The social network in Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

In the foundational text, George Eliot and Blackmail, Alexander Welsh charts the development of modern society, from the birth of our information culture to the emergence of new community patterns, and he explains how the tensions created by publicity fostered a widespread interest in secrecy. In outlining the conditions that intensified this need, Welsh provides a useful interpretative model for studying the human networks in Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit. The worlds portrayed in these historical and domestic novels—with their emphases on local information, social mobility, and accountability—illustrate how an overall increase in publicity weakens the traditional community structure. In particular, the communities in Barnaby Rudge articulate a conscious desire to regulate information at the local level, even as modern technology encroaches upon them and threatens to undermine their authority. Similarly, the divers branches of the Chuzzlewit network attempt to displace traditional authority by attaining individual social prominence. Using the tools of contemporary social network theory, this project examines the community models in Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit, and it demonstrates how Dickens inscribes his concept of authorial power within the network structure. Individual chapters focus on the specific network models employed in each novel, including the small world, prominence, affiliation, proximity, and distribution. This thesis intersects with existing criticism on Dickens and the publishing industry of the 1830s, and it provides an alternative interpretative frame—one that relies heavily on the theoretical support of Alexander Welsh, E.P. Thompson, and Georg Simmel. Ultimately, reading Dickens through the lens of network theory reveals his prescient knowledge of the patterns of societal organization more commonly associated with social networks, and it illuminates the structures of meaning within his individual novels.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
British and Irish literature, Literature