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Dickens, Dinosaurs, and Design

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journal contribution
posted on 2015-10-05, 11:07 authored by Gowan R. Dawson
Charles Dickens's novels only occasionally feature images of prehistoric creatures. There is, of course, the famous “elephantine lizard. . .waddling. . .up Holborn Hill” in the opening scenes of Bleak House (1852–53), which, as is brilliantly captured in Tom Gauld's recent cartoon “Fragments of Dickens's Lost Novel ‘A Megalosaur's Progress’” (2011), has become a kind of icon of Dickens's entire fictional oeuvre (Figure 1). But beyond Bleak House’s iconic megalosaurus “forty feet long or so,” Dickens's panoramic representations of urban landscapes, which Adelene Buckland has shown to abound with quasi-geological ruins, are usually populated only by their more diminutive modern inhabitants (1; ch. 1). Even when the changing cityscape of “carcases. . .and fragments” of “giant forms” seems, as in Dombey and Son (1847–48), to suggest the presence of colossal fossilized skeletons thrown up by a “great earthquake,” they remain lifeless and merely augment the pervading atmosphere of urban upheaval (46; ch. 6). Animate extinct animals instead appear more commonly in novels by contemporaries such as William Makepeace Thackeray or, later in the century, Henry James. In their fiction, creatures such as the megatherium, a large edentate from the Pliocene epoch, not only afford apposite metaphors for gargantuan manifestations of industrial modernity, as in the former's Mrs. Perkins's Ball (1846) and the latter's The Bostonians (1885–86). More significantly, they also provide a model for the complex structures of serialized novels, whether commendatory, as in Thackeray's The Newcomes (1853–55), or otherwise, as in the famous epithet “large loose baggy monsters” that James coined in the preface to the New York edition of The Tragic Muse (1908) (1:x).

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Citation

Victorian Literature and Culture, 2016, 44(4), pp. 761-778

Author affiliation

/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, ARTS AND HUMANITIES/School of English

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  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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Victorian Literature and Culture

Publisher

Cambridge University Press (CUP): HSS Journals

issn

1060-1503

eissn

1470-1553

Acceptance date

2015-09-14

Copyright date

4608

Available date

2015-10-05

Publisher version

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture/article/dickens-dinosaurs-and-design/16A1E204619F0E339E2A3200A5F4B5B2

Language

en

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