Homoeroticism in the novels of Charles Dickens
This thesis examines the wealth of representations of same-sex desire throughout Dickens's literary career, deploying a combination of historicist, feminist and queer theory approaches to challenge the continued silencing of sexually subversive material in current Dickens studies. Without eliding their important differences the project explores both male and female homoeroticism, recognising such articulations as part of Dickens's wider exploration of the socially and sexually disenfranchised who could not be accommodated within the rigid parameters of a respectability exemplified by the institution of marriage. This thesis positions Dickens's fiction as central to queer literary history. Identifying key literary, historical and experiential sources for Dickens's acquisition of sexual knowledge, it is demonstrated that Dickens adapted culturally available representations of same-sex desire to develop influential strategies of homoerotic articulation. Chapter one explores factors that contribute to the received reading of Dickens's work as deeply conservative in terms of gender and sexuality through the case study of Miss Wade. She is retextualised through a recognition of the character's debt to existing models of female same-sex desire and analysis of her relationships' resonance with other female couples in the Dickens canon. The second chapter focuses on the idealisation of alternative patterns of living in Dickens's fiction. The celebration of male bachelorhood and attention to female resistances to marriage militate against critical conceptions of the Dickensian domestic ideal. Chapter three continues the interrogation of the familial ideal, contending that 'in-lawing' (the male homoerotic strategy of marrying a sister of the male favourite) was one of the major strategies through which Dickens and his contemporaries articulated, mediated and transferred same-sex desire. This identification of homocentric strategies demonstrates the fallacy of the dominant critical assumption that the homoerotic emerges most strongly in Dickens's work through violence. Instead, this thesis demonstrates that malevolent manifestations of same-sex desire are part of a wider spectrum of homoerotic representation that also includes highly positive depictions. The final chapters extend the examination of Dickens's career-long commitment to developing pioneering strategies for the positive articulation of same-sex desire. Through attention to Dickens's deployment of homotropical relocation, chapter four argues that Dickens drew upon those sites that were imaginatively sexualised in contemporary culture to re-negotiate the erotically unsatisfying conventional model of domesticity. Chapter five uncovers the highly erotic connotations of gentler ways of touching during the period of Dickens's career, focusing on the Victorian sexualisation of nursing to argue that Dickens deploys this eroticising of nurse/patient roles to develop more affirmative, tender strategies for articulating same-sex desire.