Dickens and the Despised Mother

A Critical Reading of Three Autobiographical Novels


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About the Book

This work offers an original interpretation of the mothers of the protagonists in Dickens’s autobiographical novels. Taking Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic concept of abjection and Mary Douglas’s anthropological analysis of pollution as its conceptual framework, the book argues that Dickens’s primary emotional response towards the mother who abandoned him to work in a blacking warehouse was disgust, and suggests that we can trace similar signs of disgust in the narrators of his fictional autobiographies, David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Great Expectations.
The author provides a close reading of Dickens’s autobiographical fragment and opens up the possibility that Dickens’s feelings towards his mother actually bore a significant influence on his fiction. The book closes with a provocative discussion of Dickens’s compulsive Sikes and Nancy public readings.

About the Author(s)

Shale Preston is an honorary research fellow in the Department of English at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She has published articles and book chapters on Dickens and has presented papers on his work at international conferences in Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia.

Bibliographic Details

Shale Preston
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7139-3
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9331-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vi
Preface  1
Chapter One
The Autobiographical Fragment  5
Chapter Two
The Etiology of Disgust  36
Chapter Three
Clara Copperfield, Betsey Trotwood and the Construction
of the Feminine Sublime in David Copperfield  52
Chapter Four
Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock and the Disfigurement
of Esther Summerson in Bleak House  98
Chapter Five
Georgiana Pirrip, Mrs. Joe and the Case for the
Hero’s Disgust in Great Expectations  132
Chapter Six
Postscript  167
Chapter Notes  185
Bibliography  201
Index  211

Book Reviews & Awards

“In this enjoyable and cogently argued book, the reader is immersed in a series of well researched debates, while accompanied by a lively, engaged, personal voice, sorting and sifting a variety of points of view in pursuit of fresh textual readings.”—International Dickens Fellowship; “a groundbreaking study of Charles Dickens’ autobiographical novels focusing on how he represents motherly figures with disgust”—Reference & Research Book News; “Preston’s Dickens and the Despised Mother yields persuasive new readings of Dickensian mothers that add significantly to important work by Carolyn Dever, Patricia Ingham, Natalie McKnight, and Michael Slater.”—Dickens Studies Annual.