• The Handmade Landscape: Manual Labor and the Construction of Eden in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit

    Caroline Wilkinson (see profile)
    CLCS Romantic and 19th-Century, GS Poetry and Poetics, LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English
    English fiction, Nineteenth century, Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870, Slavery, Labor, History, English literature
    Item Type:
    literary hands, Victorian novel, Charles Dickens, 19th-century studies, Labor history, Labour, Embodiment, Pastoral, Victorian literature
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    In his 1843 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens used the pastoral mode to deliver a strong message about labor. To communicate this message, he employed the mode’s many traits, including its retreat into and return from the rural landscape and its focus on the country worker, traditionally the shepherd. This essay follows the novel’s pastoral retreat into the United States, where young Martin comes to understand the realities of manual labor through his physical interactions with the American landscape. His companion, Mark Tapley, meanwhile, performs the emotional labor of the servant by initially shielding middle-class Martin from this painful knowledge. Both men, however, must confront manual labor on a massive scale upon reaching “Eden,” a hideous landscape that Dickens constructed referring to passages from his travelogue about his 1842 trip to the United States, American Notes. The landscape in Eden documents the decaying atmosphere of slavery as recorded in Dickens’s travelogue. It also recreates for Martin the physical experience that Dickens had as a child of entering a vast, foreign world of factory work. Ultimately, Dickens’s uses the pastoral to uncover a horror that usually lies beneath a beautiful surface: that the civilized landscape demands enslaved or nearly enslaved labor for its construction.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago
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