Victorian theme and convention in the novels of Charles Dickens
This thesis is a study of Dickens's narrative technique and its relation to certain key themes of his fiction, in particular those concerned with the response of his heroes and heroines to one another. It is based upon analysis of his treatment of conventional forms of genre, plot device and characterization and relates these to moral and emotional themes important to both Dickens and the Victorian age as a whole. The methodology adopted is a combination of survey and close analysis, with the intention of providing both a sense of the wider context in which Dickens's writing may be seen and also some detailed insight into the workings within his novels of the topics considered. The argument is arranged in three sections. Part One deals with the model available to Dickens from eighteenth-century picaresque fiction and explores his own variations upon its form and themes in Nicholas Nickleby and Martin Chuzzlewit. In Part Two, four thematic conventions, characteristic of Victorian fiction in general and of central importance to Dickens, are surveyed, with the emphasis mostly upon their workings in a small number of novels selected from different stages of Dickens's career. Part Three concludes the thesis with a study of the contrasting operation of these conventions in David Copperfield and Great Expectations. It is suggested that these two novels, the first less consciously, but the second quite deliberately, re-work many of the techniques and themes Dickens had developed in his early novels and that, with varying degrees of awareness, they offer a critical presentation of certain key nineteenth-century beliefs through their treatment of the conventional assumptions of early-Victorian fiction.