Dickens and Dandyism

Tiffany Olgun

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


In Bleak House (1852), Dickens warns against a “dandyism” that has “got below the surface”
(144). My contention is that dandyism in Dickens goes beyond an interest in the individual; it is
a unifying concept through which he explores his fear of the disintegration of the self and
society. Unlike critics who see dandies as creatures of surface, I argue that Dickens uses the
agency of fiction to combat his fears of the human as a hollow work of art; Dickens’s dandies
invariably fail to transcend the human. Dickens deconstructs the binary oppositions which often
critically attend the figure of the dandy (surface/depth, art/human), yoking dandyism
dialectically to unexpected, apparently oppositional, networks of ideas such as, in this thesis,
animalism, movement, and mesmerism, to reconfigure received ideas of selfhood, surface and
depth. Though I draw on a range of critical fields like gender and queer studies, posthumanism,
and the philosophy of ennui, work on selfhood and character, as well as studies of dandyism,
have influenced this thesis most.
Chapter One, “Clothes and Sartorial Expansion,” explores Pip’s use of clothes to “both
hide the body and display it in an altered form… [to] increase the signifying capacity of the self”
(Stanton 110). Chapter Two, “Dandies and Other Animals,” demonstrates the ways in which
Dickens ties dandyism to the seemingly opposite state of animalism from which dandies cannot
escape. Chapter Three, “Stillness and Movement,” is a study of stillness and movement which
positions the theatrical technique of tableau vivant as a form of artistic representation that is
analogous to the dandy’s human act of artistic representation. Chapter Four, “Faces, Masks, and
Mesmerism” investigates the boundaries of the material and immaterial self through mesmerism,
a means of non-physical, non-vulgar connection deployed by James Harthouse to repair his
eroded heart
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • John, Juliet, Supervisor, External person
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2024
Publication statusUnpublished - 2024


  • Victorian
  • Dandies
  • Charles Dickens
  • animal
  • Aestheticism
  • 19th century
  • fashion
  • tableaux

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