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3 - The middle novels

Chuzzlewit, Dombey, and Copperfield

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2006

John O. Jordan
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Cruz
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Summary

There is a conspicuous restlessness about the novels which Charles Dickens conceived in the 1840s: Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), Dombey and Son (1846-48), and David Copperfield (1849-50). In part, their mobility is geographical: travelers voyage and return from England to the Continent, the United States, Australia, and India. England is a commercial hub: at the center of trading networks and a growing colonial power. Internally, conceptions of spatiality shift as a result of new modes of travel. The coaches of Martin Chuzzlewit are replaced by the railways which slice through urban and rural environments in Dombey and Son, effecting shifting points of view. And travel, these novels make clear, has everything to do with offering different perspectives. The shifts of location are one of the means by which the reader’s attention is continually redirected, especially in the first two novels. In these, different groupings of characters are interwoven, juxtaposed, brought into implicit conversation with one another in a way which amplifies the novels' central conceptual concerns with selfishness, with forms of value, with families, with desire, and with self-realization. If the third of the novels, David Copperfield, differs from the other two in being unified by one central narrative voice, its own sense of motion is given not just by the successive stages through which David passes on “the road of life” (64), but by the continual oscillation of time between the present of the narration, and the recollections – sometimes sharp, sometimes dream-like and hazy – which haunt the writer, causing him to lose “the clear arrangement of time and distance” (57).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2001

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  • The middle novels
  • Edited by John O. Jordan, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens
  • Online publication: 28 May 2006
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521660165.004
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  • The middle novels
  • Edited by John O. Jordan, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens
  • Online publication: 28 May 2006
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521660165.004
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • The middle novels
  • Edited by John O. Jordan, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens
  • Online publication: 28 May 2006
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521660165.004
Available formats
×