Vanity Fea

Charles Dickens

jueves, 15 de noviembre de 2012

Charles Dickens

(From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble)

Charles John Huffham Dickens (1812-70), born in Portsmouth, the son of a clerk in the Navy pay office. He spent the happiest period of his boyhood in Chatham; this was followed by a period of intense misery which deeply affected him, during which his father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea and he himself (aged 12) worked in a blacking warehouse. Memories of this painful period inspired much of his fiction, notably the early chapters of David Copperfield. He then worked as an office boy: studied shorthand, and became reporter of debates in the Commons for the Morning Chronicle. He contributed to the Monthly Magazine (1833-5), to the Evening Chronicle (1835), and to other periodicals the articles subsequently republished as Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People (1836-7); these attracted much attention and led to an approach from Chapman and Hall which resulted in the creation of Mr. Pickwick, and the publication in 20 monthly numbers (beginning April 1836) of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, published in volume form in 1837, when Dickens was only 25 years old. After a slow start the series achieved immense popularity, and Dickens, with his young wife Catherine Hogarth, embarked on a promising future, courted by publishers, admired by the public, and befriended by celebrities. On Christmas Day 1836 he met John Forster, who became his close friend and biographer.

In 1837 (a year overshadowed by the death of his much-loved sister-in-law Mary) Oliver Twist began to appear in monthly numbers in Bentley's Miscellany, a new periodical of which Dickens was the first editor. It was followed by Nicholas Nickleby, also in monthly numbers. In 1840 a new weekly was launched, written wholly by Dickens, called Master Humphrey's Clock; it was originally intended to carry short sketches as well as instalments of the full-length novels The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1) and his long-deliberated Barnaby Rudge (1841), but the novels proved so popular that the linking by 'Master Humphrey' was dropped. In 1842 he and his wife visited America, where he was rapturously received. His first impressions were favourable, but disillusion followed and his American Notes (1842) caused much offence in America, as did his portrayal of American stereotypes in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4). While in America he advocated international copyright and the abolition of slavery.

The sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were disappointing, but the demands of the public and his own growing family were met by the success of A Christmas Carol (1843), the first of a series of Christmas books (The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man), works described by him as 'a whimsical sort of masque intended to awaken loving and forebearing thoughts'. In 1844 he paid a long visit to Italy, which produced Pictures from Italy contributed to the Daily News, a new radical paper founded by Dickens in 1846 and briefly edited by him. He began Dombey and Son (1848) during a visit to Switzerland in 1846. In 1850 he started the weekly periodical Household Words, which he continued to edit until his death. In this he published much of his later writings, including the Christmas stories that replaced the Christmas books. David Copperfield appeared in monthly numbers in 1849-50; Bleak House in 1852-3; and A Child's History of England (a work which manifests his own historical bias: his heroes were Alfred and Cromwell) appeared irregularly in 1851-3. Hard Times appeared in 1854. Little Dorrit in 1855-7, A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, Great Expectations in 1860-1, and Our Mutual Friend in 1864-5.

During these years of intense productivity he also find time for his large family, for a vast circle of friends, aand for philantropic enterprises, at times combined with his passion for amateur theatricals; it was a fund-raising performance of Wilkie Collins's The Frozen Deep in 1857, in aid of Jerrold's family, that introduced him to the young actress Ellen Ternan. His admiration for her further strained his deteriorating relationship with his wife, and he and Catherine separated in 1858. He defied scandal, protested his own innocence (and that of his sister-in-law Georgina, for many years his devoted housekeeper, whose name gossip had also linked with his), and continued to appear in public, distracting himself from domestic sorrow by throwing his restless energy into public readings of his own works. These, though immensely successful, were physically and emotionally exhausting. He revisited America in 1867-8, delivered a series of readins there, and on his return continued to tour the provinces. He died suddenly in 1870, leaving unfinished his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.dickens

Dickens captured the popular imagination as no other novelist had done and, despite some murmurs against his sensationalism and sentimentality and his inability to portray women other than as innocents or grotesques, he was also held in high critical esteem, admired by contemporaries as varied as Queen Victoria and Dostoevsky. But it was no until [the twentieth] century that he began to attract serious academic attention; see in particular G. Orwell, 'Charles Dickens'  in Inside the Whale (1940), H. House, The Dickens World (1941), and E. Wilson, 'Dickens: The Two Scrooges' (1941). Later criticism has tended to praise the complexity of the sombre late works at the expense of the high-spirited humour and genius for caricature traditionally labelled 'Dickensian'. Mention should also be made of the series of distinguished illustrators inseparably connected with his work, which includes H. K. Browne ('Phiz'), Leech, Cruikshank, G. Cattermole, and S. L. Fildes; also of his collaboration with Wilkie Collins in various stories which appeared in Household Words.

J. Forster, The Life of Dickens (1872-4); Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952); G. H. Ford, Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism since 1836 (1955); P. A. W. Collins, Dickens and Crime (1962); P. Collins (ed.), Dickens: The Critical Heritage (1971). A collected edition of Dickens's c. 14,000 letters, instigated by Humphry House, was published under the general editorship of Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson, vols. i-xi (1965-99), vol. xii (2001).


