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Forbidden Words: Language Control and Victorian Political Correctness in Dickens and Carroll

Galia Benziman    The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel    



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.

16 Marzo 2022
01 Dicembre 2021
01 Maggio 2021

Keywords: Hard TimesPolitically correctAlice in WonderlandLewis CarrollCensorshipThrough the Looking GlassCharles DickensOffence

Copyright: © 2021 Galia Benziman. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.