Tag Archives: satire

William M. Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)

Becky Sharpe (marries Rawdon Crawley) and Amelia Sedley (marries Geroge Osborne and later Major Dobbin) are central characters. Jos Sedley is a gourmand who lives in colonies, a parody of King George, I think. Younger George Osborne and Rawdon Crawly replace Becky and Emmy, but with equalized social positions; Lady Jane (married to Sir Pitt) replaces Becky as the mother.


Form is sloppy, vulgar, corporeal, rambling, unformed  Contrast with Henry Esmond

Authorial (narratorial) interventions: 88 (on insignificance of chapter, content), 109 (on privacy, concealment), 116 (on title), 117 (on characters), 154 (on form, digression), 198 (on cause and effect: determinate effects of narrative; cf. Cynthia Chase and D.A. Miller), 220 (advice for women, e.g.), 293 (non-chronological temporal ordering), 310 (on marriage in novels), 453 (fortune), 493 (funerals: occasion for clustering vanities; cf. Middlemarch funeral), 586 (the “best”) , 650 (dissection of affect), 663 (more advice), 721 (narrator comes out, enters stream of narrative), 792 (the “last page),

Implicating Reader: 572 (allowed to choose at feast), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society), 660 (I can see Vanity Fair yawning: ambiguity of “vanity fair” personae), 750 (ambiguous “we”),

Hero/Heroine: 353 (“If this is a novel without a hero, at least let us lay claim to a heroine”), 659 (female martyrdom), 798 (“She has her enemies…Her life is answer to them”)

Proliferating list: 104 (dinner), 589 (satirical dinner party list; cf. Joyce)

Novel dominated by exchange principle. 438-9 (secrets of living on nothing: effects on working class—the base-line currency of exchange principle and exploitation), 467 (deceiving others about means), 715 (Jewish slight, one of many),

Veiling, concealment, knowledge: 100 (active veil thrown over event), 389 (the novelist knows all), 440 (on unknowability of women’s fashion), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society: “tremble before those august portals”), 592 (the possibilities generated by veiling: connect to potentiality of debt; cf. Sedgwick and Francois on Open Secrets), 621 (Rawdon exposes Becky’s private papers), 738-40 (truth/falsity of Becky’s story; selective representation), 759 (active veling, “skipping”)

History: 214 (grand events connect to insignificance characters; cf. Gwendolen in Deronda ‘thread’), 420 (war tourism),

Transience: 584 (who doesn’t like roast beast even though it’s transient), 685 (Jos’s eating), 725 (how characters age),

Education: Advantage of Georgy’s education, 720 (Amelia’s vulgar education)



Charles DIckens – Oliver Twist (1836-37)

Oliver Twist is born to Agnes (who immediately dies) in a workhouse. He is raised by Mrs. Mann until moving to a workhouse run by the beadle Mr. Bumble. While there, he asks for more soup. He gets into a skirmish with Noah Claypole, who insulted Agnes, and after being beaten by Bumble (the Sowerberries are also complicit) runs  away to London. He has heard that there are new and unimaginable ways of life to be led there. He runs into the Artful Dodger (John Sawkins), who introduces him to Fagin, along with Charley Bates,  Nancy, Charlotte, and eventually Bill Sikes. He gets picked up by Mr. Bromlow after Dodger and Bates attempt to rob him. He thrives while there but is soon captured by Nancy and Bill. Fagin lets Oliver go on a robbery with Sikes in the country side. Oliver gets shot and takes shelter with people he attempted to rob (this is where he meets Rose Maylie). He thinks he sees Fagin and Monks at some point in time, but they can’t track them down. Monks (who turns out to be Oliver’s half-brother by a different mother) has conspired with Fagin to sully Oliver’s reputation because his inheritance depends on maintaining perfect morality. Nancy, who feels awful about recapturing Oliver, confesses to Rosa and Bromlow and tells them that Fagin and Monks are attempting another kidnapping. Noah Claypole overhears this and tells Fagin, who tell Sikes, who then kills Nancy. He flees the city. He returns to the city where he holes up with the others (the Dodger has already been imprisoned) but somehow hangs himself. His dog jumps off the roof. Harry Maylie marries Rosa (who cares!), and Oliver grows up comfortably under Bromlow. Fagin is executed.

The 1834 New Poor Law: Dickens critiques new law by registering its effects on a child. Strict dietary regimes, etc, are satirized in the opening sequences, but much of that drops out in the latter London sections.

Narrative structure: sloppy overall, with a hidden subplot (Monks) that comes with its own humungous backstory only towards the end of the novel. This is not a Bildungsroman, because Oliver has no choice; rather, he is knocked about by various social forces.

Characters: Dickens has nto yet masted the art of the secondary character. Here they take on great vibrancy (Dodger, Monks, Bumble, etc.) but they do not effectively complicate the dynamics of central plot. Curious to acces in terms of narrative desiring-production. How are these characters excessive in ways that they are not in Bleak House or Copperfield. In Our Mutual Friend, the writing becomes excessive.

