Spectral Dickens

The uncanny forms of novelistic characterization

Author: Alexander Bove

Through an extensive study of Dickens’s “new art form,” the illustrated novel, Spectral Dickens sets out to transform certain fundamental assumptions about realism, literary forms, and imitation of personhood that have long defined the discourse of novel criticism and character studies. This book redefines and expands the critical discourse on fictional character by bringing a wider range of modern critical theory to the study of Dickens’s characterization, using in particular the three “hauntological” concepts of the Freudian uncanny, Derridean spectrality, and the Lacanian Real to give new ontological dimensions to the basic question: “What is a character?” By taking into account visual forms of representation and emphasizing the importance of form in rethinking the strict opposition between real person and fictional character, Spectral Dickens shifts the focus of character studies from long-entrenched values like “realism,” “depth,” and “lifelikeness,” to nonmimetic critical concepts like effigy, anamorphosis, visuality, and distortion. Ultimately, the “spectral” forms and concepts developed here in relation to Dickens’s unique and innovative characters—characters that have, in fact, always challenged implicit assumptions about the line between fictional character and real person—should have broader applications beyond Dickens’s novels and the Victorian era. The aim here is to provide a richer and more nuanced framework though which to understand fictional characters not as imitations of reality, but as specters of the real.

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