Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Natalie McKnight, Ed. Fathers in Victorian Fiction

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Natalie McKnight, Ed. Fathers in Victorian Fiction

Article excerpt

Natalie McKnight, ed. Fathers in Victorian Fiction. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2011. Pp. x + 242. $59.99.

Victorian fatherhood has been the focus of considerable recent scholarly scrutiny. Increasingly a touchstone for gender historians interested in the period, the concept is now as frequently discussed as the figure of the Victorian gentleman, the angel in the house, and the theory of the separate spheres. In works such as Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers's essay collection Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (2007) and Valerie Sanders's study The Tragi-Comedy of Victorian Fatherhood (2009), moreover, a critical consensus has emerged that the stereotype of the stern Victorian paterfamilias (what Sanders calls "the heavy father") must be challenged. Accepting that such fixed ideas rarely match social and cultural realities, the essays assembled by Natalie McKnight in Fathers in Victorian Fiction broadly agree with this prevailing revisionary view. Unlike much of the existing secondary literature, however, this collection focuses valuably on the fiction of the time rather than on social history and life writing.

Alongside stimulating, succinct introductory and concluding essays by McKnight, the volume provides nine diverse but complementary chapters which analyze the varying responses to, and models of, Victorian fatherhood in a range of fictional sources. The collection discusses most of the canonical novelists regularly considered by scholars and studied by students. It includes an essay on the role of Patrick Bronte in fathering the Bronte sisters by Christine Alexander, a piece on clerical fathers in novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Trollope by Elizabeth Bridgham, Natalie B. Cole's chapter on George Eliot's failed and successful fictional fathers, and Melissa Jenkins's essay on Thomas Hardy's ambivalent response to fatherhood. The volume also ranges into more unexpected territory, notably in Meoghan Cronin's essay on religious fiction by Mary Augusta Ward and Elizabeth Sewell, and Regina Hansen's piece on fathers in filmic adaptations of Dickens. Fathers in Victorian Fiction, then, offers a rich mix of topics and approaches. Given such diversity, Natalie McKnight has done an excellent job in forming the collection's varied essays into a coherent whole. The view of fatherhood presented is one that, if not always associated with failure, certainly stresses anxiety and difficulty. As McKnight convincingly explains in her introduction, this anxiousness can be ascribed, in part, to "the widespread loss of faith in authorities of all kinds" in the nineteenth century (8). It is, moreover, "the consequent mourning for the loss of authority, certainty, and tradition" that "help to create the resonance that makes" the father figures discussed in detail in the volume "memorable" (8). Beyond this central unifying theme, it is also notable that many of the contributions speak to one another, engaging in productive dialogue about particular aspects of the fatherhood theme. Thus, from different angles, Elizabeth Bridgham and Meoghan Cronin both treat clerics who are at once spiritual and biological fathers. Natalie McKnight and Regina Hansen examine, in productive ways, sensitive dads in Dickens. Several of the essays, finally, analyze the relationships between fathers and daughters.

Since the Inimitable is discussed in no less than four essays, Fathers in Victorian Fiction will be of particular interest to Dickensians. With "Dickens's Hard Times: The Father as Tragic Clown," Michael Hollington provides a typically suggestive and wide-ranging contribution to proceedings. Noting the "potent presence as well as gaping absence" of Signor Jupe in Dickens's industrial novel (35), Hollington places this intriguing character, and the dynamics of his relationship with his daughter Sissy, in the wider European cultural context of the tragic or melancholic clown. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.