Essays On Charles Dickens

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Where exactly does he stand, socially, morally, and politically?

As usual, one can define his position more easily if one starts by deciding what he was NOT. Chesterton and Jackson seem to imply, a 'proletarian' writer.

Taking 'middle-class' to mean what Krupskaya might be expected to mean by it, this was probably a truer judgement than those of Chesterton and Jackson.

But it is worth noticing that the dislike of Dickens implied in this remark is something unusual.

Before I was ten years old I was having Dickens ladled down my throat by schoolmasters in whom even at that age I could see a strong resemblance to Mr.

Creakle, and one knows without needing to be told that lawyers delight in Sergeant Buzfuz and that LITTLE DORRIT is a favourite in the Home Office.Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself.In its attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling.Fasten upon this or that minor abuse, expose it, drag it into the open, bring it before a British jury, and all will be well that is how he sees it.Dickens at any rate never imagined that you can cure pimples by cutting them off. The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral.When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of Dickens's works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a Marxist writer, Mr. The Marxist claims him as 'almost' a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as 'almost' a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or 'the poor', as Chesterton would have put it).On the other hand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in her little book on Lenin, relates that towards the end of his life Lenin went to see a dramatized version of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and found Dickens's 'middle-class sentimentality' so intolerable that he walked out in the middle of a scene.But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists.When they do find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief.To begin with, he does not write about the proletariat, in which he merely resembles the overwhelming majority of novelists, past and present.If you look for the working classes in fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole. For reasons that are easy enough to see, the agricultural labourer (in England a proletarian) gets a fairly good showing in fiction, and a great deal has been written about criminals, derelicts and, more recently, the working-class intelligentsia.


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