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Reaping Something NewAfrican American Transformations of Victorian Literature$
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Daniel Hack

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196930

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196930.001.0001

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Close Reading Bleak House at a Distance

Close Reading Bleak House at a Distance

(p.23) Chapter One Close Reading Bleak House at a Distance
Reaping Something New

Daniel Hack

Princeton University Press

This chapter illustrates how the African Americanization of Charles Dickens' Bleak House makes newly visible and meaningful certain aspects of the novel even as it calls into question the power of such features to determine the cultural work the novel—and, by extension, any text—performs. This doubly estranging dynamic will be particularly clear with regard to a cultural task that has come to be seen as one of the novel-form's most important: the cultivation of national identity. As the chapter shows, Bleak House does not merely fail to imagine a community that includes Africans, African Americans, slaves, and people of color in general. Rather, it consolidates the national community it does imagine by means of their exclusion. Paradoxically, however, this strategy becomes most conspicuous when it is least efficacious: engaging in their own forms of close reading at a distance, members of these groups and their advocates find in Dickens's novel a material and imaginative resource for their own efforts to tell the stories they want to tell and build the communities they seek to build.

Keywords:   Bleak House, Charles Dickens, national identity, cultural work, national community, exclusion, African Americanization

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