Spectral Dickens

The uncanny forms of novelistic characterization

By Alexander Bove

Spectral Dickens


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4793-6
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: February 2021
  • BIC Category: Literature & literary studies / Literary theory, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900, Early Modern Literature, Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900, LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / General, LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 19th Century, LITERARY CRITICISM / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • Series: Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century


Drawing on the recent ontological turn in critical theory, Spectral Dickens explores an aspect of literary character that is neither real nor fictional, but spectral. This work thus provides an in-depth study of the inimitable characters populating Dickens' illustrated novels using three hauntological concepts: the Freudian uncanny, Derridean spectrality, and the Lacanian real. Thus, while the current discourse on character studies, which revolves around values like realism, depth, and lifelikeness, tends to see characters as mimetic of persons, this book invents new critical concepts to account for non-mimetic forms of characterization. These spectral forms bring to light the important influence of developments in nineteenth-century visual culture, such as the lithography and caricature of Daumier and J.J. Grandville. The spectrality of novelistic characters developed here paves the way for a new understanding of fictional characters in general.


'Drawing on graphic traditions of the era, the author describes how Dickens developed objects like dolls and effigies to reinforce meanings beyond the literal. Bove is interested in visual and narrative techniques that move beyond the limits of mimesis.'
(Reprinted with permission from Choice Reviews. All rights reserved. Copyright by the American Library Association.)

Spectral Dickens will be of immense interest to those seeking to understand Dickens's enduring appeal for readers and critics alike, especially those with an interest in psychoanalysis and the literary critical paradigms it can enable.'
The Dickensian


Introduction: An uncanny ontology of characterisation
Part I Spectral mimesis: portraits, caricature, and character
1 Mimesis's ghosts: caricature and anamorphosis
2 Spectral character: dreams, distortion, and the (cut of the) real
Part II "Moor eeffocish things": effigy and the bourgeoisie
3 Where "the specular becomes the spectral" in The Old Curiosity Shop and Dombey and Son
4 Imagos, dolls, and other gazing effigies in Bleak House
Part III Beyond the realism principle: spectral materiality
5 Dream as spectral form in Bleak House and the comic surplus of Micawber in David Copperfield
6 The "As if" hauntology of Little Dorrit and the uncanny dream of the three fathers


Alexander Bove is Professor of English at Pacific University

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