This article argues that old men and aging raised a central problem for Charles Dickens's literary project: the novel's difficulty of representing temporal continuity over long spans of time. For the old man, the meaningful plots of the nineteenth century—such as the bildungsroman or the marriage plot—are behind him. An object of little narrative interest from the perspective of these plots, the old man is continually activated in Dickens's novels, setting up a competition between the natural death he staves off and the closure of the narrative in which he is enmeshed. By examining three of Dickens's early novels—The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44), and A Christmas Carol (1843)—this article shows how old men are excluded from the youthful plot of development that served as a narrative means of understanding the bewildering progress of a modernizing society. No longer the subject of the plot and yet bound by the pressures of ambition, the elderly male engages in a narrative compulsion that underlines the tremendous imaginative power of what has been left behind by both the realist novel and the modernity it represents. By doing so, the old man serves as the site through which Dickens addresses an impasse of the novel form, where its duration is marked by its inability to faithfully represent the texture of passing time.
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Jacob Jewusiak; No Plots for Old Men. Novel 1 August 2013; 46 (2): 193–213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2088103
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