Date of Award
Master of Arts
Michael C. Lund, Ph.D.
Rosemary Sprague, Ph.D.
Martha E. Cook, Ph.D.
In 1816, Charles Dickens was engaged to compose the text for a series of illustrations . The project evolved into a novel, The Pickwick Papers, which was published in twenty consecutive monthly installments. This method of publication was inexpensive, thus providing access to novels for a wide ranee of the public . Furthermore , the serial format mad e the reader an active part of the novel by sparking anticipation of both plot and character development from month to month. In Dickens at Work , John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson point out that "To the reader the system meant not merely eager expectation of the day which brought a fresh batch of green covers to the bookstall, but also the impression that the story was in the making from month to month."1 Thus, through the serial format, author, novel, and reader became one, sharing the same experiences at almost the same point in time.
In two of his serial novels, David Copperfield (1849-1850) and Little Dorrit (1855-1857), Dickens considers the role of the Victorian woman. Although the character of Agnes Wickfield ultimately encompasses nineteenth century stereotypes , she does represent a step forward for the Victorian woman. Edgar Johnson argues that Agnes is "serene and perhaps too perfect " 2 while Barbara Hardy insists that "the religious/feminine ideal presented in Agnes is repulsive."3 Perhaps Agnes is, in some ways, the ideal Victorian woman, but the critics do not note the stereo- typical characteristics which set her apart somewhat from the average Victorian woman . Furthermore , critics argue that Little Dorrit's innocent goodness makes her the heroine of Little Dorrit. Butt and Tillotson refer to the idea of "the strength and indestructibility of natural, innocent virtue,"4 and Hardy argues that Little Dorrit is "a very effective character who manages to be both symbolic and sufficient ly a creature of time and place."5 However, these critics fail to recognize the full details of Little Dorrit's development from a timid child to an aggressive individual .
In this study, I will explore Dickens ' consideration of the Victorian woman through his use of the serial install ment format and the installment reader 's role in the process of character development. I hope to prove that although Agnes virtually remains a conventional Victorian woman at the end of David Copperfield, the Victorian reader saw in her a hope for future portrayals of Victorian women--a hope which is fulfilled five years later when Dickens questions his readers' stereotypes through his portrayal of Little Dorrit.
Weaver, Julie, "Dickens' Consideration of the Victorian Woman: A Study of Dickens' Use of Serialization In the Development of Agnes Wickfield and Little Dorrit" (1982). Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers. 412.