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

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‘Wot larx!’: William Morris, Charles Dickens, and Fatherly Feelings

Wendy Parkins


This essay explores the significance of William Morris’s reading of Dickens for Morris’s articulation of fatherly feelings. Recent scholarship on Victorian fatherhood has begun to overturn the stereotype of the dour, emotionally distant paterfamilias as providing only a partial understanding of forms of middle-class fatherhood and William Morris may serve as an example of a Victorian father whose parenting style eschewed detached authoritarianism, and instead combined nurture, play, and creativity. While Morris referred to Dickens’s works and characters in letters to a range of correspondents, his repeated usage of Joe Gargery’s catchphrase ‘Wot larx!’ (variously spelled) occurs exclusively in letters to his wife and daughters, especially the latter. I will consider how the character of Joe Gargery, who combines nurturing tenderness with manly labour, was deployed by Morris to perform a playful and affectionate paternal persona. While Morris’s use of Joe’s catchphrase seems to express a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling its status as a quotation also works to mark (and mask) a disavowal of powerfully ambivalent feelings concerning his own emotional agency as husband and father.

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