Charles Dickens: The Romantic Legacy

Cook, Peter (2017) Charles Dickens: The Romantic Legacy. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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This thesis investigates the relationship between the fiction of Charles Dickens and the work of canonical Romantic Period authors: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and John Keats, with a view to assessing the influence of these Romantic writers on Dickens’s novels and stories. The reason for the investigation is that, while other influences on Dickens: the eighteenth-century novel, popular culture, melodrama, and the sentimental tradition have been thoroughly investigated recently, the influence of the Romantics has been relatively neglected. Four topics are identified: Childhood, Time, Progress, and Outsiders, which together constitute the main thematic aspects of Dickens’s debt to the Romantics. The use of imagery as a structural, unifying device, rather than a decorative, pictorial addition, is also identified as a significant common feature. Close readings of key Romantic texts, and eight of Dickens’s novels, draw out comparisons and contrasts, indicating the ways in which Dickens appropriated and adapted Romantic tropes and devices. It was found that the influence of the Romantics on Dickens’s fiction is more extensive and important than has previously been recognised. Essentially, Dickens turns to these Romantic tropes and devices to express his responses to the exponential growth of industrial, technological culture, and its effects on personal life and relationships, that was happening as he wrote. The modern society that provoked these complex responses did not exist when the eighteenth-century authors that Dickens loved were writing. The Romantics, on the other hand, witnessed the dawn of this new social order, and experimented with ways of expressing it. Dickens found in them a basis on which to build. These findings demonstrate that the Romantic legacy needs to be taken into account far more seriously in order to arrive at a balanced, fully-rounded understanding of Dickens’s achievement.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: literary influence, childhood, notions of time, debates on progress, outsiders in literature
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Melissa Campey
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2017 08:03
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:59

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