People, things and abstractions
in The Case of the Initial Letter
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The expressive capital played an important part in the new direction which Dickens’s fiction took after Martin Chuzzlewit, and was itself used in new ways. It is central to the process in which, in Van Ghent’s words, ‘the qualities of things and people are reversed’. These processes of animation and de-animation, however, link not only people and things but also abstractions, which are now seen as participating in the constitution of reality rather than as simply obscuring it. The expressive capital now dramatises deep-rooted power relations and ontological insecurities: exemplified by the switch from ‘houselessness’ to ‘Houselessness’ and back to ‘houselessness’ in ‘Night Walks’, ‘the power of his [Mr Turveydrop’s] Deportment’ in Bleak House, the worship of ‘Shares’ in Our Mutual Friend, and (as Catherine Waters has pointed out) the patriarchal relationships in Little Dorrit (1855–57) where Amy Dorrit is ‘Child of the Marshalsea and child of the Father of the Marshalsea’. The rhetoric of Liberty and Freedom screened the reality of American society in Martin Chuzzlewit, but now abstraction, misapprehension and deception are more deeply rooted in primary social relationships, less easily seen simply as misleading advertising.

The Case of the Initial Letter

Charles Dickens and the politics of the dual alphabet


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