Imagining the Thames: conceptions and functions of the river in the fiction of Charles Dickens
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This thesis examines Dickens‟s uses of images of the river throughout his fiction, and also in the early sketches, the reprinted pieces from Household Words and The Uncommercial Traveller. The river concerned is usually but not exclusively the Thames, usually but not exclusively in London. The thesis offers some practical evidence to account for the powerful influence of the Thames upon Dickens‟s imagination and shows how he conceives of it both within existing frames of reference and in some distinctively Dickensian ways. It considers how Dickens‟s representations of the river play into the cult of the picturesque which emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, and into the tradition which sees it as a symbolic conduit of the empire. It goes on to consider his use of the river as a boundary, the consequent importance of river crossings in his work, and his conception of the riparian space as a liminal one. It then explores a distinctive scheme of discourse which uses the river to represent rebellious forces beyond the control of human agency and shows how this reflects the sense of spiritual threat which is to be found in some of the other, albeit rare, depictions of nature to be found in his writing. It then shows how Dickens uses the river symbolically to express ideas about death and rebirth, together with the loss of and changes in identity, and how he draws on a scheme of distinctively Christian iconography to do so. Finally it shows how he uses it to create and represent an underworld for London, using tropes of epic founded on classical models. The thesis concludes that, in its use of natural forces to signify social ones, Dickens‟s writing about the river serves to amplify his conception of stratification in Victorian society and adds weight to the socially conservative political stance which is known to be present in his world view.
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