'red-headed animal'

Race, Sexuality and Dickens's Uriah Heep

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 McGill University tmacdonald@uidaho.edu
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Criticism on Dickens and Jewish characterisations most often focuses on the way that Fagin, in Dickens's Oliver Twist (1837), draws from a long history of anti-Semitic representations. No critics have offered sustained arguments that connect Uriah Heep with anti-Semitic stereotypes. By doing so, I hope to broaden our understanding of the ways that Dickens's novels interact with nineteenth-century racial discourses, as well as the ways that these racial discourses interact with economic and sexual anxieties. My reading does not simply place Uriah within historical racial discourses, but examines the impact of his characterisation within the narrative itself, with specific emphasis on David's narrative voice. Although David calls attention to Uriah's unruly body in order to mark it as different, this very difference becomes, in the process, captivating to him. David is attracted to Uriah's oozing, uncontained body, which dramatically diverges from the English masculine ideal. Uriah's body is also presented as sexually threatening, a sentiment that is most fully realised in the danger he presents to Agnes's virginity. Jews, and indeed other 'foreign' bodies, were frequently associated with deviant sexualities in Victorian England, and in David Copperfield, Uriah exemplifies the way that foreign bodies were marked as sexually aberrant.

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