The End of Domesticity: Alienation from the Family in Dickens, Eliot, and James

The End of Domesticity: Alienation from the Family in Dickens, Eliot, and James

The End of Domesticity: Alienation from the Family in Dickens, Eliot, and James

The End of Domesticity: Alienation from the Family in Dickens, Eliot, and James

Synopsis

Few changes in literary history are as dramatic as the replacement of the sentimental image of the home in Victorian fiction by the emphasis in modernist fiction on dysfunctional families and domestic alienation. In The End of Domesticity Charles Hatten offers a provocative theory for this seminal shift that even now shapes literary depictions of the family. Discussing works by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Henry James, Hatten shows how these major writers anticipate modernist preoccupations with domestic alienation while responding to their own historical context of changes in, and controversies about, gender roles and the family. Most originally, Hatten argues that these writers' representations of gender and domesticity are strongly influenced by anxieties about capitalism and the marketplace as well as the changing nature of gender roles in late Victorian England. Charles Hatten is Associate Professor of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

Excerpt

At the end of British literature's most beloved narratives, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843), the hard-hearted businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, his capacity for human feeling restored by admonitory visits from three spirits, triumphantly reveals his transformation and vicariously joins in his clerk Bob Cratchit’s family Christmas celebration by sending a large turkey to the Cratchit family. In his unexpected generosity to the Cratchits, Scrooge demonstrates the influence of an earlier scene in which the ghost of Christmas Present offered him a preview of the Cratchits’ enthusiastic participation in the Christmas holiday. In the Cratchit family Christmas, an exuberant moment that is only marred by their memory of the baleful presence in their lives of Scrooge himself, Dickens creates a classic scene of familial warmth, depicted with verve and loving attention to details of holiday food and celebratory ritual. The scene’s importance lies in how it exemplifies the idea that, away from the harsh world of the workplace, even impoverished families can form buoyant and loving communities. The Cratchit family’s rich experience of Christmas demonstrates to the reader, and to Scrooge, that there are values that transcend the relentless economic calculus which has dominated his life. As the three ghosts reveal the outline of Scrooge’s life, it becomes clear that the working-class family of Bob Cratchit embodies the emotional bonds and communal spirit from which the capitalist Scrooge, in the course of a life devoted to monetary gain, has detached himself. Thus, at the story’s end, his generosity to the Cratchits, and his reintegration into family life through a visit to his nephew, emblematizes how the heartless ethos of the capitalist marketplace can be conquered by the loving spirit of the family.

This book centers on a seemingly straightforward question: Why, only a few decades after Dickens creates the Cratchit family Christmas, did the domestic literary mode that this scene exemplifies enter a crisis? Through what process did a contrasting literary strategy for representing the family . . .

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