Gender and Madness in the Novels of Charles Dickens (Studies in British Literature S. V. 90)

Gender and Madness in the Novels of Charles Dickens (Studies in British Literature S. V. 90)

By: Marianne Camus (author)Hardback

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This book is an attempt to re-read the construction of the mad female characters of Dickens' novels. A main aim is to demonstrate how social rules and forces differentiate mental derangement gender-wise, as far as it causes and manifestations are concerned, within what could be called a general human tendency toward mental derangement. In 1943, when I attended a series of lectures on David Copperfield by Professor Louis Cazamian at the Sorbonne, he gave us a few hints about the bibliographical resources we would have to take into account. And he uttered that - to me - memorable phrase: "Il n'y a pas de these francaise sur Dickens" (There is no French dissertation on Dickens). This was all the more remarkable as Cazamian's own doctoral dissertation on the Victorian social novel included a large and valuable section devoted to Dickens. There have been since those days several academic publications in France on Dickens, and much work in research and criticism has been accomplished in my country. Especially well known outside France are of course Anny Sadrin's books, but other names come to mind, like Max Vega-Ritter's, and more recently Nathalie Vanfasse's (whose dissertation has not yet been published). Marianne Camus's terse study of Dickens' madwomen bids fair to occupy a distinguished position among the studies of Dickens produced by French scholars. Marianne Camus is more resolutely up-to-date than most of her French predecessors in her approach to literary criticism, as shown by her specific interest in gender. She does not emulate the foolish pedagogue who, in the XIXth century, edited as a school-text for French children "The Paris scenes from A Tale of Two Cities". She does not divide Dickens' world into two separate sections in order to devote herself to one only, and thus deal with madwomen while forgetting about the madmen. On the contrary, she shows perfect awareness of both the resemblances and the differences between the two categories; as she knows the works of Dickens inside out, one reads her very profitably, and we realise that part of her purpose, largely achieved, is to determine out much of the origin of madness is "gendered". On the other hand, she explicitly refuses to put her trust wholly in psychoanalysis as an instrument of literary criticism. It might be tempting to express disagreement with some of Camus's views, for instance about the meaning of the word "madness" itself. I for one was unaccustomed to regard as mad some of Camus's most exemplary madwomen. Madness in Dickens was in my opinion embodied in a few people we might call official lunatics: Mr Dick, Barnaby, Maggy in Dorrit, and probably Mrs Nickleby's ponderously amorous neighbour. In the present study one comes across unexpected figures of madness: Quilp, Mrs Jellyby and many others. It appears at times that Marianne Camus acts as a kind of Miss Betsey in reverse. I mean that while Miss Betsey fought hard to deny that her friend Mr Dick was in the least mad, Camus wishes to claim madness for a large number of characters, as though madness were a distinguished position. Which, in a way, it is, as it secures for the sufferer the right of entry into Marianne Camus's field of study. But it is all a matter of defining the terms of one's approach, and Marianne Camus does that with admirable clarity. There are degrees in madness, and there are elements or moments of madness in many apparently sane people; the common saying that anger amounts to temporary madness holds a good deal of truth. With Dickens' help, Marianne Camus adds to that dictum, in the case of Mme Defarge, an analysis of the madness of revenge (anger distilled, concentrated and embittered by the passing of time). The line that divides madness from "normalcy" is far from clear-cut; nor does it merely separate one normal human being from another, who is not; it can also come into existence between different sections of one person's individuality. In any case, Camus here brilliantly demonstrates that the persons she considers as madwomen - or as madmen for that matter - are all in one way or another mentally unhinged. I am afraid Quilp is not a madman, but a cruel human being, and I am afraid that Dickens himself believed in the existence of badness, perversity, harmfulness in more or less "normal" human beings. He believed in the existence of evil in the world and in human nature. Yet no-one can deny that there is in Quilp's enjoyment of the sufferings he inflicts a strain of sadism, and, according to Marianne Camus's wholly acceptable standards, sadism falls well within the province of madness. With delightful humour, Camus asks a difficult question: is Mlle Hortense in Bleak House "really mad or simply French"? At one point, I wondered whether, being French, Marianne Camus might not be occasionally disconcerted by mere eccentricity. I was once charged with a similar weakness, and my critic ascribed it to my nationality. This happened in connection with some comments of mine on Wemmick, whom, by the way, I still regard as amusingly eccentric rather than mad. But on most occasions I can only enjoy and applaud Camus's comments. Among the most valuable points made in the present book I would like to mention her demonstration of Dickens' avoidance of the "Ophelia figure", so facilely accepted by the Victorians as the archetype of feminine madness. Also the detailed analyses of one of the most fascinating cases, that of Mrs Gamp; I tended to regard that character as a harmful egotist, occasionally befuddled by drink, but not mentally deranged like so many others. Camus compels her readers to reconsider their prima facie views about literary creations of such powerful originality. There is something irresistible in suggestions based on such attentive and intelligent reading and thinking. The paragraphs devoted to Mrs Clennam are equally illuminating; they tend to show that religious fanaticism can become a form of unbalance. Camus's analysis of Miss Wade is also one of her striking successes; the element of masochism in her is vigorously stressed; and Dickens' awareness of it (suggested by his labelling Wade's narrative "History of a Self-Tormentor") redounds to his credit. Thus are Camus's general conclusions unquestionably justified, when she asserts that madness is gendered, and that Dickens was in some ways ahead of his time, however strongly he remained representative of his age, by many of his perceptions concerning the vagaries of the human mind and psyche, especially in their feminine forms.

About Author

Professor Marianne Camus, born in 1949 and educated in France, spent ten years in England and then went back to France to obtain her PhD at Paris Sorbonne. She currently teaches at Djion University. She writes and publishes on gender in nineteenth century literature.


List of Abbreviations of the Titles of Dickens' Novels.....ix Preface.....xi Acknowledgements.....xv Chapter 1: Introduction.....1 Chapter 2: Patterns of Madness.....11 Chapter 3: Public and Private Spheres.....17 Chapter 4: Madness Visible.....35 Chapter 5: The Discourse of Madwomen.....49 Chapter 6: Women, Power and Punishment.....71 Chapter 7: Conclusion.....89 Bibliography.....95 Index.....97

Product Details

  • ISBN13: 9780773463349
  • Format: Hardback
  • Number Of Pages: 108
  • ID: 9780773463349
  • ISBN10: 0773463348

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