Ten years ago

Secret Plots: The False Endings of Dickens' Novels

Dickens' endings are notoriously happy and abrupt (abruptly happy?), and I just had an article published in which I argue that this is a feature, not a bug. People tend to see it as Dickens copping out, abandoning the political agenda of his novels to pander to a readership which preferred not to be put out. I think the endings are so abrupt and so happy that they undermine themselves -- and Dickens uses this to make his readers arrive at the unhappy ending themselves. It may be worth keeping in mind if you want to make someone accept an unpalatable truth?

At any rate, here is the abstract:
Oliver Twist does not find wealth and family and live happily ever after. Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam never escape the workhouse. And Eugene Wrayburn does not revive to marry Lizzie Hexam and start a new and productive life. This article takes as its starting point the idea that a story can have ‘false’ endings and uses it as a way of approaching the problem of Charles Dickens’s plots, tracing Dickens’s method in three novels from different periods of his authorship: Oliver Twist (1839), Little Dorrit (1857), and Our Mutual Friend (1865). Dickens’s novels are full of plots that should never have played out and are enabled by a series of miracles. Instead of seeing the happy endings as undermining the impact of the novels’ social criticism, the article argues that Dickens encourages his readers to see through the simple solutions he presents. The novels themselves undermine their happy endings through overt markers of fictionality and use doubled plots and characters to highlight the starker, more realistic outcomes of the main plots. In this way, Dickens manages to evade the hostility and resistance which a more direct approach might provoke.

If you have institutional access, you can read the article in Victoriographies, in the number on Alternative Dickens guest edited by Dr Christopher Pittard. If you do not have access and still want to read it, send me an e-mail or a tweet and I'll see what I can do.