Date of Award
Master of Arts
Dickens often features orphans in his fiction, including at least one orphan in every novel. These orphans frequently serve as protagonists, garnering much critical attention; however, many of these orphans have at least one benefactor: an older man like Oliver Twist’s (1838) Mr. Brownlow who seemingly blesses the orphan with an adoptive family, a fellow impoverished sufferer like Bleak House’s (1853) Nemo, or even the orphan herself, like Bleak House’s Esther Summersonn. With the significant role of caring for Dickens’s many orphans, these benefactors warrant some critical attention, but the scholarly discussion is shockingly sparse. Most of the current discussion either only mentions these benefactors or characterizes them as “[dei] ex machina” (Smith 22). Bruce Robbins, one of the few scholars to examine benefactors closely in Great Expectations (1861) and Bleak House, even questions “why should the benefactors offer their assistance?” (Robbins 181).
Using this question as a platform for my analysis of benefactors in Oliver Twist and Bleak House, my first chapter defines the benefactor-beneficiary relationship to answer this question and to broaden the understanding of just what makes a benefactor in Oliver Twist. This includes analysis of the obvious generous benefactors, Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies, but also some characters most would hesitate to call benefactors due to their obligatory view of their relationship with Oliver. I then observe the stark differences between Dickens’s portrayal of successful generous benefactors in Oliver Twist with his portrayal of very unsuccessful ones in Bleak House, in which the more selfish benefactors prosper. My research seeks to broaden the discussion of these significant characters of Dickens novels and to provide examples of how this work could supplement the field.
Heim, Logan, "The Dickensian benefactor: Complication and change in Oliver Twist and Bleak House" (2018). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 17201.