Orphan: As counterexample to peter Brooks characterization of bildungsroman.

Omniscient and self-conscious narrator: at times clumsy, drawing attention to important events in ways that undercut their narrative power.

Mob: Half of London tracks down Bill Sikes and calls for his death. A mob with its heart in the right place.

Violence: blow-by-blow account of Nancy’s murder.

Anti-Semitism in portrait of Fagin

Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1852-3)

Esther Summerson, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare are all orphans that have the benefit of being cared for financially by Mr. John Jarndyce, who brings them all together at Bleak House when they come of age. Ada is beautiful and boring, Richard is handsome and aimless, and Esther is diligent and plain. Esther becomes “mistress of Bleak House,” eventually marrying the young doctor Allan Woodcourt, but not before she discovers that she is the daughter of Lady Dedlock, the wife of the very rich and powerful Lord Leicester Dedlock, owner of Chesney Wold. Richard and Ada become engaged at a young age, and Richard devotes his life to unraveling the case, only to die when the case is solved and all inheritance money is taken up in expenses.

Other important characters: the lawyer Tulkinghorn, the detective Bucket, the spontaneously combusted Krook, the hyperbolic Boythron, the loyal soldier Mr. Geroge that turns out to be the son of the maid of Lord Dedlock, the crazy Miss Flite with all the birds, the young and homeless Jo that makes everyone sick, and Henry Skimpole, the “noble savage” that refuses the space-time logic of capitalism.

Property: Esther essentially marries a house. Jarndyce and Jarndyce case is sustained through flow of property—like capital, it requires movement, exchange. Bleak House is also easily transplanted, becomes signifier of traditional bonds, but is not rooted to land. Contrast this to Dedlock’s ideal England and one can see this as story of aristocratic decline, the repeal of the corn laws (the immaculate 53 cf. Barchester Towers), etc. (connect this with Parade’s End and Tietjens as Tory, etc.)

Narration – oscillates between omniscient narrator (present tense, social satire, spans geographical space and geological time) and Esther Summerson (deliberately self-limited, acutely aware of “epistemological limits” that double as socially defined gender conventions.) 3rd person is focused on objective conditions of society, while 1st person becomes increasingly imbricated in those concerns as the narrative progresses…convergence would be similar to something like David Copperfield’s conclusion, but via spatial coordinates.

Comedy – Impetus to produce (alphabetical list of names and other excess, bordering on absurdity)….as desiring-production in contrast to Freudian desire (in terms of construction and resolution of plot). At hinge moments (such as incipient critique of Chancery) the narrative starts to get absurd.

Genre – A peculiar mix of romance, detective story and realist novel. At time chaotic, but more often than not, locked in productive competition, leading towards ambiguous mixture. In general, realism becomes increasingly about character as the 19th century wears on: the psychological or sympathetic mimesis of Eliot and James is in the distance…but for Dickens, institutions, historical, etc. are still recalcitrants objects of representations that cannot be worked out via psychological focalization.

Plot – Chapters strung together like set pieces, plot emerges in small increments at the end of the chapters…as novel progresses, the plot begins to take over more and more of each chapter. Or the describes as inverse, where characters take on the body of the plot as they put on more flesh. Think about plot itself in terms of survival – with Chnacery case as prime example: achievement of steady-state. Further, plot is generated by 3 mysterious absences: the missing legal document, Esther’s past, Jo’s sickness (secret is social system that has given him disease, that then spreads)

Law – Opening sequence describes antediluvian London’s Chancery court system – contrast with Hugo’s description of Notre Dame (both make use of evolutionary language.)

Boythorn is a parody of William Savage Landor – ridiculous hyperbole and chivalry – a good example of Dicken satirical style, along with Chadband’s speechifying—note that all this comes mostly through omniscient narrator, and rarely through the restrained lens of Esther. Chadband is parody of florid novelistic prose that doesn’t go anywhere.

Richard Carstone fits the aimless male type: Deronda, Edward Ferrars, etc…is taken over by labor rather than taking on labor—perhaps because there is no metabolic exchange???

Skimpole – Dickens send up of the socially innocent ‘noble savage’

Bucket – precursor to Sherlock Holmes, disaffected and indifferent, pure plotting machine – terrifying attention to detail, an ability to “plot” which amounts to unraveling the plot – see Peter Brooks on the necessity of repetition.

Individual/System – Dickens shows the friction between individual agency and systematic recalcitrance. In generic terms, one can see the romantic Bildungsroman struggling for life, but being swallowed by Victorian conventions. This stands in reverse relation to otherwise “progressive” social reforms that democratize society and allow for the ascent of Mr. George’s brother, for example, and the marriage that flows from his monetary success… The relating between these vectors (political, economic) is by turns ironic, contradictory, and coincident.