Identity, Self and Shadow in 'Little Dorrit'

Emma Hardinge


Harvey Sucksmith says in his introduction to the World's Classics edition of Little Dorrit that Dickens like no other writer 'devastatingly exposed the "persona-culture" of Victorian England and its shortcomings'. Sucksmith defines persona as a 'conformist' identity (conforming, that is, to mid-Victorian notions of the self) that 'constrains genuine responses' (p.xii); a social mask that deceives its wearer as well as the others who behold it. In this essay I want to examine Dickens's formal and thematic approach to the notion of identity, to look at the way he sets it up, and then to suggest that in those terms Dickens's exposition of what Sucksmith calls 'persona' may be seen not so much as devastating as contradictory. I want to explore this contradiction through the ambiguous relationship between the key images of darkness and light in the novel, as well as through the difficulty of naming in the text. At the centre of this difficulty I shall, finally, place the figure of Little Dorrit.

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