Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Rebecca Stern


This dissertation explores Dickens characters that subvert dominant ideals of Victorian masculinity, in order to clarify both the nature of masculine anxieties (loss of autonomy, feminization, surveillance, and so on) and the existence of fantasies that allow vicarious escapes from such anxieties. The excesses of Dickens's novels, which reside in large part in such subversive male characters, serve as a sort of compensation for the novels' themes of restraint and forbearance. One example occurs in Our Mutual Friend, in which Bradley Headstone considers his ever-increasing obsession with violence: "The state of the man was murderous, and he knew it. More; he irritated it, with a kind of perverse pleasure akin to that which a sick man sometimes has in irritating a wound upon his body." This dissertation examines that "perverse pleasure," the ways in which deviations from the dominant ideal of masculinity provide vicarious kinds of satisfaction not only for the character but also for the narrator and implied reader as well. Victorian conduct books and essays emphasized that men must strive energetically to deny the demands of the self and to fulfill the national destiny, and Dickens's novels offer plenty of protagonists that do just that. They also offer, however, male characters who strive merely to fulfill their selfish desires, and instead of roundly condemning such characters, the texts demonstrate grudging admiration for them. This dissertation will discuss the following characters: James Carker (Dombey and Son), James Steerforth (David Copperfield), James Harthouse (Hard Times), Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities), Orlick (Great Expectations), and Bradley Headstone (Our Mutual Friend).


© 2010, Janet T. Williams