Ruins, Memory and Identity in Dickens’s Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son
This paper seeks to understand the relationship between ruins, memory and identity in Victorian London, and to explore ideas about the presence of classical and urban ruins that altered the way the Victorians experienced space and time in the mid-nineteenth century. The ruins were not only fragments from the past but also a fundamental part of the Victorians’ identities, and they played a significant role in shaping the narratives of mid-Victorian fiction. Dickens’ novels offered a wide range of literal and metaphorical representations of memory, ruined sites and selves linked with material ruins and the process of ruination in the metropolis and in Europe. In Little Dorrit (1855-57), for instance, the memory of the Marshalsea Prison haunts the narrative of the novel both in England and on the Continent. The image of the prison is a part of Dickens’s childhood-self and he reconstructs this space by looking back to some thirty years earlier with a delicate storyline of ‘a fragile’ child. In Dombey and Son (1846-48), Dombey’s house as a symbolic ruin is a key to the discovery and exploration of the lost bond among family members through the sense of place and memory. In the two novels, memories and personal failures are compellingly described in line with deserted and/or collapsed houses used both as material and symbolic ruins to describe the vanishing hopes of the characters and their final failures.
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