Literature and Theatre
Georgina outlived Dickens by forty-seven years. For the first ten years after his death she was grief-stricken and elevated Dickens to the status of a demi-god, speaking of everything related to him as ‘sacred’, and requiring ‘reverence’ and ‘veneration’. As one of Dickens’s executors, along with John Forster, Georgina was ever vigilant and protective of his reputation, immediately suppressing any references to Ellen Ternan. Dickens left Georgina all his private papers and gave her the difficult task of distributing his most treasured personal possessions to friends and family. In his will, Dickens left generous provisions for Georgina and his children, but within a few years they all, with the exception of Harry, had money worries. Georgina and Catherine were reconciled but not happily. Her relationship with Mamie deteriorated and they became almost estranged. Georgina re-established relationships with her Hogarth family and helped them financially as much as she was able. She retained a close and lifelong friendship with Ellen Ternan, visiting her and her new husband, Geoffrey Robinson, in Margate. As Georgina’s health declined and money became ever tighter, she sold off many of her Dickens-related possessions, including the treasured manuscript of The Cricket on the Hearth. Towards the very end of her life, Georgina developed dementia and, in her delirium, spoke of Charles Dickens and a child. She died at home of a stroke at the age of ninety-one.
Dickens’s affection for Georgina has never been interrogated because it has always been evident that his deep feelings for her were those of a close and loved friend. In contrast Georgina’s character and her role in Dickens’s life has never satisfactorily been answered. Over the years since her death, Dickens biographers have treated her variously as weak, then manipulative and only recently as a decent woman who nevertheless had a sharp tongue and made some bad decisions. Georgina’s association with Dickens has continued to be embroiled in controversy. She has been accused of skulduggery in misleading the public as to where Dickens was when he had a final stroke, and is still being identified by the media as someone Dickens had an affair with. The latter periodically comes up largely because of the mischief-making of Charley Peters, who claimed to be their illegitimate son and appears to have successfully persuaded his own family too. There are mysteries still to be solved: what happened to the more than 200 letters Georgina wrote to Charles Kent? Who were the two women Georgina made regular large payments to over a period of years? How did she have so much Dickens memorabilia for sale years after she allegedly distributed it all to family and close friends?
Charles Dickens called his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth his ‘best and truest friend’. Georgina saw Dickens as much more than a friend. They lived together for twenty-eight-years, during which time their relationship constantly changed. The sister of his wife Catherine, the sharp and witty Georgina moved into the Dickens home aged fifteen. What began as a father–daughter relationship blossomed into a genuine rapport, but their easy relations were fractured when Dickens had a mid-life crisis and determined to rid himself of Catherine. Georgina’s refusal to leave Dickens and his desire for her to remain in his household led to rumours of an affair and even illegitimate children. He left her nearly £1 million and all his personal papers in his will. Georgina’s commitment to Dickens was unwavering but it is far from clear what he did to deserve such loyalty. There were several occasions when he misused her in order to protect his public reputation. Why did Georgina betray her once much-loved sister? Why did she fall out with her family and risk her reputation in order to stay with Dickens? And why did the Dickenses’ daughter Katey say it was ‘the greatest mistake ever’ to invite a sister-in-law to live with a family?
Georgina was invited into the Dickens’s household at the age of fifteen. 1 Devonshire Terrace was a much grander house than she had been used to. She was later to say that this was when her life actually began. Georgina had to adapt to a different domestic set-up to the one she was used to as the Dickens home was also Dickens’s workplace and the day was organised around his writing. The Dickenses had four young children of their own but, due to the twelve-year age-gap between the Hogarth sisters, they also acted as a second set of parents to Georgina. She was treated as a favourite elder daughter but was occasionally indulged too much. The Dickenses took her to parties with risqué celebrities and allowed, if not encouraged, her to pose, scantily dressed, for a painting. There were problems too: how was the penniless Georgina to supplement her wardrobe to fit in with the Dickens’s social circle? What were the tensions created by a system that insisted younger, unmarried, girls were to act and dress as subservient to older, married women? Georgina witnessed her brother-in-law become besotted with a young pianist, Christiana Weller, and later that same year his fascination with the intriguing Augusta de la Rue. His relationship with Augusta de la Rue not only caused friction with his wife, but prompted the first signs of disagreement between Georgina and Catherine.
