Forbidden Words: Language Control and Victorian Political Correctness in Dickens and Carroll
This article examines Charles Dickens’s and Lewis Carroll’s representations of mechanisms of control over people’s – especially young people’s – language, imagination, and minds. Moralistic on the one hand, political on the other hand, Victorian patterns of censorship and self-censorship are reflected, critiqued, and satirised by Dickens in various stages of his career, and are related in his work to artistic creativity, language and the imagination. He attacks the utilitarian resistance to fairy tale and especially Maria Edgeworth’s manifesto on the usefulness and uselessness of various genres of children’s literature, and criticizes George Cruikshank’s revisionist project of furthering certain social doctrines, mainly teetotalism, by interpolating moralistic messages into famous fairy tales. Much of this preoccupation is followed up in Carroll’s Alice books. For both, I argue, these didactic revisions are related to patterns of language control, banned words, and euphemisms that they repeatedly probe and parody in their fiction. My essay will examine the representation of language control, self-censorship and verbal training in terms of an early, Victorian-era politically-correct discourse; I will ask what, if at all, Dickens and Carroll’s treatment of these issues may contribute to the current debate surrounding our own politically-correct culture.