Throughout this essay I am going to be selective in Bakhtin’s theory, not because it isn’t beneficial but because it is so detailed and compact. I intend to compare the chronotopes to the structure of Dickens’s novels, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Throughout I will extract quotations from the text but oftern I will make detail references as more than one quotation is needed. Bakhtin uses examples from Greek Romance novels to focus the theory on in order that I will have to drawn comparisons between the Greek romance and Dickens’s texts. The chronotope is imperative in a text as it defines the genre.
Bakhtin uses the term Chronotope to describe the ‘inseparability of space and time’1. It is the connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships which, in literature, are inseparable from each other and are continuously shape by emotions and morals. Constantly we structure our lives around times we have to be located in places, what time we are meeting and where. Time to us is order and something which subconsciously controls us, pushing us to meet its hours. This is the unchanged within a novel and Dickens’s narratives are realistic and follow chronological order.
However the author has control and subsequently events happen for perhaps for a reason at a certain time and place. When characters interact time thickens and become artistically visible whilst space becomes charged and responsive to the movement of time, plot and history. Each place and timed events add to the life of the heroic characters in both Dickens texts. Looking further into Bakhtin’s theory, to give us a greater understanding, he focuses on the three novelistic chronotopes, the ‘adventure novel of ordeal’, the ‘travel novel’ and the ‘adventure novel of everyday life’.
The plots of Greek Romance novels are all very similar to that of Dickens’s, composed of the same essentials that can be inter-changed, which links in well with Propp’s theory of Morphology, especially as Bakhtin keeps tracing the chronotopes back to ancient folklore. On the other hand Dickens’s characters do not correspond as well with Propp due to their complexity which means they fit into several of the devised functions. At a rather basic level, it is possible to fit the plot of Nicholas Nickleby into the structure of the Greek Romance, although one significant aspect crucial to the plot of the romance is the love story.
One slight problem with this is that in Nicholas Nickleby the “boy and girl”2, that being Nick and Madeline, do not meet until rather late on in the novel. According to Bakhtin all of the action in the Greek Romance is laid out between the first meeting of the boy and girl and their eventual marriage. However, when they do meet, as in Greek Romance, their passion remains the same for each other until their marriage and this becomes the ending like that of the Greek Romance. Oliver twist, however excludes romance and marriage for the central character.
Nevertheless, there is the aspect of growing relationship and love towards family which guides the plot and action from beginning to end. The marriage between Harry and Rose is not one where they fall head over heels on love but it portrays sympathy and outline class, which are ultimately the key struggles of Oliver, the major, heroic figure which shapes the narrative, therefore on a deeper level the love and marriage does outline the plot. Furthermore, the romance does follow established literary tradition and provides a centre of interest for bringing the book to a conclusion.
It can be said that the traditions, reader expectations and conventions structure the novel rather than specific events which Bakhtin explains. Looking further into novelistic Chronotopes, Time, in the adventure novel of ordeal, is displayed as “days, nights, hours, moments clocked in a technical sense within the limits of each separate adventure”3 this Bakhtin calls “adventure-time”4. This chronotope is almost true of Nicholas Nickleby as there are no specific times or dates mentioned but these are replaced by more abstract link words; ‘on the morning appointed for the commencement of her engagement with Madame Mantalini’5.
This is also true in Oliver Twist. Oliver is described to have “walked twenty miles that day,”6 and “When Oliver awoke in the morning”7. Time moves the narrative so the chronotope is the centre of organisation, but it is not definite and is more through suggestion. On the other hand Oliver Twist follows the aspect of times that the “adventure-time” defines with references like “It was eight o’clock now. Though he was nearly five miles away from the town, he ran, and hid behind the hedges, by turns, till noon”8 Time depicts Oliver’s long, painful journey hence creating sympathy for the key character.
The chronotopes even build the characters, which in Dickens’s text is essential to the organisation of the plot. However, in the adventure novel of ordeal there are “no indications of historical time, no identifying traces of the era,”9 which is not true of Dickens. The novelistic chronotope acts as a microcosm of the society it describes and therefore, it changes as society does. Certain things in Dickens’s descriptions do suggest a time period of Victorian England, for example; ‘casement’10 and ‘carriage’11, which Dickens would have written unconsciously.
London is crucial place in both novels and the conditions, expectations and atmosphere of the city within the period are exemplified. “Victorian London was the largest, most spectacular city in the world. While Britain was experiencing the Industrial Revolution, its capital was both reaping the benefits and suffering the consequences. “12 This also disputes the Greek adventure-time because Bakhtin claims that it “lacks any natural, everyday cyclicity”13 Furthermore, it is difficult for writers to escape their life, ideologies and experiences, in order that the text it built on their era, highlighted above.