Dickens’s mid-life crisis had devastating consequences for Georgina as well as Catherine. Dickens was showing signs of unhappiness with his marriage in 1852 and these had accelerated by 1854 after he found that increasing his workload by starting a new magazine, taking his amateur theatrical group on tour, and changing his appearance were not enough to him resign himself to a miserable marriage. In 1855 he received a letter from his first love, Maria Beadnell, and hoped to rekindle their relationship, but was shocked to discover she had aged and no longer attracted him. As Dickens became more critical of Catherine, making public jibes about her weight, he increasingly turned to Georgina for companionship. When Dickens wrote Bleak House he modelled the character of Esther Summerson on Georgina. His warmth towards her, coupled with the fact that she was herself in an emotional vacuum after her crush on Bulwer-Lytton had come to nothing, and there was no one who came to court her after Augustus Egg, had the unfortunate effect of encouraging her to fall in love with him. As Dickens grew ever more irritated with Catherine and the rest of the Hogarths, Georgina was the only one of his in-laws he could tolerate. When the author Hans Christian Andersen came to stay at the Dickenses’ newly purchased country residence, Gad’s Hill, in 1857, he witnessed the death throes of the Dickenses relationship as he described a distressed Catherine and also experienced Georgina’s irritation when he overstayed his welcome.
Embracing Kunzru’s own early love of French theory and reading these works through a detailed engagement with Henri Lefebvre’s concept of rhythmanalysis, Upstone reveals the capacity of Kunzru’s multimodal literature to engage with a materiality of both the literary and non-literary object. In the second part of the essay, the implications of this form for Kunzru’s ongoing concern for globalised identities and the pursuit of social justice are examined, identifying a discourse of ‘resistant rhythms’ which question racial, capitalist and ableist norms. For Upstone, the pursuit of these features simultaneously through both form and content defines Kunzru as what can be referred to as a transglossic author, a term drawn from work undertaken with Shaw (2021) that aims to evolve a new critical framework for the trends of twenty-first-century fiction. Broader than Coupland’s notion of translit, Shaw and Upstone’s transglossic takes as its foundation six core literary features - deep simultaneity, planetary consciousness, intersectional transversality, artistic responsibility, productive authenticity and trans-formalism – the conjunction of which typifies a work of contemporary literature. Kunzru’s writing provides a model of how such features concretely manifest in contemporary fiction. Despite their differences, each of his works represents a globalised political commitment, simultaneous presence of intersectional identity categories and a renegotiation of concepts of reality. As these are realised through both theme and content, and are driven by an authorial responsibility evidenced in Kunzru’s media activity and political activism, they come to encompass transglossic literature’s defining characteristics.
Kunzru’s ironic engagement with the traditions of the ‘Great American Novel’ resonates with what Douglas Coupland has, in his own discussion of Kunzru, called ‘translit’: a contemporary literature defined by an atemporality that pulls together multiple timelines and geographies in a simultaneous present. For Bran Nicol, this tendency – encapsulated in the multiple substories within Gods Without Men – not only captures the volatility of contemporary culture, it also redefines the novel form. Concerned to distinguish ‘translit’ from an earlier postmodern fiction, emphasising the loss of the postmodern celebration of heterogeneity in favour of a much more ambivalent, and tense, relationship to questions of chaos and multiplicity, Nicol argues that multiple subjectivities, unreliability and slippage are not for Kunzru the ’party tricks’ that Coupland associates with postmodernism, but instead are symptoms of a deeply rooted concern for the impact of hyper-globalisation on contemporary life. Drawing attention to the novel’s dominant pessimism, what emerges is an entropic cosmopolitanism and a narrative aesthetic that works against the novel’s echoing structure of connectivity, proximity and cross-cultural engagement. For Nicol, this simultaneous indulgence in and concern for the breakdown of traditional meaning produces fiction that modifies rather than rejects the features of postmodern historiographic metafiction: ‘an alternative to postmodernism within postmodernism’.
