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Dickensian Landscapes

Abstract : Though Dickens is best known for his unique characters, he is also associated with unforgettable descriptions of London. These memorable cityscapes will be used here as a springboard to conduct an in-depth analysis of Dickensian landscapes in general. In the wake of Malcolm Andrews’s study of Landscape and Western Art, the word landscape is understood here as a twofold process in which land is not just perceived as landscape but actually built into art; in other words landscape is defined here as land “aesthetically processed” (Andrews 1, 7), or to paraphrase Simon Schama in Landscape and Memory, as a way of elaborating on land as raw matter (10).1 It is this complex construction of landscapes—which in this instance are made of words—that the following collection of articles brings to light. They consider how Dickens combined what he saw with imaginary constructions, to build the unique cityscapes we all know so well. They show that Dickens’s landscapes were informed by other artistic landscapes as well as by actual views of Victorian scenery. Unravelling the cultural influences, myths and memories that influenced his writing in the building of such landscapes, they tackle the question of mental landscapes. Mindscapes feature in fact prominently in this selection of articles. These papers show how Dickens framed the scenery that he chose to depict and how his landscapes provide a setting for other views. Far from being mere backdrops, however, these landscapes always complement what they frame or foreground in subtle and complex ways. Some of them even seem to exist in their own right and not as mere frameworks for other subjects. This collection of essays examines the very nature of Dickens’s response to his surroundings. The reader’s experience of Dickensian landscapes is scrutinised and their sensory, personal but also spiritual and aesthetic dimensions are explored in detail. Following a pictorial model, the very composition of these landscapes is also taken into account—that is to say their subject matter, framing, foreground, middle ground and background. The feeling of unity that each landscape does or does not convey is also considered. The articles further highlight how Dickens contributed, through his writing of landscapes, to making their surroundings more intelligible to readers. Dickens thus shed new light on Victorian scenery. His literary representation of contemporary landscapes recomposed reality and produced aesthetic emotions that made it possible for his readers to take a step back, to apprehend and appreciate their environment differently. Victorian urban or industrial areas must indeed have seemed disconcerting, baffling, inhospitable and even hostile. In this respect, such areas could be compared to a “new wilderness” (Andrews 18). Through his writing, Dickens endeavoured to make sense of this modern wilderness. Last but not least, the contributions to this collection examine the opposition between cityscapes and landscapes and its implications. They show that this opposition dissolves, in the last analysis, into a set of complex issues that both polarise the dichotomy between urban and rural areas, and paradoxically enough connect them even more narrowly. This involves what the geographer Denis Cosgrove has defined as the insider/outsider opposition, in which insiders experience the landscape without seeing it as such, while outsiders admire it without noticing the experience of its inhabitants.
Keywords : Charles Dickens
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Contributor : Nathalie Vanfasse <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 23, 2017 - 9:54:27 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - 3:13:36 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-01443339, version 1



Marie-Amélie Coste, Christine Huguet, Nathalie Vanfasse. Dickensian Landscapes . France. 2016, Représentations. ⟨hal-01443339⟩



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