Daemonic, mesmeric, parasitic: Dickens and Evelyn Waugh.

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It has long been recognised that there is a close relationship between the works of Charles Dickens and Evelyn Waugh, the most important English comic novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. This essay argues that this relationship should be seen not as a matter of literary borrowings by Waugh, nor in terms of loose analogies between their works, nor as an essentially Oedipal conflict. Their writings, I argue, act as both parasite and host to each other. Waugh’s writing is parasitic on Dickens’s, burrowing into it for names, allusions and narrative tropes. Through their incorporation into Waugh’s host texts, these in turn act as parasites that embed their own disturbing trajectories and associations within their new fictional homes. Waugh’s relationship to Dickens, a figure who is called in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold “the most daemonic of the masters”, is seen most powerfully in the forces of compulsive repetition, haunting and mesmerism that irrigate both that novel and A Handful of Dust. Such forces comprise, derange and invade many of Waugh’s texts and their shaping aesthetic and affective stances, and are particularly seen in moments of death, madness and wild laughter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-154
Number of pages19
JournalDickens Studies Annual
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2018

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