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Novel InstitutionsAnachronism, Irish Novels and Nineteenth-Century Realism$
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Mary L. Mullen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474453240

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474453240.001.0001

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Charles Dickens’s Reactionary Reform

Charles Dickens’s Reactionary Reform

(p.139) Chapter 4 Charles Dickens’s Reactionary Reform
Novel Institutions

Mary L. Mullen

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter demonstrates how Charles Dickens’s novels embrace ‘reactionary reform’: a vision of the future that is actually a return to an anachronistic past. Reactionary reform restores origins that institutions erase in their drive towards futurity, whether those origins are Sissy Jupe’s life with her father in Hard Times, Esther Summerson’s parentage in Bleak House or the humble home that Pip mistakenly disavows in Great Expectations. Reactivating origins allows a different stance towards institutions: instead of settling down and accepting their established rhythms, characters inhabit institutions, dwelling temporarily in them without acceding to their terms. But Dickens’s vision of reform does not extend to everyone. He reinforces settler colonialism by representing particular groups of people as outside of history and futurity altogether. Validating anachronisms and criticising them in turn, Dickens imagines progressive change that rejects modern institutionalism but, in the process, shores up the racialised abstractions upon which settler colonial institutions depend.

Keywords:   Charles Dickens, Settler colonialism, History, Futurity, Reform, Institution, Race, anachronism

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