Fatal extraction : Dickensian bildungsroman and the logic of dependency

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Focusing on Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations, this study explores the intersections of the Dickensian bildungsroman and the early and mid-Victorian debates about the sources of poverty and the legitimacy of charitable intervention in alleviating its effects. These debates , which culminated around the time of the New Poor Law , were the main venue in which political economists , social reformers , proponents of self-help, and advocates of organized charity exchanged arguments about the role of personal responsibility and environmental pressures in determining the individual's standing in the world. Their arguments were invariably driven by conflicting notions of individual agency: are the poor victims and in need of assistance, or vicious and in need of discipline? Even when not directly addressing the provisions of the New Poor Law and the effects of organized charity, Dickens 's novels seek to negotiate some of the central tensions of these contemporary ideological conflicts: invariably focusing on orphans and the external factors that shape their fate, including both benevolent and tyrannical caregivers, Dickens 's novels obsessively examine the meaning of dependency and guardianship. By organizing his plots around the moral and practical implications of social ascent by means of outside benevolent intervention, Dickens used the form of the bildungsroman to explore an alternative to the dominant ethics of self-sufficiency
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-94
Number of pages12
JournalDickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


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