Whereas Pickwick appears a largely masculine affair, its narrative strands seeming to wander wide, if not across the world (or even the nation) then at least across the South-East of England (with a brief foray to the Midlands), Cranford’s sphere is obviously more circumscribed. In The Pickwick Papers men take tours, observe social behaviour in both individuals and groups, and get involved in local communities. Where women appear in Dickens’s first novel, their movements are largely restricted to their immediate cultural and social spheres. In this, they are not that different from the women of Cranford. Despite this difference, though, both novels offer mediated visions of Englishness in transition. Gaskell and Dickens trace the ways in which identity is transformed, or has been changed in a relatively short historical period. Both novels approach the subject of national identity in transition in ostensibly similar ways. They utilize the distancing force of humour and comedy as a means by which to comment on social transformation, though this is where the resemblance ends, the comedy of each delineated in strikingly differentiated, singular ways. Such singularity, and such difference as that which allows us access to the singularity of each text respectively, has to do with the texts’ perceptions of the cultural and historical inscriptions of gender in a web of relations concerning the historicity and materiality of English national identity. Yet between one singular vision and another, what comes to be reiterated while maintaining difference is that necessary mediation of social comedy in conjunction with sentiment, in order that the reader of fiction in the first half of the nineteenth century might come not only to see but also to feel his or her identity and historicity.
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