“I am rather strong on Voyages and Cannibalism”: The other Dickens and other Victorians in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting

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Abstract

This paper analyses Richard Flanagan’s novel Wanting (2008) as a narrative informed by a revisionary and critical attitude to nineteenth-century ideologies, which is common to, and, indeed, stereotypical in much neo-Victorian fiction. Drawing on the biographies of two eminent Victorians: Charles Dickens and Sir John Franklin, Flanagan constructs their fictional counterparts as split between a respectable, public persona and a dark, inner self. While all the Victorian characters are represented as “other” than their public image, the focus in the novel, and in this paper, is on Dickens’s struggle to reconcile social propriety with his personal discontent. Flanagan represents this conflict through Dickens’s response to the allegations that starving survivors of Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition resorted to cannibalism. The zeal with which the Victorian writer refuted such reports reveals his own difficulty in living up to social and moral norms. The paper argues that the main link between the different narrative strands in the novel is the challenge they collectively pose to the distinction between the notions of civilization and savagery.

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