Dickens reacted to both this historical backdrop and his own life’s story by using his novels to point out and criticize the social problems of the day. One of the events of Dickens’ life that really impacted him and his work was the navy’s move of Charles’ Dickens’ father back to London where they encounter debt and ended in all living in prison, common in the Victorian period. Hence, in both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens focuses on prisons, criminals, and justice. Dickens also portrayed his life through his characters, “His mother was Elizabeth (later Charles used her to form the character of Mrs.
Nickleby) and his father was John Dickens (whom Charles depicted as Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield”). “14. This goes against Bakhtin, and argues that the author, his attitude and encounters organise and build the narrative, although it is the “space and time” of Dickens’ life which supports his above, questioning statement. Greek Romance novels were actually quite short, which we all know Dickens’ aren’t, but according to Bakhtin the ‘adventure novel of ordeal’ could actually have an countless succession of adventures.
There is no real specific time scheme, therefore the adventures are not tied down. Both novels could easily be twice as long by simply adding in extra adventures for Nicholas and happenings within Fagan’s gang to Oliver. Here the chronotope does construct the text because it follows its need and ideas without limitations. Bakhtin notes that one of the most important factors in these novels is Random Contingency, where moments are “controlled by chance”. These moments are given the name: “Chance time” 15, a time when supernatural forces play a part in the hero’s life like gods or demons.
In “chance time” it is the supernatural forces that encourage the heroes to act, making the hero rather passive. Chance time does not appear in Nicholas Nickleby or Oliver Twist, as they are realist novels but it would have played a big role in folklore. Although the above aspect of the Chronotope doesn’t connect to the texts, looking from a deeper perspective into Bakhtin’s idea of “chance time”, chance brings with it a number of chronotopic motifs such as “meeting/parting and search/discovery”16, which assist to make up the action, hence the root of organisation.
Baktin supports this by highlighting the motif of meeting is “one of the most ancient devices for structuring”17 Meeting is a very important factor in both Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist. Without Nicholas and Oliver meeting all of the individuals, that they do to either assist or detract them from their means, the story would be rather insignificant and Nicholas might not have achieved his goals whilst Oliver may not have been acquainted with his family. It is only through Fagin’s gang and their mishaps that they meet, “I am not sure that this boy actually took the handkerchief.
I — I would rather not press the case. “18 Furthermore Prop’s theory is largely, if not the entirely, structured upon the encounter of the characters. He argues that the functions, the characters and their associated roles, make up the “basic elements of the narrative”19. Hence, both theories highlight the significance of meeting to the structuring of the novel. However Prop questions the idea of chance. It may appear this way to the reader, but the narrative follows a clear direction in certain functions, such as “Mediation.
Misfortune or lack is made known; the hero is approached, requested or commanded” which outlines the chance of what is going to happen is already fixed. Furthermore, Bakhtin claims that the motif of meeting is not an isolated device, there has to be a specific time and place for the meeting to occur. In Greek Romance places are all abstract but in Nicholas Nickleby, and to some extent Oliver Twist, Dickens always states the geographical location of the action.
These geographical regions actually come to represent certain chronotopes. According to Bakhtin it is still random contingency that determines the action rather than the hero therefore, in order for this to work there needs to be an “abstract connection between space and time”20 as “any concretisation would limit the absolute power of chance”21 This is where the chronotope of the road plays such a import aspect; as on the road the hero can meet anyone at any time.
All social barriers are broken down; it is on the road that Nicholas is able to confront Mulberry Hawk and Oliver encounters a strange sort of young gentleman, “better known by the sobriquet of “The artful Dodger,””22 In Greek Romance the world described is alien to the hero, a place far away, much like London is to Oliver and Nicholas, in Dickens novels. This gives the author the chance to describe in detail all that the hero encounters. Oliver observes “wondering at the great number of public-houses (every other house in Barnet was a tavern, large or small), gazing listlessly at the coaches as they passed through, and thinking… 23. Whilst Nicholas examines “Some London houses have a melancholy little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four high whitewashed walls… “24 Therefore it can be said that Chronotopes ‘shape the narrative’ Nevertheless the hero of Greek Romance is not governed by anything in his alien world so he can only be affected by random contingency. On the other hand, Nicholas has got family ties and these are the reason for his journey in the first place. Oliver is governed by his morals and the society that surrounds him. He is continuously concerned with the representation to others.
