The Poetics and Erotics of the Dickensian Mouth

Colette Ramuz

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Dickens has been called an oral writer for several reasons: the preoccupation with eating and drinking in the novels; the range of voices in his work; the performativity of his own readings; and psychoanalytic approaches to the novels that identify links with Freud’s psychosexual ‘oral stage’. Scholars have offered compelling assessments of such approaches. Ian Watt’s seminal essay, ‘Oral Dickens’, increased critical interest in the fundamental importance of appetitive drives and their associations with sexuality in the novels. From cannibalism to breast-feeding, scholars have grappled with issues of orality. It is an anomaly, then, that so little attention has been paid to Dickensian mouths as literal, material, metaphoric and metonymic spaces. As a body part it is often dismissed due to a lack of realist description, yet it signifies much more than the stereotypical, physiognomic features of rosy lips or villainous smile. In this thesis, I argue that the poetics and and semiotics of the mouth in Dickens’s novels encode desire, sexual attraction and agency. Not only an erotogenic organ in its own right, the mouth is a cipher for sexual identity, an axis between the interior and exterior world, and a literal and metaphorical site of consumption. By focusing on readings of Dickens’s innovative poetics, the erotics in Dickens’s novels can be recovered. My approach involves a reappraisal of Dickens’s representations of the mouth to focus on how desire and sexual agency are conveyed in his novels. This new reading shows how oral erotics convey sexualities and sexual agency, which challenge perceptions an understanding of Dickensian representations of desire.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
  • John, Juliet, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Oct 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Sept 2021

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