Some works:

Pickwick Papers (The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club), a novel by Dickens, first issued in 20 monthly parts Apr. 1836-Nov. 1837, and as a volume in 1837 (when Dickens was only 25 years old).

Mr Samuel Pickwick, general chairman of the Pickwick Club which he has founded, Messrs Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass, and Nathaniel Winkle, members of the club, are constituted a Corresponding Society of the Club to report to it their journeys and adventures, and observations of characters and manners. This is the basis on which the novel is constructed, and the Club serves to link a series of detached incidents and changing characters, without elaborate plot. The entertaining adventures with which Mr Pickwick and his associates meet are interspersed with incidental tales contributed by various characters. The principal elements in the story are: (1) the visit of Pickwick and his firends to Rochester and their falling in with the specious rascal Jingle, who gets Winkle involved in the prospect of a duel (fortunately averted). (2) The visit to Dingley Dell, the home of the hospitable Mr Wardle, the elopement of Jingle with Wardle's sister, their pursuit by Wardle and Pickwick, and the recovery of the lady; followed by the engagement of Sam Weller as Picwick's servant. (3) The visit to Eatanswill, where a parliamentary election is in progress, and Mr. Pickwick makes the acquaintance of Pott, editor of a political newspaper, and Mrs Leo Hunter. (4) The visit to Bury St Edmunds, where Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller are fooled by Jingle and his servant Job Trotter. (5) The pursuit of Jingle to Ipswich, where Mr Pickwick inadvertently enters the bedroom of a middle-aged lady at nigh; is in consequence involved in a quarrel with Mr Peter Magnus, her admirer; is brought before Mr Nupkins, the magistrate, on a charge of intending to fight a duel; and obtains his release on exposing the nefarious designs of Jingle on Nupkins's daughter. (6) The Christmas festivities at Dingley Dell. (7) The misapprehensions of Mrs. Bardell, Mr Pickwick's landlady, regarding her lodger's intentions, which lead to the famous action of Bardell v. Pickwick for breach of promise of marriage, in which judgement is given for the plaintiff, with damages £750. (8) The visit to Bath, in which Winkle figures prominently, firs in the adventure with the blustering Dowler, and secondly in hiis courtship of Arabella Allen. (9) The period of Mr Pickwick's imprisonment in the Fleet in consequence of his refusal to pay the damages and costs of his action; and the discovery by Jingle and Job Trotter in that prison, and their relief by Mr Pickwick. (10) The affairs of Tony Weller (Sam's father) and the second Mrs Weller, ending in the death of the latter and the discomfiture of the pious humbug and greedy drunkard Stiggins, deputy shepherd in the Ebenezer Temperance Association. (11) The affairs of Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen, medical students and subsequently struggling practitioners. The novel ends with the happy marriage of Emily Wardle and Augustus Snodgrass.

Nicholas Nickleby, a novel by Dickens, published 1838-9.

Nicholas, a generous, high-spirited lad of 19, his mother, and his gentle sister Kate are left penniless on the death of his father. They appeal for assistance to his uncle, Ralph Nickleby, a griping usurer, of whom Nicholas at once makes an enemy by his independent bearing. He is sent as usher to Dotheboys Hall, where Wackford Squeers starves and maltreats 40 urchins under pretence of education. His special cruelty is expended on Smike, a half-witted lad left on his hands and employed as a drudge. Nicholas, infuriated by what he witnesses, thrashes Squeers and escapes with Smike, who becomes his devoted friend. For a time he supports himself and Smike as an actor in the provincial company of Vincent Crummles; he then enters the service of the brothers Cheeryble, whose benevolence and good humour spread happiness around them. Meanwhile Kate, apprenticed to Madame Mantalini, dressmaker, is by her uncle's designs exposed to the gross insults of Sir Mulberry Hawk, one of his associates. From this persecution she is released by Nicholas, who breaks Sir Mulberry's head and makes a home for his mother and sister. Nicholas himself falls in love with Madeline Bray, the support of a selfish father and the object of a conspiracy of Ralph Nickleby and another reovolting old usurer, Gride, to marry her to the latter. Ralph, whose hatred for Nicholas has been intensified by the failure of his plans, knowing Nicholas's affection for Smike, conspires to remove the latter from him; his plots are thwarted with the help of Newman Noggs, his eccentric clerk, but nevertheless Smike falls a victim to consumption, and eventually dies in the arms of Nicholas. Copnfronted with ruin and exposure, and finally shattered by the discovery that Smike was his own son, Ralph hangs himself. Nicholas, befriended by the Cheerybles, marries Madeline, and Kate marries the Cheeryble's nephew Frank. Squeers is transported, and Gride is murdered.

Barnaby Rudge, a novel by Dickens published in 1841 as part of Master Humphrey's Clock. The earlier of Dickens's two historical novels, it is set at the period of the Gordon anti-popery riots of 1780, and Lord George Gordon himself appears as a character. Like the later A Tale of Two Cities, it contains powerful evocations of mob violence, culminating in the sack of Newgate. Dickens wrote, 'my object has been to convey an idea of multitudes, violence and fury; and even to lose my own dramatis personae in the throng'.