Both Oliver and Nicholas are much more active hero than that of the Greek Romance and are therefore not solely affected by random contingency. Another novelistic Chronotope that Bakhtin considers is the travel novel. Here the hero “is the public and political man of ancient times, a man governed by his socio-political, philosophical and utopian interests”25 which is how a modern reader could see Nicholas. In the travel novel the hero’s journey shapes the chronological sequence and is relied upon to organise the time scheme, such is the time structure in Nicholas Nickleby.
In this type of novel though the hero is still passive, he does not take the initiative and act, things merely happen to him; fate controls his life. Dickens suggests in both novels that the lives of people of all positions may become intertwined. Nobody is safe from being influenced by the actions of others, possibly even complete strangers. Nevertheless, although Nicholas does meet many people along his journey, he tends to have some type of control and direction in his life and makes affirmative decisions; Newman describes him to “have some deep scheme in your head”26.
This course of the travel novel is more the path that Oliver takes. He has no aim in his journey other than to escape the cruel insults of Noah. It ironic that the abuse is about his mother, which begins his journey considering this confusion connected to his mother becomes the root of his journey and finally provokes a happy ending. Furthermore this relates with the family ties that Nicholas has, and goes against the Greek romantic hero. Here it suggests that Bakhtin’s theory does actually shape and direct the novel in certain aspects of the novel but occasionally the theory has to be stretched to make connection.
Another organisational device that is used in Greek Romance is ‘the trial’. Within Oliver Twist, the hero is actually put on trial for stealing. Oliver’s experience in the courtroom highlights the precarious position of the poor in the eyes of the law, which again conveys that the chronotopes portrays key themes within the text and therefore shape it. Although Nicholas Nickleby does not physically be put on trail, there are many occasions when Nicholas is tested in the novel, for example: working for Wackford Squeers and Madeline almost having to marry Gride.
This device prolongs the adventures and builds suspense. This suspense is additionally present in Oliver Twist. The reader turns the pages of each novel not knowing what to expect, in order that the travel novel could be said to build the narrative. We have considered how Dickens’s texts fit into the novelistic chronotopes but the one that is best fitted to Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist is Bakhtin’s description of Adventure Novel of Everyday Life. Here there is a mixture of ‘adventure-time’ with ‘everyday time’.
The important part of the novel is the action that takes place between the beginning and end points of the novel, an idea that Prince shares. The novel is concerned with the “metamorphosis”27 of the hero during his route of travel, a method that has been passed down from folklore. In this chronotope the important motifs are: transformation and identity. Bakhtin comprehends this as a “method of portraying the whole of an individual’s life in its more important moments of crisis: for showing how an individual becomes other than what he was”28.
This idea of structuring is what is applied in Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist and is a prime example of how the chronotopes develop the narrative. We are given snippets of each of their lives that have been placed together in a temporal sequence. Dickens’s highlights salient instances which cause change, emotion and above all tension and entertainment for the reader. In this form, the plot is based on the “askesis” or the “purification through the suffering”29 of the hero as he metamorphoses from sinner to saint.
Looking further into the texts, Nicholas may not have sinned but Ralph has and it is Nicholas who has to make up for it and pay the consequences. He is hit with a crisis situation and has to evolve as a man in order to provide a better life for his family. Oliver is merely an offender, he asks for “more”, runs away and is forced to steal but we, the reader, see cause for his actions and sympathise, passing judgement on those who cause his anguish, rather than considering him in the wrong. A sinner is definitely not a quality we perceive or is theorised in Prop’s hero.
In this type of novel the hero is much more active and his life is based around the sequence of: Guilt, Punishment, Redemption and Blessedness. You could fit both Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist into these stages. At the beginning of the novel Nicholas feels guilty because he cannot provide for his family. There is also an aspect of guilt in the opening of Oliver Twist. The young woman who gives birth experiences guilt as she feels she can not provide for her child. At the sound of her child’s voice, the mother murmurs faintly, “Let me see the child and die. 30.
In addition we learn that she bears the guilt of disappointment and betray towards her father. Looking at the next stage punishment, Nicholas and Oliver are constantly punished during their long and hard struggle to establish themselves. They both experience difficult lives until they are saved by the help of others. This introduces the stage of redemption. Nicholas is salvaged from the clutches of Ralph by the Cheeyble brothers where he establishes himself and gains self respect and is additionally able to support and also rescue his family.
