University of Leicester
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Dickensian Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century Theatrical Adaptations of the Novels

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posted on 2019-07-10, 08:55 authored by Jennifer L. Miller
This thesis explores nineteenth-century British theatrical adaptations based on a selection of novels from the first three decades of Dickens’s career (1830s–50s). Focusing on melodramas that were staged between the 1830s and the 1880s, I examine how medium- and genre-specific conventions, theatrical trends, audience expectations, and the social and cultural contexts in which the plays were conceived shaped the adaptors’ representations of the Dickensian domestic. I argue that a mixture of pragmatic and ideological imperatives prompted playwrights to modify Dickens’s characters and plots and thus reconfigure his texts as more overt celebrations of domestic ideology. These little-known playwrights were active participants in the debates that shaped mid-Victorian domestic culture: my case studies address a variety of domestic themes and the discrepancies between their treatment in the novels and on the stage, from familial and quasi-familial relationships to depictions of the physical space of home and the ideological gendering of domestic roles. While I argue that reluctance to deviate from melodramatic convention compelled the adaptors to mute the ambivalence that characterises Dickens’s depictions of domestic life, I also devote considerable attention to showcasing the playwrights’ innovations and creativity. Dickens’s Victorian adaptors have frequently been dismissed as pirates and plunderers who trivialised his works but, as my close readings demonstrate, the adaptation process was not merely one of simplification. These playwrights embroidered their source material, expanded the roles of minor characters, and deftly worked new scenes into Dickens’s plots. This thesis highlights a crucial gap in our understanding of Dickensian domesticity by showing that nineteenth-century dramatic adaptations played an important, and previously unacknowledged, role in forging enduring popular conceptions of Dickens.



North, Julian; Wood, Claire; Shachar, Hila

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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