Oliver Twist: A Final Wrap-Up

Wherein we say farewell to our little sojourner as we glance back at the fifth week of the #DickensClub journey with Oliver Twist (week nineteen of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club); With General Memoranda, and a summary of reading and discussion.

“The Death of Nancy,” by Harry Furniss. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/ot29.html

Friends, we’re at our final wrap-up for our third read already, Oliver Twist! What an adventure it has been, to experience together Dickens’ second novel–and what a divergence in tone from The Pickwick Papers.

We’ve discussed so many aspects of the novel that it will be impossible to cover them all here, but I’ll focus on summarizing three areas in our final wrap-up:

  • This past week’s discussion.
  • Distillation and summary on the discussion of antisemitism in the novel.
  • A brief thematic wrap-up, based on the discussions over the past 5 weeks.

General Mems

If you’re counting, this coming week will be week 20 of the #DickensClub as a whole (and today Day 133), and today we conclude our reading of Oliver Twist (our third read). Please feel free to comment below this post for any final thoughts on Oliver Twist, and/or contact Rach or Boze about any special interest topic on Oliver that you’d like to write a separate post on! Or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.

We’d love to have new readers join us. If you’re interested: the updated Dickens Chronological Reading Club schedule can be found here (or click on the image to the left). If you have been reading along with us but are not yet on the Member List, we’d love to add you! Please feel free to message us here on the site, or on twitter.

No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! We’re forever grateful for shares and retweets from all, including our marvelous Dickens Fellowship, and all of our Dickensian heroes, for helping to build our reading community. And a huge thank you to The Circumlocution Office for providing such an online resource for us!

“Bill Sikes and Nancy,” by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/eytinge/188.html

Week Five Oliver Twist Summary (Chapters 47-53)

Fagin tells Sikes what Noah had overheard in Nancy’s meeting with Mr. Brownlow and Rose by the London Bridge. Sikes, enraged, rushes home and, ignoring her pleas for his understanding, kills Nancy violently, and flees from the expected retribution of justice.

But another sort of justice is already pursuing Sikes, in his own fear and paranoia of discovery, as he starts at every instance of whisperings or news along the way. He is haunted by the woman he has killed; haunted by the bloodstains on him and the looks and whispers everywhere. He shows his first signs of concern for others in helping out during a building fire. He tries to drown his dog, Bulls-eye, fearing that the dog will end up giving him away.

“Sikes attempting to destroy his dog,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Meanwhile, Monks—whose real name is revealed to be Edward Leeford, a son of Brownlow’s old friend—is under Mr. Brownlow’s watchful eye. We come to find out that not only is Oliver Monk’s brother, but that Oliver was born of an affair between their father and a woman, Agnes, who was not his wife. Monks, therefore, is the “legitimate” child. When their father died, Monk’s mother ensured their own place in the inheritance by burning the legitimate will, and they went to live in the West Indies for a time—and this is why Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin had journeyed there, realizing that there were mysteries about this boy that were in some way connected with his old friend, and his family.

“The last chance,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Justice finally arrives as Sikes is pursued by an angry mob at a dingy building on Jacob’s Island. (Fagin and Noah Claypole have already been apprehended, under mysterious circumstances.) There, in trying to flee the vengeful mob, including Charley Bates who is furious with Sikes, Sikes ends up climbing to the rooftop of the dilapidated old building, and, trying to use a rope to lower himself, accidentally ends up swinging by the neck from the noose he has himself created.

We find out, during the journey to Oliver’s birthplace town, that Rose is the sister of Oliver’s mother, Agnes. Not only that, but we find out more about the mysterious will of Mr. Leeford’s, that had been destroyed by Monks and his mother: if Agnes’ child had been a girl, she would have inherited the whole of the estate; if a boy, he would inherit it so long as he had committed no illegal act—which explains Monk’s wish to have Oliver corrupted by Fagin—otherwise, the inheritance would go to Mr. Leeford’s legal wife, and son.

“Fagin in the condemned cell,” by George Cruikshank

Harry returns, having given up his ambitions to retire into quiet life as a country parson, and rejecting any of his friends who would have rejected Rose; and so, they are free to marry.

Oliver, with Mr. Brownlow, pays a final visit to Fagin in his jail cell on his last night of life. Not only does Fagin appear to cling to Oliver as to a life (or soul) preserver, but he reveals where Oliver can find the papers about Oliver’s true identity, which had been given to Fagin by Monks. Oliver leaves in tears, praying for mercy to be shown to his old abuser.

“Everything told of life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the very centre of all—the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death.”