Reuben Haredale, a country gentleman, has been murdered, and the murderer is never discovered. His brother Geoffrey Haredale, a Roman Catholic, and the smoothe villain Sir John Chester (who models himself on Lord Chesterfield) are enemies; Chester's son Edward is in love with  Haredale's niece Emma, and the elders combine, despite their hatred, to thwart the match. The Gordon riots, secretly fomented by Chester, supervene. Haredale's house is burned and Emma carried off. Edward saves the lives of Haredale and Emma and wins Haredale's consent to his marriage with the latter. Haredale discovers the murderer of his brother, the steward Rudge, father of the half-witted Barnaby and the blackmailer of Barnaby's devoted mother Mrs Rudge. Rudge is hanged, Barnaby (who had been swept along as unwitting participant in the riots) is reprieved from the gallows at the last moment, and Chester is killed by Haredale in a duel.

The vivid description of the riots forms the principal interest of the book, which also displays Dickens's concern with the demoralizing effect of caputal punishemnt in the character of Dennis the Hangman aand Hugh, the savage hostler who turns out to be Chester's son. Other characters involved in the plot include the upright locksmith Gabriel Varden, with his peevish wife and their coquettish daughter Dolly; Simon Tappertit, his aspiring and anarchic apprentice, and Miggs, his mean and treacherous servant; John Willett, host of the Maypole Inn, and Joe, his gallant sons, who finally wins Dolly; and Grip, Barnaby's raven.

Martin Chuzzlewit, The Life and Adventures of, a novel by Dickens, published 1843-4.

Martin, the hero, is the grandson of old Martin Chuzzlewit, a wealthy gentleman made misanthropical by the greed of his family. The old man has reared Mary Graham, a young orphan to look after him, and regards her as his daughter. Young Martin is in love with Mary, but the grandfather, mistrusting his selfish character, repudiates him and gets him dismissed from his position as pupil to his cousin Mr. Pecksniff, architect and arch-hypocrite. Martin, accompanied by the indomitably cheerful Mark Tapley as his servant, sails for America to seek his fortune. He goes as an architect to the faudulent Eden Land Corporation, where he loses his money and nearly dies of fever. (This part gave great offence in the USA). He then returns to England, his experiences having reformed his selfish attitudes. His grandfather has meanwhile established himself and Mary in Pecksniff's household and pretended to place himself under his direction, thus satisfying himself of Pecksniff's meanness and treachery. (Pecksniff tries to inveigle and bully Mary into marrying him). He exposes the hypocrite, restores his grandson to favour, and gives him Mary's hand.

A sub-plot concerns Jonas Chuzzlewit, the son of old Martin's brother, a character of almost incredible villainy. Her murders his father (in intention if not in fact), marries Mercy Pecksniff and treats her with the utmost brutality; murders the director of a bogus insurance company, by whom he has been taken in and blackmailed; is detected; and finally poisons himself.

The book contains many memorable minor characters: Tom Pinch, Pecksniff's gentle loyal assistant, and his sister Ruth; Pecksniff's daughters Charity and Mercy (Cherry and Merry); and Mrs Gamp, the disreputable old nurse; while 'Todgers's' is an eccentric London boarding house.

David Copperfield, a novel by Dickens, published 1849-50. 'Of all my books', wrote Dickens, 'I like this the best', and it has always been a favorite with a wide public. It is (in some of its details) Dickens's veiled autobiography.

David Copperfield is born at Blunderstone (of which the original is the village of Blundeston) in Suffolk, soon after the death of his father. His mother, a gentle, weak woman, marries again, and her second husband Mr Murdstone, by cruelty disguised as firmness and abetted by Miss Murdstone his sister, drives her to an early grave. Young Copperfield, who has proved recalcitrant, is sent to schoool, where he is bullied by the tyrannical headmaster Creakle, but makes two friends in the brilliant and fascinating Steerforth and the good-humoured plodding Traddles. Thence he is sent to menial employment in London, where he lives a life of poverty and misery, enlivened by his acquaintance with the mercurial and impecunious Mr Micawber and his family. He runs away and walks penniless to Dover to throw himself on the mercy of his aunt Betsey Trotwood, an eccentric old lady who had renounced all interest in him from his birth because, contrary to her firm expectation, he had been born a boy instead of a girl. He is kindly received and given a new home, which he shares with an amiable lunatic, Mr Dick. This poor gentleman is perpetually engaged on a memorial regarding his own affairs, but is unable to complete it owing to the inevitable intrusion into it of King Charles's head. Copperfield continues his education at Canterbury, living in the house of Miss Trotwood's lawyer Mr. Wickfield, whose daughter Agnes, a girl of exceptionally sweet and high-minded disposition, exercises a powerful influence on the rest of his life. He then enters Doctors' Commons, being articled to Mr Spenlow, of the firm of Spenlow and Jorkins. Meanwhile he has come again into touch with Steerforth, whom, ignorant of his true character, he introduces to the family of his old nurse Clara Peggotty, married to Barkis the carrier. The family consists of Mr Peggotty, a Yarmouth fisherman, his nephew Ham, and the latter's cousin Little Em'ly, a pretty, simple girl whom Ham is about to marry. The remaining inmate of Mr Peggotty's hospitable home is Mrs Gummidge, another dependant and a widow whose peevish laments for her forlorn condition are patiently borne by Mr Peggotty. Steerforth induces Em'ly to run away with himl, thereby producing intense misery in the Peggotty household. Mr Peggotty sets out to find her, following her through many countries, and finally recovering her after she has been cast off by Steerforth. The latter's crime also brings unhappiness to his mother and to her protégée Rosa Dartle, who has long loved Steerforth with all the suppressed violence of a passionate nature. The tragedy finds its culmination in the shipwreck and drowning of Steerforth, and the death of Ham in trying to save him.

