Dickens's Laughter

Sarah Winter

in The Pleasures of Memory

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780823233526
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241132 | DOI:
Dickens's Laughter

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This chapter traces how Dickens's novelistic pedagogy and democratic project for popular fiction were institutionalized in the English literature curriculum. It begins by elucidating the stakes of the temporary collapse and recovery of Dickens's reputation in relation to the professionalization of the literary field in the final decades of the nineteenth century. George Eliot and George Henry Lewes's both attempted to marginalize Dickens's art and his version of associationism in order to define literature and psychology as distinct disciplinary forms of knowledge. During this period, however, Dickens's status as a canonical author was being consolidated. Examining literary histories, biographies, and British and American school readers and editions published between 1846 and 1919, the chapter delineates the emergence of “the school Dickens,” a standard image of Dickens's authorship that updates his humanitarian advocacy for the poor into an egalitarian ethic central to the English literature curriculum's role in training children for participation in democratic institutions. Critics such as Henry James, G. K. Chesterton, George Orwell, and F. R. Leavis are able once again to celebrate Dickens on the basis of their own cherished childhood associations with reading his novels. Chesterton's and Orwell's shared image of Dickens's democratic laughter represents the self-subversion of this canonizing impulse in the “historical Dickens's” anti-institutional project.

Keywords: English literature curriculum; school readers; historical Dickens; school Dickens; democratic education; modern authorship; pleasures of memory; attack on Dickens's art; auto-canonization; self-satire

Chapter.  22836 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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