Nature, Victorian Literature, Dickens, Eco-criticism, Environment, Colonialism
Charles Dickens is most famous for writing about urban spaces and environments such as the city of London. However, as Joseph Carroll points out, there are numerous "prominent British depictions of wild nature" and these depictions of nature find their way into the "cultivated tracts of British domestic fiction" (305). It is this relationship, between the cultivated and uncultivated wilderness that Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins touch upon in their collaborative 1857 Christmas novella, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, and Their Treasure in Women, Children, Silver, and Jewels. Collins and Dickens explore the relationship between humans and nature as they tell the dynamic story of how the English prisoners and the pirates interact with each other and with their environment. The story of Perils, which takes place on the colonized island of Silver-Store, just off of the Mosquito coast, provides a lot of opportunity for Dickens and Collins to tell the story of the "certain English prisoners" with what John Miller calls an "colonial-ecological gesture" in their novella (484). This "colonial-ecological gesture" is indicative that Dickens and Collins are intentional in how they create relationships in Peril between nature and facets of colonialism. Additionally, Troy Boone reasons that because Dickens was mainly an "urban novelist", we might have a tendency to focus on the social aspects of his writings; instead of focusing on just the character or setting, Boone maintains that an "inhabitants-in-environment" is the best way to analyze a Dickens novel so that each aspect is just as important as the other. Looking at The Perils with the mindset that Dickens and Collins write this novel with the environment in mind, and considering that the English prisoners and other characters are the "inhabitants" makes it easy to see the effects of nature throughout the novella. Specifically, Dickens and Collins present the idea of success being linked to subduing or conquering nature in Perils, a nineteenth-century novella because we see the pirates and the English prisoners as Victorians doing what Victorians do: conquering and colonizing the island of Silver-Store. But if we look closely, Perils suggests that in order to be successful, the prisoners actually have to succumb to nature. This suggests that Perils is calling into question the effectiveness of the colonialist mindset of conquering nature.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Christensen, Madeline, "English Prisoners in their Unnatural Habitat: Conquering Nature in The Perils of Certain English Prisoners by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens" (2019). Student Works. 273.