Meanwhile Coppefield, blind to the affection of Agnes Wickfield, marries Dora Spenlow, a pretty empty-headed child, and becomes famous as an author. Dora dies after a few weeks of married life and Copperfield, at first disconsolate, awakens to a growing appreciation and love of Agnes. Her father has fallen into the toils of a villanous and cunning clerk, Uriah Heep, who under the cloak of fawning humility has obtained complete control over him, reduced hism to the verge of imbecility, and nearly ruined him. Uriah also aspires to marry Agnes. But his misdeeds, which include forgery and theft, are exposed by Micawber, employed as his clerk, with the assitance of Traddles, now a barrister. Uriah is last seen in prison, under a life sentence. Coppefield marries Agnes. Mr Peggotty, with Em'ly and Mrs. Gummidge, is found prospering in Australia, where Mr Micawber, relieved of his debts, appears finally as a much-esteemed colonial magistrate.

Bleak House, a novel by Dickens, published in monthly parts 1852-3.

The book contains a vigorous satire on the abuses of the old court of Chancery, the delays and costs of which brought misery and ruin on its suitors. The tale centres in the fortunes of an uninteresting couple, Richard Carstone, a futile youth, and his amiable cousin Ada Clare. They are wards of the court in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, concerned with the distribution of an estate, which has gone on so long as to become a subject of heartless joking as well as a source of great profit to those professionally engaged in it. The wards are taken to live with their kind elderly relative John Jarndyce. They fall in love and secretly marry. The weak Richard, incapable of sticking to any profession and lured by the will-o'-the wisp of the fortune that is to be his when the case is settled, sinks gradually to ruin and death, and the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes suddenly to an end on the discovery that the costs have absorbed the whole estate in dispute.

When Ada goes to live with John Jarndyce she is accompanied by Esther Summerson, a supposed orphan, one of Dickens's saints, and the narrative is partly supposed to be from her pen.

Sir Leicester Dedlock, a pompous old baronet, is devotedly attached to his beautiful wife. Lady Dedlock hides a dreadful secret under her haughty and indifferent exterior. Before her marriage she has loved a certain Captain Hawdon and has become the mother of a daughter, whom she believes dead. Hawdon is supposed to have perished at sea. IN fact the daughter lives in the person of Esther Summerson, and Hawdon in that of a penniless scrivener. The accidental sight of his handwriting in a legal document reveals to Lady Dedlock the fact of his existence, and its effect on her alerts the cunning old lawyer Tulkinghorn to the existence of a mystery.  Lady Dedlock's enquiries bring her, through the medium of a wretched crossing-sweeper, Jo, to the burial ground where her former lover's miserable career has just ended. Jo's unguarded reveleation of his singular experience with this veiled lady sets Tulkinghorn on the track, until he possesses all the facts and tells Lady Dedlock that he is going to expose her next day to her husband. That night Tulkinghorn is murdered. Bucket, the detective, presently reveals to the baronet what Tulkinghorn had discovered, and arrests a former French maid of Lady Dedlock, a violent woman, who has committed the murder. Lady Dedlock, learning that her husband knows her secret, flies from the house in despair, and is found dead near the grave of her lover, in spite of the efforts of her husband and Esther to save her.

Much of the story is preoccupied with Esther's devotion to John Jarndyce, her acceptance of his offer of marriage from a sense of duty and gratitude, though she loves a young doctor, Woodcourt; Jarndyce's discovery of the state of her heart, and his surrender of her to Woodcourt.

There are a host of interesting minor characters, among whom may be mentioned Harold Skimpole (drawn 'in the light externals of character' from Leigh Hunt), who disguises his utter selfishness under an assumption of childish irresponsibility; Mrs Jellyby, who sacrifices her family to her selfish addiction to professional philanthropy; Jo, the crossing-sweeper, who is chivied by the police to his death; Chadband, the pious, eloquent humbug; Turveydrop, the model of deportment; Krook, the 'chancellor' of the rag and bone department, who dies of spontaneous combustion; Guppy, the lawyer's clerk, Guster, the poor slavey; the low stationer Snagsby; Miss Flite, the little lunatic lady who haunts the Chancery courts; and Jarndyce's friend, the irascible and generous Boythorn (drawn from W. S. Landor).

For many of Dickens's contemporaries, this novel marked a decline in his reputation; individual characters (notably Jo and Bucket) were praised but it was charged with verbosity and 'absolute want of construction'. Later readers, including G. B. Shaw, Chesterton, Conrad and Trilling, have seen it as one of the high points of his achievement, and the herald of his last great phase.

Great Expectations, a novel by Dickens, which first appeared in All the Year Round 1860-1, published in book form in the latter year.