Kristian Shaw’s chapter reveals how Kunzru’s most recent novel marks a close engagement with recent political developments, such as the spread of Western populism, resistance to the Syrian refugee crisis, and the election of Donald Trump. Drawing on a personal interview, Shaw argues Red Pill not only reflects Kunzru’s own anxieties about the 2016 US presidential election but also continues the concern for the haunting legacy of race in the contemporary moment that began with The Impressionist. For Kunzru, the novel reveals the ‘harsh contrast’ between those who believe the ‘rational progress of humankind will be done by academic progress’ and the xenophobic, nihilistic rhetoric of the alt-right, ‘where everything is done with a hyper-ironic mockery and nothing actually means anything’. The unnamed narrator’s obsession with the mysterious Anton, a baleful personification of the alt-right, leads him to question the values of a Habermasian public sphere and the morality of what Shaw terms his ‘gestural cosmopolitanism’. As he argues, the alt-right’s vision of a distorted ‘American sublime’, predicated on a nativist myth of ethnic unity, aligns with Trump’s attempts to tap into a destructive nostalgia untainted by the politics of progress. The second half of the chapter articulates the ways in which the alt-right manipulated memetic discourses to conceal their white supremacist agenda. Kunzru’s novel thus connects the spectral echoes of totalitarianism to contemporary cultural debates to expose the historical legacies that continue to scar the body politic.
The Dickenses married six years before Georgina joined their household. Exploring these early years reveals not only the dynamics of their marriage, but the unreliability of Dickens’s later claims of Catherine’s jealousy and her lack of affection. The important point here is that Georgina later backed up Dickens’s accusations of Catherine as being possessive and emotionally negligent while knowing this was not true. The chapter compares Catherine’s experiences of being married to the gifted, but temperamentally mercurial, Dickens to that of the wives of other ‘men of genius’ with whom she was friendly; Jane Carlyle, wife of the historian Thomas Carlyle, and Catherine Macready, wife of the actor William Macready. The chapter examines how the wives used humour to deal with their hypersensitive husbands, the constraints of marriage for women, and the pursuit of their menfolk by female fans. Dickens was a tremendous flirt, as described by many of the women he flirted with; according to their reports, far from appearing jealous, Catherine was warm, tolerant and kind to them and her husband.
Hari Kunzru brings together established and emerging critics of contemporary literature to offer the first collection of essays on contemporary author Hari Kunzru. Tracing the beginning of Kunzru’s career to the period of ‘Asian cool’, the book examines why it is that Kunzru has maintained his success and established himself as one of the most important voices in contemporary fiction today. The book opens with an extensive critical introduction that examines Kunzru’s work in the context of global identities, and then offers individual chapters on each of Kunzru’s novels, his short story collection, and his experimental creative non-fiction. These chapters extend existing criticism via engagement with the most up-to-date critical frameworks, as well as examining how Kunzru’s writing engages with key political and historical ruptures such as Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and the election of Donald Trump. The book concludes with a personal interview with Kunzru where he discusses his writing process, influences and literature, and recent socio-political events that have influenced his literary works. As a result of its scope, the book will be the first go-to collection for readers interested in knowing more about Kunzru’s work, but also for a wider range of readers engaged with questions regarding current trends in contemporary literature. The book contains new readings of literary texts of interest to contemporary literature specialists and postgraduate readers, but in a format accessible to general readers, undergraduate and A-Level students.