Posted by: jmacd32 | September 15, 2010

Dickens and Portraiture

In class we discussed portraiture and its power to manipulate an audience. In the case of the portrait of “Lady Delme and Children” we discussed how Lady Delme is staged to be a representation of the ideal “mother” and “woman.” Here, portraiture is a limited mode of representation. Lady Delme becomes a representation of a woman rather than an individual. In Dickens’ Bleak House he represents the people of his story in writing rather than in painting or another form of visual reproduction. Reading the beginning of Bleak House and being introduced to all its many characters I thought of their descriptions as Dickens own form of portraiture. In relation to our discussion of Lady Delme, Dickens’ “portraitures” of the many characters of his novel lend the reader to question whether writing can provide more of an insight into the individual than actual portraiture. In Chapter VI when Mr. Skimpole is speaking to the debt collector who has cornered him in his room he notes,

We can separate you from your office; we can separate the individual from the pursuit. We are not so prejudiced as to suppose that in private life you are otherwise than a very estimable man, with a great deal of poetry in your nature, of which you may not be conscious. (90)

As Mr. Skimpole reasoned with the debt collector he also was in the process of making “a little drawing of his head on the fly-leaf of a book” (90). Whereas Mr. Skimpole’s drawing of the debt collector may have represented him in his “office” Mr. Skimpole’s comments suggest that the debt collector is also an “individual” outside of his “office.” Mr. Skimpole’s remarks remind me of Lady Delme’s portrait. We see Lady Delme in her “office;” she is  a mother and a wealthy women. However, we do not see Lady Delme as an individual. We can guess at her background, but her portrait is basically a representation of her role and place in life rather than an insight into her life. Through the written word does Dickens’ portray his characters in a way that can separate them from their “office” or “separate the individual from the pursuit” (90)?


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