Fugitive Plots in Great Expectations
This chapter investigates the influence of the slave narrative in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860-61). Dickens read Douglass’ 1845 slave narrative and devoted an entire chapter of his 1842 travelogue, American Notes, to the atrocities of American slavery. Written on the eve of the American Civil War, Great Expectations appears a steadfastly national text, advocating prison reform and chronicling English class divisions. Yet its organization around scenes of incarceration, clandestine reading, violence, and illicit escape resonate with events across the Atlantic and point to the preeminence of the fugitive plot. Resituating the slave narrative in England, Dickens applies its generic paradigm to issues of class mobility, literacy, and freedom, ultimately mounting a plea for gradual reform over violent insurrection.
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