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Title page for ETD etd-07282010-175110

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Higgs, Stephanie Erin
URN etd-07282010-175110
Title Spontaneous Combustion, Starvation, and Chagrin: Disease and Materiality in Bleak House
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jay Clayton Committee Chair
  • metaphor
  • literal
  • illness
  • capital
Date of Defense 2010-07-22
Availability unrestricted
The importation of Victorian economic discourse into discussions of the human body and, vice versa, the use of biological rhetoric to talk about the economic system result in the muddling of the symbolic and literal registers in a number of texts from the period. Victorian sanitary reports, John Ruskin’s tracts on political economy, and, most notably, Charles Dickens’s Bleak House all exhibit an unexpected merging or overlapping of the metaphorical and the material in their discussions of both disease and economics. While numerous literary critics writing on Bleak House have recognized the symbolic function of disease as a representation of societal ills, few have acknowledged the inherence of the literal in Dickens’s careful descriptions of the diseases to which his characters fall prey.

Examining the deaths of Jo, Krook, and Richard in relation to prevailing economic and biological concerns in Victorian society about circulation, stoppage, and consumption will enable the exhumation of the literal and material facets of disease in Bleak House. A more complete picture of Dickens’s novel as an active intervention in Victorian politics and social reform will thus emerge.

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