'Let him remember it in that room, years to come!’: myths of childhood and memory in Dombey and Son and The Haunted Man

Oulton, C. (2012) 'Let him remember it in that room, years to come!’: myths of childhood and memory in Dombey and Son and The Haunted Man. In: Dickens and the Idea of 'the Dickensian': A Tale of Four Cities: A Bicentenary Traveling Conference, 2nd-9th February 2012, Chatham.

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Child characters in Dickens may be presented as flawed even as they become at various points the victims of adult manipulation or misconception. But paradoxically, while the experience of child characters may be both individualised and registered as transient, adult invocations of childhood draw on universalising tropes to create cultural myth. This narrative strategy itself conceals particular tensions. As the result of his classical education Toots can never be fully integrated into the adult world; more disturbingly Florence is vulnerable to the fantasies of the most benevolent adults around her, as the Whittington role attributed to Walter by Captain Cuttle depends on his marriage to his employer’s daughter.

Elsewhere the myth of childhood is registered in terms of loss or lack (in Dombey and Son Edith, like Nancy in Oliver Twist or later Estella in Great Expectations, complains that her childhood has been stolen from her). Dombey himself is redeemed through vicarious engagement with Florence’s childhood, as his response to her daughter seems magically to restore the years he had lost. But the redemptive status of this ‘universal child’ is dependent on an exercise of adult memory – paradoxically it is Dombey’s heightened sense of himself as somehow lacking in the past, that finally transforms his experience of that past.

This sense of lack is most fully realised in The Haunted Man, in which Redlaw’s suffering is figured precisely as the loss of individual memory, and in a series of encounters with the unnamed boy who reflects and reinforces his own moral degeneration, the narrative refuses any simplistic invocation of the universal child as an answer to his problems.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English Literature
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English and Language Studies
Depositing User: Prof Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2012 15:44
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2014 14:10
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/10988

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00