Maria Cristina Paganoni
Though the double can boast a remarkable mythic, religious and artistic ancestry, its cultural relevance increases in times of profound epistemic changes. Nineteenth-century culture invested it with new signification, so that it became a multi-accentual sign of the deepest conflicts of the age. On the one hand, it expressed the plight of post-Romantic subjectivity, torn between a lost organic relationship with nature and subsequent nostalgia and challenged by the decline of communal life and the onslaught of capitalism; on the other hand it emblematised the pressure of the strict interdicts of a self-righteous and hypocritical age on the individual and collective unconscious. In this way the double paradigm dramatised new narratives about the self that paved the way to the breakthrough of psychoanalysis.
Little Dorrit is intrinsically a 'double' narrative as a whole, since its quiet happy ending leaves unanswered the many questions raised by a far-ranging representation of Victorianism which is anything but complacent. It is a text that unseals an imaginative repertoire capable of voicing criticisms and verbalising emotions that would not otherwise find an outlet, given their unsuitability with the outspoken values of the Victorian symbolic order. Here, as elsewhere in Dickens's disruptive narratives, Victorianism is exposed as an ideological fiction whose irretrievable contradictions are concealed behind a mask of moralising ethics, rationality and triumphant optimism. A reversed mirror image of the Victorian world, Dickensian representation of it underlines the age's ambiguous self-perception and its most dysfunctional traits, its corruption, melancholy and pessimistic feelings of decadence and decline.
This mixture of ambivalent emotions accounts for the heterogeneity of moods that pervade Dickens's work &endash; irresistible comicality, biting satire, pervasive irony down to metaphysical gloom &endash; and, consequently, its different registers. Comicality and even satire, through which Dickens unleashes his mordacity against the ills of his age &endash; above all, duplicity, are intellectual attitudes that scrutinise contradictions as objects of criticism external to the self. They produce a brilliantly entertaining, even aggressive prose that employs Bachtinian heteroglossia with devastating irony.
As for the gloomy notes of Dickens's fiction that coexist with unbound comicality in the same texts, psychoanalysis has shown that laughter and anguish are separated only by a thin boundary, which is easily crossed whenever the power of rationality is withheld and with it the self's imagined mastery over its experiences. Loss of control and apparently indecipherable signs are typical of dreams and, in fact, it is significant to observe how several parts of Dickens's writings are imbued with an oneiric quality that confers a sense of estrangement to what could otherwise be considered rational and objective if regarded in a different light. Finally, when the voyage into the night discloses uncanny revelations that the self is no longer able to contain, madness appears as a lucid attempt to tackle with despair. The schizoid self, another quite frequent Dickensian double, is a personality unable to live with its own lacerations.
By the use of doubling patterns and of a wide set of discursive techniques such as the polyphonic juxtaposition of voices, irony, de-familiarising symbolism and estranging tropes, Dickens's rhetoric mobilises novelistic conventions and stylistic registers, subverting linguistic as well as cognitive expectations. Though the widening of experience is true of language in general, and of literary language in particular, it is nevertheless a fact that the writer's twisting of the novel format and critical reading of Victorianism strike the reader as being particularly defiant of literary and cultural conventions.