Forbidden words: Language control and Victorian political correctness in Dickens and Carroll

Galia Benziman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines Charles Dickens’s and Lewis Carroll’s representations of mechanisms of control over people’s – especially young people’s – language, imagina-tion, and minds. Moralistic on the one hand, political on the other hand, Victorian patterns of censorship and self-censorship are reflected, critiqued, and satirised by Dickens in various stages of his career, and are related in his work to artistic creativity, language and the imagination. He attacks the utilitarian resistance to fairy tale and especially Maria Edgeworth’s manifesto on the usefulness and uselessness of various genres of children’s literature, and criticizes George Cruikshank’s revisionist project of furthering certain social doctrines, mainly teetotalism, by interpolating moralistic messages into famous fairy tales. Much of this preoccupation is followed up in Carroll’s Alice books. For both, I argue, these didactic revisions are related to patterns of language control, banned words, and euphemisms that they repeatedly probe and parody in their fiction. My essay will examine the representation of language control, self-censorship and verbal training in terms of an early, Victorian-era politically-correct discourse; I will ask what, if at all, Dickens and Carroll’s treatment of these issues may contribute to the current debate surrounding our own politically-correct culture.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)135-150
Number of pages16
JournalEnglish Literature
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Edizioni Ca' Foscari. All rights reserved.


  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Censorship
  • Charles Dickens
  • Hard Times
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Offence
  • Politically correct
  • Through the Looking Glass


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