s reputation.
Nicholas Marsh

9. A Sample of Critical Views

Abstract
The literature on Dickens is vast: for the postgraduate student there are bibliographies such as R. C. Churchill’s A Bibliography of Dickensian Criticism 1836–1975 (1975), which can be supplemented from updates in the periodical Dickens Quarterly. Our sole aim here is to summarise a few critical views, chosen simply because they differ from each other, in order to stimulate debate. We begin with Dickens’s contemporaries. Then we report some critics of Dickens from between then and now. Finally, we summarise the views of four recent critics. This chapter is intended to encourage you to develop your own ideas with confidence, and to read the critics critically.
Nicholas Marsh
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