It recounts the development of the character of the narrator, Philip Pirrip, commonly known as 'Pip', a village boy brought up by his termagant sister, the wife of the gentle, humorous, kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery. He is introduced to the house of Miss Havisham, a lady half-crazed by the desertion of her lover on her bridal night, who, in a spirit of revenge, has brought up the girl Estella to use her beauty as a means of torturing men. Pip falls in love with Estella, and aspires to become a gentleman. Money and expectations of more wealth come to him from a mysterious source, which he believes to be Miss Havisham. He goes to London, and in his new mode of live meanly abandons the devoted Joe Gargery, a humble connection of whom he is now ashamed. Misfortunes come upon him. His benefactor proves to be an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, whom he, as a boy, had helped; his great expectations fade away nad he is peniless. Estella marries his sulky enemy Bentley Drummle, by whom she is cruelly ill-treated. Taught by adversity, Pip returns to Joe Gargery and honest labour, and is finally reunited to Estella who has also learnt her lesson. Other notable characters in the book are Joe's uncle, the impudent old impostor Pumblechook, Jaggers, the skilful Old Bailey lawyer, and his good-hearted clerk Wemmick; and Pip's friend in London, Herbert Pocket.

It appears from Forster's life of Dickens that the author originally devised a less happy ending to the story, which he altered in deference to the advice of Bulwer-Lytton.

Our Mutual Friend, a novel by Dickens, published in monthly parts between May 1864 and Nov. 1865.

John Harmon returns from the exile to which he has been sent by a harsh father, a rich dust-contractor; he expects to receive the inheritance to which his father has attached the condition that he shall marry a certain girl, Bella Wilfer. Bella is unknown to him, and he confides to a mate of the ship which is bringing him home his intention of concealing his identity until he has formed some judgement of his allotted wife. The mate lures him to a riverside haunt, attempts to murder him, throws his body into the river, and is in his turn murdered and his body likewise thrown into the river. Harmon revocers and escapes, the mate's body is found after some days, and, owing to Harmon's papers found upon it, it is taken to be that of Harmon. Harmon's intention of remaining unknown is thus facilitated; he assumes the name of John Rokesmith and becomes the secretary of the kindly, disinterested Mr Boffin, old Harmon's foreman, who, in default of young Harmon, inherits the property. He is thrown into close contact with Bella, a flighty minx, who is adopted by Boffin and who is turned by her first taste of wealth into an arrogant, mercenary jade. Rokesmith nevertheless falls in love with her and is contemptuously rejected. Harmon's identity is now discovered by the amiable Mrs Boffin, and the Boffins, devoted to their old master's son and convinced of Bella's soundness of heart, contrive a plot to prove her. Boffin pretends to be transformed by his wealth into a hard and griping miser, and heaps indignities on Harmon, who is finally dismissed with contumely. Bella, awakened to the evils of wealth and to the merits of Rokesmith, flies from the Boffins and marries her suitor. His identity presently comes to light, and with his assistance the scheme of a one-legged old villain, Silas Wegg, to blackmail Boffin is exposed.

Concurrently with this main theme runs the story of the love of Eugene Wrayburn, a careless, insolent young barrister, for Lizzie Hexam, daughter of a disreputable boatman. His rival for her affections, Bradley Headstone, a schoolmaster, attempts to murder Wrayburn. The latter is saved by Lizzie and marries her. Among the notable characters in the book are the Veneerings, types of social parvenus; the good Jew Riah; the blackmailing waterside villain Rogue Riderhood; Jenny Wren, the dolls' dressmaker; Bella Wilfer's grotesque father, mother, and sister; and the spirited Betty Higden, an old woman with a haunting dread of the workhouse.

Many early reviewers agreed with H. James, who found the novel 'forced' and 'wanting in inspiration', but later critics (including Humphry House and E. Wilson) have praised it highly, stressing in particular the complex use of the dirt-money symbolism.


From Louis Cazamian, A History of English Literature ("The Idealistic Reaction"):

phiz little dorrit
Dickens and the social novel.—

(a). DICKENS. There is not any injustice to Dickens (1) in going straight to the central feeling which gives life to his work; and that feeling is social. Thorough it he is linked with a whole group of writers, and has a place in a great movement of the time.

No novelist before Dickens had treated the lower middle classes on such broad lines or in so frank a way. He studies them not as a detached, superior kind of observer, but as one of their own level; a symphathy, an immediate community of impressions, and, as it were, an instinctive fraternity, thus impregnate his study. Be the tone that of pathos or of humour, the mediocre lives on which he focuses his and our attention come, as if naturally, to acquire the dignity of art. Such is the permanent foundation of his realism. But below it, in the inner realms of consciousness, we feel the quivering image, the anguish of soul-debasing poverty. The unforgettable experince of his early youth—that humiliating phase of his life—becomes thus one of the decisive elements in the formation of his personality. Even when those hardships had been left behind, Dickens could never forget them. It was this dim memory, at the secret core of his very life-success, that continued to sustain the energy of his effort to secure his material independence at all risks. It helped to intensify as well the multiple suggestions of active charity which made Dickens an apostle, and turned his work into a gospel of humanitarianism.
Considered from this point of view, Dickens has his place in the idealistic reaction [to 19th-century industrial capitalism]. His influence combined itself with that of Carlyle, whose authority as a teacher he accepted or felt. But his most important significance is not that he shared in the philantropical crusade, that he showed up abuses, or prepared those fits of moral compunction from which reforms have sprung. Despite the practical benefits which did accrue from such a task, it cannot be said that Dickens was always happily inspired in this direction (2); indeed his art suffered from the bitter or strained mood which usually goes with a thesis of denunciation. Above all, he has stimulated the national sensibility which was slowly wasting away in the dry atmosphere of a utilitarian age; he has re-established balance and a more wholesome order in the proportionate values of the motives of life. This psychological action is brought to its most precise and most effectual pitch in his impassioned attack on the frame of mind which supports the individualistic theory of the economists. And here the criticism of the novelist succeeds in shaking the moral foundations of a doctrine. Dickens has contributed to the salutary weakening of dogmatic egoism. On this point, his teaching comes into line with that of Carlyle and Ruskin; he takes up his stand with the prophets of sentiment against the harder advocates of rationalism. In other respects, his temperament holds him aloof from their mystic exaltation. He retains a firm hold on reality; and never loses the sense of the average conditions which all useful activities must fulfil. An ardent believer in progress, moderate in his views, and of an optimistic turn of mind, he lives and thinks in complete accord with the middle-class opinions of his day.

