This study explores the ways in which Dickens’s published work and his thousands of letters intersect, to shape and promote particular myths of the reading experience, as well as redefining the status of the writer. It shows that the boundaries between private and public writing are subject to constant disruption and readjustment, as recipients of letters are asked to see themselves as privileged readers of coded text or to appropriate novels as personal letters to themselves. Imaginative hierarchies are both questioned and ultimately reinforced, as prefaces and letters function to create a mythical reader who is placed in imaginative communion with the writer of the text. But the written word itself becomes increasingly unstable, through its association in the later novels with evasion, fraud and even murder.
Carolyn Oulton is Professor of Victorian Literature and Director of the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers (ICVWW) at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK.