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Knots in Glass: Dickens and Omniscience from Boz to Bucket

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Abstract:

When Dickens's characters use vitreous objects to observe, they evidence the author's fluid conception of omniscience at the character level. Fol lowing the pedestrian reports of the physically limited Boz, Dickens increasingly endows select characters with extraordinary dexterities that make them powerful observers. These faculties Dickens first grants to his villains, whose methods of surveillance prove oppressive and dangerous. But in Mr. Bucket, the formally unique detective in Bleak House, Dickens demonstrates that omniscience at the character level can benefit both narrative and social progress. Bucket achieves this omniscience through his tricks of the trade: looking down through skylights, he mimics Les age's lame demon, Asmodeus, and navigating London's dark underworld with bull's-eye lanterns, he becomes a Virgil-figure. By exploiting glass objects to achieve narrator-like access to private spaces, Bucket negotiates and connects the novel's many oppositions—geographic, temporal, and formal—thereby demonstrating that omniscience is not an ethereal authority reserved only for narrators, but rather can be a real prospect for both characters and perhaps the author himself.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7756/dsa.043.002.33-66

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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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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