Date of Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
Dickens, Tolstoy, Carlyle, Rousseau, violence, edification
This Thesis argues that violence is essential to the structures and plots of Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities and of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and is particularly essential to the edification, or the moral and intellectual improvement, of principal characters in these four novels. Additionally, this Thesis contends that this edification is both anticipated and reinforced by the novelists’ incorporation of counterparts whose demeanor and/or narrative overtly mirror that of the principal characters.
To support this argument, I bring the theory of Thomas Carlyle into conversation with the novels of Dickens to illuminate Dickens's perceptions of heroism and hero-worship, and how these perceptions influence the plot and characters of his novels. Specifically, I argue that Dickens shapes his edified characters to align with Carlyle's delineation of sincere heroes, rejects Carlyle's belief in the boundlessness and thoughtlessness of hero-worship, and engages with his interest in the heroic psyche to effectively underscore the moral and intellectual enlightenment of both Barnaby Rudge of Barnaby Rudge and Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities.
Additionally, I bring the theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau into conversation with Tolstoy to illustrate how the relationships between society and war and between virtue and the soldierly profession function within his novels. Particularly, I argue that societal forces compel Prince Andrey Bolkonsky and Count Pierre Bezukhov of War and Peace, as well as Alexei Vronsky of Anna Karenina, to become soldiers. Additionally, I contend that Tolstoy portrays the martial profession in a virtuous light in order to foreshadow the edification of Andrey and Pierre, who are morally and intellectually improved in character after entering the world of war, as well as the non-edification of Alexei Vronsky, who eschews the war effort in order to pursue a hedonistic affair with the married Anna Karenina.
In writing this Thesis, I seek to eviscerate commonly shared notions of violence as a concept that carries solely negative connotations, or as a tool injected into novels for superficial or simplistic reasons. In rejecting these notions, I not only substantiate the complexity of the function of violence in fiction, but also the life-affirming spirit of the novels that I have chosen to analyze.
Fassett, Caroline, "Violence and Edification in 19th Century Fiction: An Analysis of the Novels of Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy" (2017). Honors Theses. 429.