And this middle class for Dickens is that of London, of the ancient cities, and the agricultural districts of the south. He knows nothing about the feverish existence of the working classes in the midlands and in the north, or if he does, his knowledge is very imperfect. The problems he touches upon in the course of his novels do not concern the industrial crowds which had recently developed, but rather a class of long standing, with settled and traditional characteristics. Instead of bringing us into direct contact with the epoch of machinery, and the new world, he leads us back towards the past. While his intentions are anything but reactionary, his instictive preferences tend in this direction. The customs and habits he describes most readily savour somewhat of the archaic; only rarely does he venture beyond the field of observation which he had viewed in his youth. The joviality, the cordiality he depicts or teaches are those of a society that is still patriarchal, and that has been just perceptibly altered, but not invaded and upset by modern life. Railways will never be anything else than a sensational wonder for Dickens; it is by the jingling of the stage-coach harness that his imagination is wakened into spontaneous play.

Just as the background in his novels dates from 1825 or 1830, and underneath the symptoms of a changing age tends to link up with the eighteenth century, so his inner nature, attuned to the spirit of an animated, picturesque, and familiar life, finds itself in harmony with a fairly average and a permanent type of the English temperament. Dickens appealed to the very heart of England, and she recognized herself in his pages because he offered her a picture of herself which she loved to seee; he showed her an England at her best. In a nation of very mixed tendencies—like every other nation in this respect—he singles out the features of genial humanity and organizes them into a whole; the author himself assumes, and often gives to his characters, an expression of sympathy, the smile of humour, and the cheeriness of a kind heart. This composite portrait, in which not only Mr. Pickwick but many others have their shares, has the value of a synthetic image; the moral preferences of Dickens enter into every one of its lineaments. These preferences comprise, with a warm expansiveness of heart, a liking for the peculiarities of character, and almost a taste for eccentric oddities; a realism both psychological and descriptive, without system or rigour, which springs from a lively sense of buoyant curiosity, full of an instinctive trust of life. Thus it was that the very great success of Dickens's work had the efficacy of a deep influence; that his novels told in favour of solidarity, against the egoistic spirit of the age; and that his popularity, which waned for a time after his death, has now again come into its own, and no limit can be set to its duration.

Dickens wrote rapidly. His strenuous energy was not always a substitute for careful art. His faults in taste and in style, the failings of his intuitive verve, are obvious; his literary individuality lacks polish. He sacrifices balance for the sake of intense effects; his expression obeys monotonous habits; he repeats himself to excess. His pathos is cheap or exaggerated; his imagination in its continual effort to emphasizee the character of things tends rather to distort them; his vision, fond of agitated outlines, is apt to lose the very sense of repose. There is working, at the very core of his genius, a persistent spirit of Romanticism, which subordinates the actual truth, like the soberness, of every feature to emotional or picturesque values; his realism is stirred by a feverish force of hallucination. And throughout the whole of his work the effusion and the expression of self disturb or contradict the relative objectivity, without which there could be no novel of real life. At every turn in his stories we come upon the favourable or unfavourable opinions of the author—a kind of sentimental commentary on his own work; and these instances of bias, intensified by polemical preferences and arguments, too often bore or annoy the reader.

These blemishes, which the contemporaries of Dickens found easy to tolerate, while the succeeding generation censured them severely, are to-day seen in a more mellow perspective as connected with the sovereign gifts of an inspired artist. As a creator, Dickens is prodigious. The picture he has painted of the social world is one of the richest in the range of literature. His perception of things and of character is remarkable for its direct keenness and fresh vigour while not unlimited in scope, it is, nevertheless, very wide; coloured as it is by the writer's personality, it possesses the quality of an incomparable liveliness. There is nothing scientific about it, nor does it seek to be so. It takes from reality only what interests it; and as the need which it obeys are those of emotion and humour, the real is organized into a show of varied interest, always intense in effect, and of a tone either dramatic of facetious. Into this world no one can penetrate unless he has bowed to the artist's will; but such is the power of his charm that our critical faculty is disarmed. Few are the readers wholly proof against the spell.

