In Dickens scholarship, while there is no shortage of work on women as sexual objects, there is little on female sexual agency. The indistinct Dickensian female body is often considered a stereotype and his women appear to lack autonomy and certainly sexual agency. But if we evaluate Dickens’ female characters through a realist lens, it does not take account of the semiotics and erotics of the Dickensian body, in particular those of the mouth. The mouth has a long history as a visual and textual metaphor of incorporation, particularly sexual incorporation. Lips, tongue and teeth constitute the meeting point between erotic corporeality and language yet, critically, the mouth in nineteenth-century literature has often been overlooked in favour of the ocular. I argue that mouths in general, and female mouths in particular, deserve more attention as viable hermeneutic signs of female sexuality in Dickens’ work. In reobserving Dickens’ women, I show how sexual agency is legible through the erotics and semiotics of the female mouth and draw out the ways in which the mouth is a crucial signifier: linguistically, metaphorically, sexually, and psychically. This means that while a Dickensian mouth is sometimes just a mouth, it can also function as a powerful system of signs. In paying attention to these signs and poetics, Dickens’ “rosy lips” and “feline jaws” are then perceived strikingly afresh: from the rose/rosebud figures which function as metonyms for female sexual anatomy and the blooming of sexuality, to the feline signifiers, “Pussy” and “tigress”, as a well-known anatomical reference, and as Victorian symbolism for promiscuous female sexuality and lustful appetites. This chapter will show that taking account of Dickens’ oral imagination offers a new reading of Dickens’ women; it will reveal how in recalibrating rose and feline metaphors, he transforms the female sexual object into sexual agent.
|Title of host publication||Dickens and Women Reobserved|
|Place of Publication||Brighton, England|
|Publisher||Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd.|
|Publication status||Published - 31 May 2020|