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Dolls and Imaginative Agency in Bradford, Pardoe, and Dickens

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This essay argues that fiction written for both adults and children in the nineteenth century recognizes that dolls can perform work that is much more complicated—and sometimes more subversive—than imagined by Victorians who upheld the toys as training wheels for motherhood. Doll narratives written for children, in particular Clara Bradford's Ethel's Adventures in the Doll Country (1880) and Julia Pardoe's Lady Arabella, or, The Adventures of a Doll (1856), as well as adult literature, in particular Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), illustrate how authors use distortions of size and animation to subvert or sustain relationships between the poor and the privileged, the weak and the powerful, the small and the enormous. Such texts demonstrate not only that the doll and the agency it generates can be employed to interrogate and manipulate social hierarchies but also that fantasies of subversion registered through the miniature and the gigantic had imaginative currency powerful enough to cross the boundaries of genre.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2009

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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