At the first glance our eye is caught by the swarming host of human figures. Over the vast fresco of his work, Dickens has thrown them in plenty; they give to every part the pulsation of life itself. Still, their quality is far from equal. The writer has not created them thorugh one and the same intuition of their original beings; he has not felt them all grow upon him with one and the same imperiousness. Their features may have been suggested from the outside by a caprice of the imagination, by a preconceived feeling, or by the demands of the plot; they may represent superficial or deductive intentions; instead of being nourished from the deeper personality of the novelist, they may be, as it were, engrafted upon more exterior eleemnts—mere desires for antithesis or effect. Then it is that, being less directly connected with the very substance of their maker, they they more colosely resemble one or other of his feature, and less closely resemble life. They bear the stamp of his caprice, of a bent in his mind, of some partiality in his outlook; and being devoid of any lineaments proper to themselves which might have played the part of an addition or a corrective, they are nothing but that impoverished expression of their creator's personality. There is in the work of Dickens a whole range of artificial creatures, arbitrarily drawn by his somewhat crude dramatic sense, by his hasty aversions, by his taste for drollery which often approaches caricature
. And so it happens that his personages have no other interest but what they may owe to satire, melodrama, or farce.
miss havisham
But into the satire, pathos, or farce many of his heroes infuse the superior virtue of an irresistible vitality. These bear a no less recognizable imprint of their origin; a Pickwick, a Sam Weller, a Jingle, a Micawber, a Peggotty, a Dick Swiveller, a marchioness, quite as much as a David Copperfield, are members of one family, whose common rather is easily divined; they all have something of his readily compassionate humanity, and some gleam of his humour. Nevertheless, they are themselves, and develop according to their own principles. So extreme is their diversity that they exemplify in every respect the essential individuality of human beings. But they all have an irrefutability, a witchcraft to them; no one thinks of discurssing them; they come forth, and we accept them; they possess the solidity, the volume of three-dimensional figures; the personality which supports them has transferrred itself entirely into them, has shaped them out according to the mysterious instinct of all its powers. This creative process, identical with that which one can find in the masterpieces of the stage, is carried thorugh with admirable abundance and variety. Yet here again we find many grades. The best of the personages are not usually those whom Dickens has studied most deliberately and consciously. it is not often that his traitors, heroes, or heroines have quite as much flavour, as much vivaciousness or irresistible truth, as the less prominent characters which he has dashed off with a freer hand. In the episodical parts of his work his spontaenous verve very often joins an unforgettable vigour to the literal accuracy of the outlines. And it is here, perhaps, that his masterly skill is seen at its best.

What is true of the characters is also true of the action. The most elaborately worked-out plots, in Dickens, are not the most satisfactory. Where the thesis is stressed, as in the historical and in the purely social novels (Barnaby Rudge, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times), we feel that too rigid an intention is at work; and that effort towards a concentration on a single purpose makes the whole book somwhat strained. Dickens does not possess the gift of compact logical or artistic writing. The type of anrrative which best suits his inventive genius savours very much of the old picaresque model; his favourite theme is that of life, a life which lasts, which renews itself, and which is born, as it were, of itself. In the opening chapters of Pickwick the connecting thread is of the most slender; later it gains strength, without allowing the reader to forget the purely comic purpose with which the work began; and a plot revolving round the biography of a central character (as in Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield) imparts a supple unity to the best novels. In his later work Dickens endeavoured to brace up this rather lax construction; Great Expectations is a novel of a strong and sober texture, which taes a place apart from all the rest.

The profusion of his scenic settings answers to the abundance of his personages. The backgrounds are painted with an ample brush, and the lavishness of details breathers a kind of exhilaration. Description, with Dickens, is more than a means; very often it is an end in itslef. It contributes to the general effect, but with such varied and powerful resources at its command that it subordinates the other elements of the narrative to itself. Thus the novel tends to become all evocative and imagination, the instrument of realism, carries the search for intense truth right to the domain of purely lyrical vision. The writer's senses are quick and keen; nature, the aspects of concrete life, the picturesqueness of things, eagerly absorbed, are transferred to his work in facile patches, not so much highly coloured as vibrating, astir with a nervous quiver of each contour. The material universe appears as made up of broken lines, pronounced gestures, and rapid motions. Supremely suggestive, this art has its limitation in a certain instability, a kind of flickering exaggeration. The rhythm in the succession of images, with Dickens, often shows some slight morbidness.

In his calmer and less feverish spells of work, this gift of infusing with life all that appeals to the senses has the happiest results. He calls up before our eyes scene after scene of a truth made striking, and which yet our feeling of normal life is willing to accept: so accurately is the individual character of things thrown into relief, and so much realistic flavour is mixed up with the lecquence, the moving poetry, or the fanciful drollery, which are the main objevct and indeed the soul of the picture.

