Pigmies and Brobdignagians: Arts Writing, Dickensian Character, and the Vanishing Victorian Life-Size
This essay argues that Charles Dickens's "larger than life" characters were critically shaped by the Victorians' increasing doubts about the life-size as a visual standard in painting and sculpture. Departing from a tendency to read Dickens's excesses as the products of larger thematic design or as the results of structural exigency, this essay proposes instead that his famously "static" and "flat" characters were significantly influenced by debates about static and flat forms of art. In novels like Bleak House (1852–53) and Little Dorrit (1855–57), Dickens investigated contemporary commentators' assertions that the perception of the "size of life" was a trick of the eye. Ultimately, his investigations went beyond exploration and were transformed into practice. What we have long taken as characterological exaggeration should in fact be reread as an effort to encapsulate lived visual experience.