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Articulating BodiesThe Narrative Form of Disability and Illness in Victorian Fiction$
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Kylee-Anne Hingston

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620757

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620757.001.0001

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Social Bodies: Dickens and the Disabled Narrator in Bleak House

Social Bodies: Dickens and the Disabled Narrator in Bleak House

(p.49) Chapter Two Social Bodies: Dickens and the Disabled Narrator in Bleak House
Articulating Bodies

Kylee-Anne Hingston

Liverpool University Press

Dickens makes disability central to his social condition novel Bleak House (1851–53) by revealing exactly midway through its serial publication that Esther Summerson, one of its two narrators, has disfiguring facial scars. This chapter argues that splitting narration between Esther and a disembodied third-person voice throws into relief the dissimilarities between external and internal focalization and their articulation of disability. Notably, while Bleak House’s externally focalized third-person narration usually marginalizes disability and illness by making them symbolize social corruption through humour and sentimentality, when focalizing through disabled narrators and characters, the novel repositions disability and disease as ordinary aspects of the body’s normal instability and uses humour to criticize sentimental metaphorization of disability. Both attitudes towards disability simultaneously exist in the novel through its hybrid form that lacks full narrative closure.

Keywords:   social condition novel, focalization, disabled narrators, third-person narration, Charles Dickens, Bleak House, narrative closure, disability

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