While grief is often described as an interpersonal and productive affect, this article reads Charles Dickens’s serialized narrative The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41) to argue that grief is an impersonal affect. The seriality of the novel figures grief with unique power, especially when read in its immediate context of Master Humphrey’s Clock, a weekly periodical. The text’s repetition of stylistic elements, the composition and placement of woodcut images, and the enforced interruptions of the serial form introduce pauses, or moments of arrested time, into the movement of the narrative temporality that give form to grief as an impersonal affect in contrast to the sentimentality and interpersonal relationality through which the text is often read. The last part of the article advocates for a turn from the nonrelationality of the antisocial thesis in queer theory to a theory of impersonal affect as it is figured in aesthetic and social forms.
Impersonal Grief: Charles Dickens and Serial Forms of Affect
william lee hughes is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis, where he is finishing his dissertation, “Serial Feelings: Forms of Affect in Victorian Literature,” which explores the relationship between affect and print media. His work has appeared in Conradiana: A Journal of Joseph Conrad Studies and Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature. He is currently researching the serialization of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim in McClure’s Magazine.