The signification of speech and writing in the work of Charles Dickens

Littlewood, Derek George (1990). The signification of speech and writing in the work of Charles Dickens. PhD thesis The Open University.



Drawing upon the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Jacques Derrida, this study examines the representation of speech and writing in selected novels and journalism of Charles Dickens. The initial chapter describes the differing attitudes of Bakhtin and Derrida to language, writing and literature. A purely literary history is rejected, in favour of asking socially and historically grounded questions about the workings of language in selected texts. Then, the communication model of language, proposed by Roman Jakobson is examined. The theories of Derrida and Bakhtin are probed as alternative conceptualisations of the social process of language and textuality. The Jakobsonian model of language as a code common to all is rejected, and language is seen as 'heteroglossia' a collection of diverse voices. Bakhtin's focus on dialogue and the social context of utterance is balanced by Derrida's stress on writing as a textuality in which there is no dialogue of voices.

Informed by these ideas, the remaining chapters explore the diversity of languages and ways of representing speech and writing in Dickens. The social shibboleths of language, the misspellings, bad grammar, puns, misunderstandings and noncommunication found in Dickens are explored. Several varieties of language are examined, thieves' cant, legal language, boxing and that of grammar itself. Each is represented and parodied by Dickens. Heteroglossia is then seen to have penetrated the most personal aspect of language, that of human names. Finally, reading and writing themselves are explored as themes within Dickens' work. The historical context of literacy in Victorian England is related to Dickens's concerns. Dickens is shown to have closely observed the transition from oral to literate culture in which writing communicates in the absence of the author. His frequently humourous ways of signifying speech and writing was also a means of social comment.

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