What insights into literary realism can be found by dwelling in the empty rooms and abandoned spaces of Bleak House, a novel more often read for its representation of overcrowded environments? Traveling between and imaginatively inhabiting empty houses of Charles Dickens's and Virginia Woolf's construction, this article proposes empty-house-time as a distinctive narrative chronotope, one that nineteenth- and twentieth-century British writers use to investigate the processes of realist fiction, especially its affective dimensions. Taking the character-less built environment as a figure for the novel form, the article shows that the chromatic present that characterizes narratives of spaces like Chesney Wold when the Dedlocks are absent throws into flux boundaries between the fictional and the real, the reader and the world of the text, and different modes of imagining. It opens up continuums along which strategies of realist characterization and world-building are dramatized and interrogated. Most powerfully, empty-house-time reveals how affects associated with imagining the world going on without you shape encounters with fiction. Identifying the vital, ongoing existence of unoccupied rooms in Dickens's writing can in turn revitalize studies of the relationship between Victorian and modernist novels and theories of realism. This article concludes by turning to the Ramsays’ abandoned coastal home in To the Lighthouse, in which Woolf, like Dickens, links an interrogation of realist fictionality to a historically specific reimagining of the household.

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