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Title: House to house : Dickens and the properties of fiction
Author: Dasgupta, Ushashi
ISNI:       0000 0004 6499 3419
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis explores the idiosyncrasies of the nineteenth-century property market and the significance of rented spaces in the literary imagination, focusing on Charles Dickens's fiction and journalism. The traditional understanding of the Victorian home has been challenged in recent criticism that points to the permeability of the public and private spheres, complicates the ways in which gender mapped onto these spheres, and highlights the difference between home and house, freehold and leasehold. This thesis contributes to the discussion by showing that domestic space was a more fractured concept than the middle-class ideal suggests. Versions of 'home' could be found in a multitude of unlikely and unstable places: in inns, hotels, lodging-houses, boarding-houses, and private houses subdivided into apartments for income. Drawing particular attention to London, I reveal tenancy - the commodification of space - to be a governing force in everyday life in the period. The vast majority of the population had an immediate economic relationship with the rooms and houses they inhabited, and this basic fact had various social, psychological and imaginative corollaries. Dickens may have been read as an overwhelming proponent of domestic ideology, but as this thesis argues, rented spaces had an enduring hold upon him. Most significantly, for Dickens, to write about tenancy meant to write about writing. His tenancy narratives touch upon questions of genre, style, character, authorial self-consciousness and the literary marketplace - especially his dialogue with the writers working around him. I explain that the emerging prominence of rented spaces gave Dickens and his circle new narrative opportunities, offering them a tool with which to study the boundaries of different genres. Space, then, does not simply provide a backdrop for incident in the novel, but plays a direct part in determining which incidents take place. Accordingly, the chapters in this thesis are principally divided by genre. The introduction lays out the historical, theoretical and geographical coordinates of the argument. The first chapter identifies some of the key features of Dickens's emerging urban style, situates his early work within an influential farce tradition, and brings the figure of the landlady to life. The second discusses spatial metaphors in the Bildungsroman; it ends with an argument about the 1851 window-tax repeal and its implications for literary lodging-houses. Chapter 3 considers the sudden growth of the hospitality industry during the Great Exhibition and its corresponding narratives, from comedy to sensation fiction. This is followed by a short interlude on seaside lodgings, where Dickens and his contemporaries modernised the pastoral for the nineteenth century. After charting contemporary debates surrounding 'low' lodging-houses, Chapter 4 demonstrates how these writers used rented spaces to make major contributions to the rise of the detective story. The fifth chapter, on living alone and living together, is largely dedicated to the multi-authored Christmas numbers of Household Words and All the Year Round; these witty collections suggest that the dynamics of the lodging-house reflect the politics of Dickens's immediate circle. Finally, a coda contemplates the legacy of Dickens's tenancy narratives in the late nineteenth century and beyond.
Supervisor: Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert Sponsor: University of Oxford
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English literature ; Home in literature ; Space in literature ; Victorian literature ; London in literature ; Charles Dickens