Jane Doe [one inch margins; 12 pt. type; single-spaced] Composition I Professor Schweitzer May 1, 2020 [two line spaces after date] Unique and Interesting Title [14 pt. type, boldface, centered] [12 pt. type; double-spaced] The images of dense fog, smog, falling soot, inky drizzle, mud, mire, decay, slime, blight, noxious exhalations, and miasma adorning Charles Dickens’s vision of the Court of Chancery invite readers of Bleak House to witness the insidious malignancy of modern institutions. The imagery is palpably oppressive. And indeed no one in the novel can escape the fog, mud, and decay surrounding Chancery. Although the original Court of Chancery, as a literal structure, would cease to exist twenty years after the publication of Bleak House, Chancery, as the symbolic embodiment of big government and private corporate administration, still remains an apt emblem for the modern age. The cleverness and aptness of the symbol of Chancery for our own times, as well as for Dickens’s, has allowed Bleak House to become a sort of representative Dickens text, being now widely considered his magnum opus. Accordingly, in subsequent centuries, another Dickens novel, Little Dorrit, has grown up not in the shadow of the Marshalsea (the novel’s own informing symbol), but rather in the dense fog surrounding Chancery of Bleak House. Thus, the symbol of Chancery itself, for many critics, often melts indistinctly into the symbol of the Circumlocution Office, and, thus also, the sense of structural determinism that pervades Bleak House—the power of institutions to create and limit social realities and the sense of historical causality—becomes associated with both novels without much differentiation. Now would be an appropriate time for Little Dorrit to step out of the Chancery’s fog and back into the Marshalsea’s shadow, so that it may be seen in the light in which Dickens originally placed it and that it may therefore also reveal Dickens’s own critique of historical epistemology and how that critique informs his evolving narrative practice, particularly at this late, yet productive, point in his career. Dickens, in Little Dorrit, is not only bound up in a negotiation with the Romantic sense of the individual at a – 1 – [10 pt.; centered; only first page only] Doe 2 [10 pt.; aligned right; all subsequent pages] perceived moment of a crisis of the self (as a historical agent) in Victorian England, but also with himself and the possibilities of narrative storytelling in an age of historical determinism. For Dickens, the question is both epistemological and ontological: how can one derive understanding, meaning, and knowledge from history (either real or fictive) and what does it mean to be an individual in history. If, as Paul Smith suggests, one of the ways the individual becomes constructed in the modern period is as the “subject,” or “as the specifically subjected object of social and historical forces and determinisms,” then Dickens’s grand effort in Little Dorrit is to find the individual within the constituted subject and to explore the nature of that individual (Smith xxvii). [two line spaces after end of essay] Works Cited [12 pt. type; boldface; centered; one line space between WC header and WC entries] [in alphabetical order] Briggs, Asa. Victorian Things. London: B. T. Batsford, 1988. Butt, John and Kathleen Tillotson. Dickens at Work: His Early and Late Novels. London: Methuen and Co., 1957. Childers, Joseph. “History, Totality, Opposition: The New Historicism and Little Dorrit.” Dickens Quarterly 6, 4 (December 1989): 150–7.
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