Abstract

In short stories and novels ranging from A Christmas Carol (1843) to Great Expectations (1860–61), Charles Dickens again and again reiterated close encounters between his fictional characters' adult and childhood selves. Turning to the journalistic context of The Uncommercial Traveller essays, this article identifies moments of self-encounter that are similar but staged between adult Dickens and avatars of his child or adolescent self. Drawing on research into media studies, temporality, and form, I argue that Dickens developed the new formal technology of the self-encounter in response to the pressure of his desire to connect personally with a mass audience, a cultural politics and marketing practice that Juliet John has termed “intimate publicity.” I propose a skeptical reading of Dickens's moments of self-encounter that finds evidence of the author's vexed approach to autobiographical form and a resulting pivot outward to his audience. Through a logical doublethink that sanctions the narrator's recognition of the child as simultaneously me and not me, these self-with-self-encounters create both ironic detachment and sentimental irony, while leaving the task of calibrating their tonal balance to the reader. Attending to these artful moments of self-encounter carries insight into the creation of Dickens's public persona and to the reception of his novels.

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