19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 14 (2012)

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‘Joyful convulsions’: Dickens’s Comings and Goings

Valerie Sanders


When Dickens returned home from his six-month tour of America in 1842, his eldest son Charley, aged five, nearly died of joy at being reunited with his parents. Focusing on Dickens’s complex emotions as a father, this article considers his response to the wild emotionalism of partings and reunions, first within his own family, as he dispatched his young sons to careers in the colonies, and then in his treatment of parent–child separations in some of his novels. As a father who frequently played down the drama of ‘real life’ partings in his family, it considers the gap, in Dombey and Son and Bleak House, between the child’s impulse for reconciliation, and the parent’s shame or silence. The family reunion that segues unstoppably into another parting becomes a way of confronting failed elements that in terms of Dickens’s domestic ideology cannot be subsumed invisibly into a new and improved version of the family. With fathers, however, the outlook is more hopeful than with mothers, and Dickens shows how the prospects of reunion between errant daughters and unforgiving fathers are ultimately more positive than those between errant mothers and forgiving daughters.

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