University of Leicester
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Dickens's urban vision.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:13 authored by John. Kassman
This thesis started as an exploration of my feeling that Dickens's later novels said something profoundly satisfying about urban life, which the early works failed to do. I found Dombey and Son to be the first of Dickens's works to attain this mature urban vision, and I have written a study showing how it differs from the early novels. The differences concern both his depiction of people and the representation of the social organization of city life. In investigating possible sources for these changes, I focused on Dickens's involvement with two social developments during the 1840s: the public health and what we may term the mental health, or "asylum", movements. Dickens's grasp of the ideas underlying these new movements, I argue, informed the depiction of people and of urban societies in his later fiction. That is, they made certains ways of thinking available to him. To discuss the movement of ideas from historical reality into fictional prose is to risk entering an often fruitless area of theoretical contention. However, as we know so much about Dickens's life and opinions, it is possible to be very specific about historical influences. His letters have proved the biggest single source for my research, as I found his involvement in these social fields pre-dates the more public pronouncements made in his journals during the 1850s. My greatest debt as a researcher is therefore to the editors of the Pilgrim Edition of the letters. The final chapter of the thesis is a study of Bleak House, which highlights the mental and public health issues in the novel, and relates them to the development of the detective as a fictional device. The working of this device is then discussed in relation to our experience of reading the novel and following the plot. My concern in this thesis has been to be as precise as possible in analysing my response to the novels. While two of the chapters contain much biographical material, my investigations into Dickens the citizen have been prompted by . a desire to come to grips with Dickens the artist. It is not, I think, a philistine position to suggest that a writer's public concerns can have a bearing on his artistic development.


Date of award


Author affiliation

Historical Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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