Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Bleak House as the Source of Intertextuality in Somerset Maugham's "The Round Dozen"

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Bleak House as the Source of Intertextuality in Somerset Maugham's "The Round Dozen"

Article excerpt

Over the years, Charles Dickens himself and his works have proved a copious source of intertextual references. Previously, it was common to look for borrowings in Dickens's works or rather for the various influences of other writers, styles or genres on his output. In particular, scholars seemed to have been interested in the relationship between Dickens and Shakespeare, as can be seen by the very titles of studies published: A Kind of Power: The Shakespeare-Dickens Analogy (Harbage 1925/1975), Dickens and Shakespeare: A Study in Historic Contrasts (Fleissner 1965), Shakespeare and Dickens: The Dynamic of Influence (Gager 1996) or Dickens and Shakespeare (Schlicke 2004) to mention just a few. (1) Of special interest in this connection is Gager's book, as the author meticulously traces about 1000 references to Shakespeare, his plays and poems in Dickens's writings. Also studies of a more general scope appeared, such as Stevens's Quotations and References in Charles Dickens (1929/1973). Annotated editions of Dickens's novels include comments on their inception/sources, which can actually be treated as a way of tracing intertextual relationships between them and the European/ English literary tradition. The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens edited by Paul Schlicke (1999) in its notes on particular novels contains the section entitled "Sources and Context" which provides general information on the literary/ historical influences on their structure or motifs. Thus the issue of intertextuality is ever present in Dickensian scholarship, even if it is not explicitly defined as such.

A curious tendency in Dickens's writings can be observed: His first novels draw heavily on other works of fiction, particular writers' output or literary tendencies (various genres). With time, Dickens began quite openly reshaping his own works or motifs rather than those of others, and in his later novels the external influences are not so explicitly evident, though still present. To give a few examples: The Pickwick Papers is not only his first novel but one which most heavily relies on literary tradition. The often quoted 1836 review gives the recipe for Dickens's success: "Two pounds of Smollett, three ounces of Sterne, a handful of Hook, and a dash of grammatical Pierce Egan" (in Schlicke 1999: 448). Yet other traces are as easily recognizable: illustrated sporting adventures, Fielding's motifs and episodic structure, Cervantes and his master-servant theme, as well as variations of Shakespeare, Jonson, Mathews, Irving (Schlicke 448). Similarly, his second novel Oliver Twist is written in a conspicuously "intertextual way": traces of Dickens's own Sketches, Hogarth's works, Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and Carlyle's Sartor Resartus are all mingled in it (Schlicke 430). Nicholas Nickleby is a hybrid text, a mixture of the picaresque, fairy tale, romantic hero tale and Bildungsroman. Yet later, the literary tradition is not so obviously exploited. Little Dorrit, for instance, similarly to Bleak House, "shows less influence by previous literary tradition," although some affinity with Scott's The Heart of Mid-Lothian and Shakespeare's Richard II may be found as concerns the prison motif (Schlicke 339). Additionally, Dickens draws on his own works, as in the case of Dombey and Son which repeats some motifs of Martin Chuzzlewit, or Great Expectations evidently being a variation on the Bildungsroman of the David Copperfield type, yet enriched with the elements of gothic fiction, fairy tale and the sensation novel (Schlicke 255). Thus in Dickens's case, the idea that any text absorbs and transforms other texts finds its full realiztion and is a fertile ground for researchers.

With time, Dickens's scholarship grew also interested in tracing his influences on foreign literatures. In particular, certain interconnections were found between the works of Dickens and Dostoyevsky, as exemplified by such studies as: Dostoyevsky and Dickens: A Study of Literary Influence (Lary 1973), or Dostoyevsky's Dickens: A Study of Literary Influence (MacPike 1981). …

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