chapter  9
26 Pages

Victorian Materials and Rubbish Theory

Charles Dickens and the Recycling of Society in Our Mutual Friend
ByChung-jen Chen

Chapter 9 tries to assess the role of Victorian rubbish in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. It examines the wider social and medical context in which the world’s first modern system of recycling was launched and the schisms between social groups it established and disturbed. By revealing the possible value of rubbish, recycling offers the possibility of recognizing the incompleteness of the symbolic order of sanitation, health, and morality. Further, I contend that rubbish, as a social and cultural construct, did not entirely equate to detestation, abhorrence, and rejection but could also appraise a variety of factors that determined the utility of waste. Rubbish was a covert category subject to the control mechanism of health surveillance, in the self-reflexive circuit of recycling from an object of abhorrence into one of utility.