The Other Dickens

I’ve just finished my holiday reading, and not a moment too soon since classes start tomorrow.  In addition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the new Jonathan Franzen novel, which I read while travelling, I read Lillian Nayder’s new biography of Catherine Dickens, The Other Dickens (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010), which was  too fat to take on the plane.

I was completely compelled by Nayder’s portrait of Catherine as a competent wife and loving mother, counter to Dickens’s accusations that she was so far incapable of raising her children and managing a household that her sister Georgina had to take over.  One challenge of writing this biography seems to have been how many of Catherine’s letters were destroyed.  Nayder inventively solves this problem by drawing on banking records and legal documents–showing that Catherine, not Georgina, was running the  household until very near her separation from Dickens in 1858, as the large cheques drawn in her name suggest, and extrapolating Catherine’s tender feelings about her family from the sentimental objects she bequeathed them in her will.  Continue reading “The Other Dickens”

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George Eliot and Spinoza; or, Felix Holt, the Marrano.

Lauren Goodlad’s paper at the latest NAVSA conference in Montreal, “The Mad Men in the Attic: Seriality and Crypto-Identity in Narratives of Capitalist Globalization,” got me thinking once more about the importance of detachment, unbelonging, and cosmopolitanism within Victorian thought. More specifically, Goodlad’s presentation inspired me to reconsider George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt, the Radical (1866).

In The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (Chatto & Windus, 1970) Raymond Williams called Felix Holt a turning point not just in Eliot’s work, but in the history of the novel for its sustained engagement with what Williams named “the crisis of the knowable community.” In the eponymous protagonist, Williams argues, Eliot represents the tension between individual and communal identity “as a problem of relationship: of how the separated individual, with a divided consciousness of belonging and not-belonging, makes his own moral history” (84). Continue reading “George Eliot and Spinoza; or, Felix Holt, the Marrano.”