Abstract

Dickens's novels are marked by evocative passages that, even within the rich textures of Dickens's polyphonic prose, stand out as heightened and stylistically worked. These passages channel the text toward prose poetry: they resemble arias, theatrically calling attention to themselves, springing from the novels' discursive recitatives. This essay focuses on a cluster of such passages in the climactic “Tempest” chapter of David Copperfield, in three incarnations: the published text of the novel, Dickens's adaptation of the text for one of his public Readings, and the re-creation of a brief portion of that reading in the 2012 film, The Invisible Woman. The essay identifies and analyzes the poetic devices, especially the rhythmic figurations, that Dickens deploys and shows how Dickens works those devices to conjure the sublime and its characteristic effects of dissolution and dispossession that, in this case, both deepen and threaten the coherence of David's subjectivity. The prose poem passages of “Tempest” thus reach beyond the novel's manifest subject into the subjectivities of character, narrator and reader, a dynamic incisively and vividly conveyed in Ralph Fiennes's re-creation of Dickens reading.

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