What are Jean Ferguson Carr's main points in her essay "Writing as a Woman: Dickens, Hard Times, and Feminine Discourses"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In her essay "Writing as a Woman: Dickens, Hard Times, and Feminine Discourses," Jean Ferguson Carr makes a number of specific points, including the following:

  • George Henry Lewes saw Dickens as a popular entertainer who was not a serious literary artist.
  • Lewes compared Dickens’ writings to writings by women and implied their feminine traits.
  • In one typical piece of writing, Dickens was in fact

making use of a feminine guise, privileging the intimate, private, and informal qualities usually associated with women over the social, public, and authoritative powers usually associated with men.

  • Carr is interested in why Dickens shows an interest in (and sympathy for) women in his writings yet never explicitly challenges their subordinate positions in society.
  • Dickens seems to identify with women in many of his writings and seems to explore his own inferior social status as a writer by exploring the ways in which women are oppressed.
  • In Hard Times, Mrs. Gradgrind symbolizes the limits within which women are forced to function. Her husband, Mr. Gradgrind,

has been a social "wife-killer," obliterating his wife's role as mother to her daughter and keeping her from fuller participation in the daughter's narrative. He has "formed his daughter on his own model," and she is known to all as "Tom Gradgrind's daughter." He has isolated Louisa in his masculine realm, depriving her of any of the usual female resources with which to oppose his power . . .

  • Dickens himself, as a writer, resembles the novel’s two key female figures in a number of ways:

Like Louisa and Mrs. Gradgrind, Dickens must articulate his valuing of "fancy" and his concern about crossing proscribed boundaries in language devalued by the patriarchal discourses of reason and fact.

  • Dickens “wrote like a woman” in the sense that he wrote in ways not always approved of by the patriarchal male establishment, but of course Dickens, as a male, nevertheless had more privileges than real women in his society:

Dickens' experimentation with excluded positions of women and the poor provided him with a way of disrupting the status quo of the literary establishment. But, ironically, his experimentation also helped him capitalize on his status as an outsider in that literary realm.



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