The travelling doll wonder: Dickens, secular magic, and Bleak House

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    Abstract

    The article considers the connections between Dickens’s fiction and the art of conjuring, focusing on a routine Dickens regularly performed in his shows for friends and family, the Travelling Doll Wonder. Dickens’s doll routine reappears in the hyperphenomenology (in Derrida’s phrase) of Bleak House, in particular in Esther Summerson’s disappearing and reappearing doll. Esther’s doll has often been read as a Winnicottian transitional object or Freudian fort-da game, but reading it in terms of conjuring raises questions of memory and amnesia (in particular the selective amnesia and deferred narrative of the audience of magic). Reading Dickens’s references to conjuring invites the comparison of secular magic and trauma (in terms of Cathy Caruth’s formulation of “unclaimed experience”) as sharing similar psychic structures, based on vertiginous disorientation caused by events not fully perceived at their occurrence; Bleak House ultimately turns the enchantment associated with images of conjuring into traumatic experience.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number10.1353/sdn.2016.0042
    Pages (from-to)279-300
    Number of pages21
    JournalStudies in the Novel
    Volume48
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016

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