Dissenting Women in Dickens' Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology

Dissenting Women in Dickens' Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology

Dissenting Women in Dickens' Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology

Dissenting Women in Dickens' Novels: The Subversion of Domestic Ideology


Given their pedagogical nature, many Victorian novels are politicized; their narratives are filtered through the value schemes, social views, and conscious purposes of their authors. Victorian women were largely expected to dedicate themselves to the social and moral betterment of their families. The woman was supposed to be soft, meek, quiet, modest, submissive, gentle, patient, and spiritual. These expectations were repeatedly endorsed by the advice books of the period, which encouraged people to adhere to "proper" behavior. In an age when fiction was seen as a vehicle for propagating moral and behavioral norms, the Victorian novels frequently presented the woman as the angel in the home. On the surface, Dickens' novels certainly advance the view that women should be subordinate to men. But on closer look, Dickens' works also challenge the Victorian conceptions of how women should behave. This book provides an illuminating analysis of how the Dickens text modifies and subverts conventional Victorian ideology through a convoluted characterization of women that fails to promote domesticity.


We post-Victorians have much to thank our predecessors for: their rich corpus of stories, characters, and ideologies has greatly influenced our worldview. My appreciation and awareness of personal and social information, though not restricted to Dickens, certainly and frequently turns to him, as I think it must for many Western readers. Take Dickens' Scrooge and Western notions of Christmas, for example. Take Dickens' portrayal of Miss Havisham, the ideogram of the jilted spinster. Take Dickens' biting criticism of industrialism in Hard Times.

Given the pedagogical nature of Victorian novels, regardless of plot, setting, and character, their texts are politicized, filtered through their authors' value schemes, social moorings, and conscious purpose in writing. In a way very similar to Roland Barthes' description of how photography manipulates a viewer, the texts want to control what readers are to perceive:

The text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others; by means of often subtle dispatching, it remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance. . . . The text is indeed . . . society's right of inspection over the image. . . . The text has thus a repressive value and we can see that it is at this level that the morality and ideology of a society are above all invested. ("Message" 40)

Whether or not Dickens developed scenes and characters deliberately to propagate domestic ideology is not the issue here. His text does overtly manipulate and does "articulate the interests" of a particular group of peo-

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