Sukanya Banerjee, “Writing Bureaucracy, Bureaucratic Writing: Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, and Mid-Victorian Liberalism” (pp. 133–158)

In its famed representation of the Circumlocution Office, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1857) is widely recognized as satirizing bureaucracy. Arguing instead that the novel proffers a more nuanced perspective on bureaucracy, this essay situates Dickens’s depiction of the Circumlocution Office amid mid-Victorian debates on liberalism. More specifically, the essay makes note of the tension between ascendant ideals of representative government and the acknowledged importance of a nonelected but competent bureaucracy. Dickens’s mediation of this tension, the essay argues, not only informs his representation of the Circumlocution Office but also accounts for the novel’s subdued tone and characterization, which the essay reads as ambivalence. But in reading the novel’s depiction of bureaucracy through the lens of ambivalence, the essay is also alert to Dickens’s bureaucratic method of writing Little Dorrit itself. The bureaucratic writing of the novel, the essay suggests, opens up the possibility not only of rethinking the role and place of bureaucracy but also of the boundaries between bureaucratic and literary sensibilities as well.

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