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“Pretend[ing] a little”: The Play of Musement in Dickens's Little Dorrit

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Abstract:

Putting Dickens's Little Dorrit in conversation with nineteenth-century philosophical precepts about the aesthetic, this article suggests that Little Dorrit illuminates and expands ideas about aesthetic “play” featured in Friedrich Schiller's publication of On the Aesthetic Education of Man, a work structured as a series of letters, that influenced Charles Sanders Peirce's later work on play and the “generals.” If “The most important theory in the entire history” of thought regarding play is to be found in Friedrich Schiller's On Aesthetic Education (Elias 1: 106), this essay argues that Little Dorrit's brilliant representation of the aesthetics of play illustrates Dickens's sophisticated views on the subject. Dickens's substantive portrayals of “Altro,” Mrs. General, and Amy's “musings” articulate what Schiller's abstract analysis of play and Peirce's conceptual work on the generals and musement can only theorize, that play is a superlative form of seriousness, leading to the highest levels of knowledge, love, and morality. The essay briefly summarizes Schiller's and Peirce's ideas as a prelude to analysis of Dickens's articulation of play illustrated in Amy Dorrit's Princess story and in contradistinction to Mrs. General's dangerous disciplinary work.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7756/dsa.041.011.265-280

Publication date: 2010-06-01

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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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