The reason is that the language which has to express both those emotions and those images is naturally rife with them. Dickens is a great writer by virtue of the spontaneity of his verve, and this with a minimum of art. His vocabulary has superabundant wealth; it wells up naturally and easily; all the inherent genius of the English race for concrete perception goes to nourish it. It carries with it, and turns to use, the contents of other veins of speech—learned words, technical terms; but the main inexhaustible stream is drawn from the fund of a racy, national, in no way particularized experience. The refining process of culture is less perceptible here than in the works of many other writers. Dickens, like Carlyle, has his touches of vulgarity—hardly perceptible, at once forgotten under the spell of his delicately generous heart. The highest quality of his style is its movement: a movement which is at times strained and difficult to follow, but, in its uninterrupted onward flow, carries on the narration or dialogue without any fear of stagnating inertia. In certain respects the conversations in Dickens's novels are unequalled; the most familiar tones, those of arteless comedy or of expressive self-revelation, have in the mouths of his characters a frankness, and appropriateness reaching to perfection. On the other hand, when the situation tends to be artificial, and the verve less spontaneous, an unreal note is immediately perceptible in the dialogue. For the latter has no value in itself; Dickens does not seek to be objective by sistem and rule; those among his personages who are replete with life have a voice of their own, just as they have an individual physiognomy; the others speak in a somewhat artificial tone, which sounds like a thinly veiled echo of the author's own voice.

No analysis can grasp the essential originality of such a work; its power of persuasion, which sweeps away our reserves, makes us forgive all the faults of too insistent a method, of a sentimental search for pathos, of an excessive striving after comic effects. Each of these weaknesses is compensated by merits of greater importance.
Everything considered, it is due to his talent of sympathy, to his sense of the pitiful tragedy of daily life, and to a rich vein of inventive comedy, that Dickens redeems all his blemishes, and keeps his place in the front rank. The Christmas Carol is a pretty good example both of his faults and of his charm; few have read it without feeling at times annoyed, and much more often won over to the writer's will.

This art has a deep human quality. As its chief instruments are tears and laughter, and above all the poignancy and flavour of their fusion, Dickens is a prominent figure in the lineage of humorists. His humour, that is to say, the temperament of his reaction to the alternate aspects of life, is rich because it is formed of intense elements, his sensibility being keenly alive to the moving significance as well as to the odd nature of things. But this alone would not constitute humour, if it did not contain a principle of self-control, the faculty to dominate and to mix, according to the preferences of an intuitive art, the succesive compelementary impulses of his being. As a humorist, Dickens is amenable to discipline, to a psychological duality, one side of his mind watching the other. It is due to the presence of this salutary element that his art, threatened in other respects with a too definite Romanticism, acquires restraint, dignity, and the complexity of manifold planes, which, otherwise, it might have lacked.

Among the English novelists, Dickens is neither the most consummate artist, nor the finest psychologist, nor the most accomplished realist, nor the most seductive of tale writers; but he is probably the most national, the most typical, and the greatest of them all.

In his own sphere there is none in his time who can approach him. The novel of social inspiration, however, attracts the talents of original writers: from 1840 to 1850 this kind engrosses most of the vitality of English fiction.

(b). Disraeli, Mrs. Gaskell, Kingsley, the Brontës.—  (...).

christmas carol


(1). Charles Dickens, born at Portsmouth in 1812, the son of a small naval functionary, spent his early years in Kent and received an incomplete education; in London, where his father had been imprisoned for debts, he was employed in a blacking warehouse. After this period of struggle he passed some time in a private school, and went into a solicitor's office, then worked for various newspapers in the capacity of Parliamentary reporter or provincial correspondent. In 1833 he began his pen pictures of life with Sketches by Boz (published in volume form, 1836). The demand of a publisher for the text of a humorous collection of stories, to which illustrations were to be supplied, resulted in the series of The Pickwick Papers (published 1836-7). Their success was tremendous and placed him in the front rank of writers. He then published in monthly instalments Oliver Twist (1837-8), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9), The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge (1840-41). A voyage to the United States supplied him with American Notes (1842), and also inspired his
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-4). In 1843-8 appeared the Christmas Books (A Christmas Carol, etc.); then Dombey and Son (1847-8). David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-3), Hard Times (1854), Little Dorrit (1857-8), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860-1), Our Mutual Friend (1864). He died in June 1870, leaving the incomplete novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). He had given many public readings in England and in America (1858-68); edited periodicals (Household Words, All the Year Round); written for the stage; published Pictures from Italy (146), A Child's History of England (1852-4), etc. Works, Gadshill ed., 1897, etc.; Bibliographical ed., 1902; Imperial ed., 2903, etc. Letters, 3 vols., 1880-1. See the critical biographies by Forster (1872-4); Ward (English Men of Letters), 1882; Marzials (Great Writers), 1887; P. Fitzgerald, 1905; Chesterton, 1906; Langton, 1894; Gissing (Charles Dickens, a Critical Study), 1898; Cazamian (Roman social en Angleterre), 1903; Munro (Dickens et Daudet), 1908; Barlow (Genius of Dickens), 1909; W. Dibelius (Charles Dickens), Leipzig, 1922; Delattre (Les Cent Chefs-d'œuvre étrangers), idem (Dickens et la France), 1927.

(2). He denounced the new Poor Law and the workhouse system; the rigours of the penal code as of the penitentiary system; the slowness of justice; the neglect of children; the carelessnesss and cruelty of aa great number of private-school masters; the harsh laws for the protection of game; the bad state of sanitation in the poorer quarters of cities; the parallel excesses of the workers' unions and of the egoism of employers; the economic doctrine of laissez-faire and the social indifference which had been set up as a principle, etc.

Aspectos de la técnica narrativa en Hard Times, de Charles Dickens

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