This essay begins with the question of why Prince Turveydrop and his infant daughter are both afflicted with disabilities toward the end of the novel. I argue that we can best answer this question by reading Dickens's novel through the lens of Sophocles's Oedipus Rex. Drawing upon Wai Chee Dimock's concept of “deep time,” which views literature as “a crisscrossing set of pathways, open ended and ever multiplying, weaving in and out of other geographies, other language and cultures” (3), I look at the ways in which Oedipus Rex (429 BCE) is woven throughout Bleak House (1852–53). I look especially at the questions of infanticide, or, more generally, the death of children, and that of disability or lameness. Here I draw upon Jean Pierre Vernant's reading of lameness in Sophocles's play, in which he argues that for the Greeks, the life of each individual “must be articulated on the sequence of generations, must respect that sequence,” or else chaos will follow. To a degree that is not found in any of Dickens's other novels, I argue, Bleak House portrays a shattering of temporal order and a world in which this sequence of generations is violated.
Entangled Paths and Ghostly Resonances: Bleak House and Oedipus Rex
robert e. lougy, Professor Emeritus of English at The Pennsylvania State University, is the author of Inaugural Wounds: the Shaping of Desire in Five Nineteenth-Century British Narratives (Ohio UP, 2005), and numerous essays on nineteenth and twentieth century British literature, on writers such as Tennyson, Thackeray, and Swinburne in journals such as ELH, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Victorian Poetry, and PMLA. His primary focus of interest, however, has been on Charles Dickens. He recently published an essay in PMLA (2009) entitled “Dickens and the Wolf Man: Childhood Memory and Fantasy in David Copperfield.”
Robert E. Lougy; Entangled Paths and Ghostly Resonances: Bleak House and Oedipus Rex. Dickens Studies Annual 1 September 2018; 49 (2): 378–401. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/dickstudannu.49.2.0378
Download citation file: