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Dickens's Immaterial Culture of Hats and The Pickwick Papers

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Typified by Pickwick's altercation over his nightcap in the Fleet, The Pickwick Papers provides a ''diffusion of hats [and] bonnets'' that perform proverbial, idiomatic and slang, class, gender, moral, psychological, and popular-culture roles. Dickens's immersion in the worlds of melodrama and the carnivalesque gives some clarifying context to his many hat performances, as do examples from his other works, relevant articles from Household Words and All the Year Round, and Carlyle's influence in Sartor Resartus. The result is not so much an exposé of Dickens's response to Victorian material culture as his exposure of the immaterial culture of hats. In fact, Dickens teaches readers how to do things with hats and even how hats themselves do things as his characters meaningfully obey, test, and violate Victorian hat codes and their cultural messages. Three sustained examples—Sam's lost hat adventure and consequent kissing game with Mary, Pickwick's exposing his nightcap to Miss Witherfield in the Great White Horse Inn, and, most prominently, Pickwick's chasing his hat in a field near Chatham barracks—significantly demonstrate these issues.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2011

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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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