Type / Thesis

Dickens’s London in Bleak House: Urban Landscape and the Birth of the Detective

Yi-chin Shih

Page / 39-61


This paper treats a high regard for Dickens’s mature use of London as the multifaceted setting in Bleak House (1852-53). The plots, characters, and themes are all related to the radical urbanization and modernization in nineteenth-century London. This paper first discusses how Dickens represents urban landscape, including narrow streets, the dysfunctional sanitation and sewerage, the building of railways, and the dirty and miserable slum. Dickens’s representation attempts to pin down the chaotic city and to re-define the meaning of London. However, the urban landscape is always out of the author’s control, just like the fluid and unrepresentable “fog” in London. Thus, Dickens’s description of London, on the one hand, portrays that the city is readable and controllable; on the other hand, it simultaneously reveals that the city is unreadable and incontrollable. This paper then discusses how this unrepresentable and disordered urban landscape becomes the major element of Gothic novel, such as the haunted-house-like London, labyrinth-like streets, ruin-like slum, and vampire-like lawyers. London in this way turns out to be the seedbed of crime. Inspector Bucket is a detective and also a flâneur. The appearance of this character symbolizes a panoptic and rationalized control of urban landscape, but the endless crimes imply the resistance to be dominated. From this perspective, this paper further analyzes that London provides a stage for detection and crime, so Bleak House becomes a detective novel. Overall, this paper attempts to discuss how Dickens represents London and the multiple functions of urban landscape in the Bleak House.

Keywords : Charles Dickens, Bleak House, London, urban landscape, Gothic, detective.
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