Gender and Madness in the Novels of Charles Dickens

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An attempt to re-read the construction of the mad female characters of Dickens’ novels. A main aim is to demonstrate how social rules and forces differentiate mental derangement gender-wise, as far as its causes and manifestations are concerned, within what could be called, in Dickens’ fiction, a general human tendency toward mental derangement. A further aim is to qualify Dickens’ reputation for misogynistic blindness and prejudice.


“[Professor] Marianne Camus’ terse study of Dickens’ madwomen bids fair to occupy a distinguished position among the studies of Dickens produced by French scholars. [Professor] Marianne Camus is more resolutely up-to-date than most of her French predecssors in her approach to literary criticism, as shown by her specific interest in gender…..[she] brilliantly demonstrates that the persons she considers as madwomen – or as madmen for that matter – are all in one way or another mentally unhinged…..” – (from the Preface) Sylvère Monod, Profeseur Honoraire, PARIS 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle

“This perceptive study by Professor Camus casts new light on Charles Dickens’ portrayal of female madness. Refusing to dismiss him, as other writers have done, as merely sexist, Professor Camus chooses to tackle the varying symptoms of mad male and female characters. Taking her cue from Foucault, she probes into the relation with history which distinguishes, for instance, Madame Defarge from Dr. Manette. Instead of merely using the Victorian model of the hysterical woman ruled by her womb, Dickens seems acutely aware of the limitations imposed on Woman by the society of his time….By laying emphasis both on Dickens’ hidden sensitivity to pain and on his simultaneous disapproval of female transgression, Professor Camus qualifies the accepted view of Dickens’ madwomen and makes them the locus of a challenging dialogic ambivalence.” – Professor Catherine Lanone, University of Toulouse 2, France

“In dealing with Dickens’ mad women and mad men, Dr. Camus takes an approach inspired by Foucault’s analyses of the attitudes of European societies towards madness through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What is more original is that this line of approach enables her to display a wealth of deep empathy and sharp perceptiveness towards characters who have usually stood or been seen by critics and readers in a negative light…..Dr. Camus is always unassumingly honest and natural in the way she proceeds from passionately held feminine concepts or convictions. She conducts novel, penetrating and illuminating analyses of characters and texts Dickens lovers have read over and over again, coming up with fresh understanding of a cast of characters who traditionally have stood under a dark cloud in the minds of most readers and critics.” – Professor Max Véga-Ritter, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations of the Titles of Dickens’ Novels
1. Introduction
2. Patterns of Madness
3. Public and Private Spheres
4. Madness Visible
5. The Discourse of Madwomen
6. Women, Power and Punishments
7. Conclusion

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