Oliver is released from his life of struggle and abuse by Mr Brownlow providing him with a home, security and above all love. Additionally Nancy helps him escape from Fagin and Bill. Each of these characters serves as the function of the Donor whose role is to help the hero in some way. Again the characters functions assist to structure the novel. Finally Nicholas is blessed with the marriage of himself and Madeline and a new promising life for all his family whilst Oliver enters a new secure family and life. Each novel ends with the convention happy ending of resolution.
Furthermore, as Bakhtin says, metamorphosis is a much more legitimate way “to express some of the more critical and realistic characteristics of time”31 Everyday time is present in this form of novel and is represented through the hero’s path of life. This causes us to revert back to reflecting about the chronotope of the road, especially of the road as a metaphor for life. Nicholas sets out from his birthplace as a youth and returns there at the end of the novel as a man. Within Oliver it is more an experience and change in lifestyle rather than an advance in maturity.
The chronotope of the road is much more concrete than the abstract wanderings of the hero in Greek Romance and therefore permits “everyday life to be realized within it”32. Looking further into Bakhtin’s work, the final section of Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel, introduces The Idyllic Chronotope. Here Bakhtin presents us with an idyllic model for the return of what he calls the ancient complex and folkloric time. In total agreement with the question Bakhtin expresses the “enormous” significance that the idyll has had on the development of the novel.
He believes that its ‘importance as an underlying image has not been understood and appreciated to this day’33 leading, therefore perspectives on the history of the novel to have been distorted. Moreover, the narrative also undergoes changes, in the idyll there are no heroes alien to the idyllic world, whereas in the provincial novel there appears to be heroes who have broken away from the unity of locale and set off into the city, in both texts London, either to die or to return to the place of protection where the family is situated.
Both Nicholas and Oliver return to their family in a state of happiness and settlement yet Oliver remains in London whilst Nicholas returns to the initial place of happiness, Devon. Furthermore, Bakhtin suggests the individual life sequences are isolated and gain learning, healing and wisdom through contact with nature and those outside the boundaries of their culture. This is true of both heroic characters, but they do not necessary have a connection to nature but definitely others outside what they know.
It is due to these alterations in the characters lives, the limitations of the provincial form are avoided as there are no attempts to preserve the “dying remnants of a patriarchal world”34, instead using it as a norm for criticising the current state of society. As highlighted this is a key motif of Dickens. When looking at Bakhtin’s distinctive features of the family novel, another influence of the idyll on the novel of modern times, it is like reading a Dickens novel without mention of any characters.
Bakhtin simply lists his ideas of: how importance is placed on the stable family and material goods belonging to the hero, * how they overcome the element of chance, * how they create fundamental and family connections and * in the end how they limit their world to well-defined place and group of friends/relatives. * how in the beginning they are often homeless with no relatives or proper support, * how they wonder through an alien world with alien people, encounter both misfortune and success and meet with people who, for reasons unknown at the time, turn out to be enemies and/or benefactors.
Bahktin sums up by saying, “The novel’s movement takes the main hero (or heroes) out of the great but alien world of random occurrence into the small but secure and stable little world of the family… where the ancient matrices are re-established… ’35 It is interesting to note the phrase “the novel’s movement”, suggesting no author or narrative input. All these points exist in both Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist and don’t even have to be altered to as a great deal of the other chronotopes do, which portays the chronotopes are the organising points of the narrative.
For example in Nicholas Nickleby, Nicholas begins homeless and although he has relative in Kate, his mother and uncle, he has no means of proper support. After being sent off by Ralph, Nicholas does indeed encounter both misfortune, at the hands of Squeers, and Success, with the theatre and eventually with the cheeryble brothers. Additionally he creates fundamental and family connections, again the cheeryble brothers and Madeline. He is, as Bakhtin states, taken out of the alien world and placed into the small stable world of family.
To conclude, the examples I have given clearly portray that Bakhtin’s theory of the chronotope fits not only into the Greek Romance novel but to the texts of Dickens highlighting that to a certain extent the chronotopes do shape the narratives. Nevertheless at times I had to be selective in the text and pull the text to fit into the theory. This shows that it has an impact on the formation of the narrative but it doesn’t necessary, especially with such determination as “it can be said without qualification”, organise and create the meanings.
As highlighted it can be considered that it is the tradition, expectations and the author’s background that influences the texts. Nevertheless the author’s ideas are portrayed through the characters and themes and I have clearly conveyed how the chronotopes can shape these with the texts. Overall, I believe that a text in organised and shaped by a number of aspects, certainly one of these is Bakhtin’s chronotopes, but I am not entity sure that they can stand alone. It appears that you can argue that it does but often there is an opposing argument.