“Rose Maylie and Oliver,” by George Cruikshank. https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/illustrations-twist.html

Another act of mercy still remains: that Oliver’s inheritance should be divided (by the agreement of Oliver and his new guardian, Mr. Brownlow) between Oliver and Monks. It is not used well by the latter, who ends up in prison abroad, after having figuratively cast his money to the winds and led a dissolute life of it. Noah is shown some mercy due to his incriminating testimony about Fagin. Charley comes out better than all from the old gang, showing that one can turn one’s life around completely, and he lives an honest life after.  Oliver is happy in his state as adopted son; the circle of family and friends, including Harry and Rose, Mrs. Maylie, Losberne, Grimwig (and a regular bromance is developing between the latter two), and the Brownlows, all end up living in close proximity to one another, and we anticipate a quiet and happy life for them all.

“I have said that they were truly happy; and without strong affection, and humanity of heart, and gratitude to that Being whose code is Mercy, and whose great attribute is Benevolence to all things that breathe, true happiness can never be attained.”

Discussion Wrap-Up: Week Five

Whimsy, and In Other News…

Friends, remember Pickwick Cottage in Dulwich, that our friend Maria so kindly sent us pictures of about a month and a half ago?

At the time, we were musing on whether it might be wisteria growing over the entryway. Well, it is wisteria season in London, so our friend Maria took another trip out to this remarkable little corner, and delighted us with her discovery: it is indeed wisteria, and now I for one am ready to move into 31 College Rd.

Chris delighted in her Mother’s Day gift: a Dickensian puzzle!

Now, if only our Dickens Club could all gather ’round to help her put it together…

Cassandra, meanwhile, is as eager as Boze and I are to get going on Nicholas Nickleby!

And I was delighting in the unusual “image” of sound, described in Oliver as “appearing”! Almost as though London sound itself might be a haunting Spirit.

Light, Darkness, and Doubling

“Nancy and Rose,” by Harry Furniss

Lenny started us out this week by commenting on my late contribution to the previous week: the “doubling” that is characteristic of several of Dickens’ works–most literally/strikingly in A Tale of Two Cities–and which we see in Oliver in Rose and Nancy: two young women of the same age, with such divergent paths in life. One might almost “hear” Nancy borrowing Carton’s words about Darnay: “a good reason for taking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from, and what you might have been! Change places with him, and would you have been looked at by those blue eyes as he was…?”

Lenny highlights the use of doubling as it works to “foil” or “define further the oppositions between various characters and situations. Oliver/Sikes; Brownlow/Fagin; the Rose-Harry relationship/Sikes, Nancy, /Bumble Mrs. Bumble relationships; Mrs. Maylie/Mrs. Sowerberry, etc. Each of these doubles help, by their contrast, define one another, put each particular in relief against the other.” And he applies the “doubling” to the light-dark aspects of the novel itself: “we see Dickens in OLIVER working with a kind of symmetry as he balances the light and dark ‘ingredients’ of the novel.”

Lenny H. comment

Nancy and Her Critics

Lenny also got the ball rolling on questioning the critics of Nancy, specifically Claire Tomalin’s take on her from the biography of Dickens. Lenny writes, surprised at the idea of Nancy as the “failure” of Oliver Twist: “Nancy’s almost ‘loving’ regard for and caring for Oliver is THE plot device that sets so much in motion.” Lenny had earlier written about her extreme words/gestures (the melodramatic element objected to by Tomalin) as being true to life of a person (particularly in this case a very young person) in crisis situations, and having panic attacks.

Lenny H. comment

In response to Lenny’s comment, I shared with the group the passage from Claire Tomalin’s biography that we’d been discussing, including the kind of introductory paragraph which helps set the tone:

From Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, shared by Rach M.

Chris offered us several opposing views of Nancy, from John Bowen, Michael Slater, and George J. Worth:

Chris M. comments

Lenny and I both respond, feeling more in line, on this subject, with the scholars who have sided with Nancy. Here are a couple of Lenny’s comments on the subject.

Lenny H. comments

Rach M. comment

Lenny had also brought up again Nancy’s age, and whether critics have focused on that important element to understanding Nancy’s words, gestures, and crisis. Chris kindly did some searches on this subject. Though not finding something initially about her age, Chris did hit on a piece suggesting a diagnosis of syphilis for Nancy:

Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Imagery

Boze brings us ’round to Dickens’ “writing lab,” suggesting that “stylistically [Oliver is] not one of Dickens’ better books” but that “visually it contains some of his most striking imagery,” and hence it almost “works better as a film than it does as literature.” He’s rewatching several adaptations, and I for one hope that we see a forthcoming post about this subject!

Boze H. comment

Curious Character Arcs: Charley Bates; Bill Sikes

The Stationmaster was surprised but pleased by “Charley Bates’s redemption”; there “wasn’t much setup” for it but “it’s nice that there’s one criminal character who turns his life around”:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

As to his question about how believable it is that certain criminal members of the gang are shocked at Nancy’s murder, Chris answers:

Chris M. comment

Then Chris offers a stunning look at Bill Sikes, who, paradoxically, almost seems to finally develop something like humanity and a conscience after the murder of Nancy:

But Chris had also had two questions/considerations for us, and perhaps below we might comment below on our thoughts on these:

1.) “The one thing I can’t figure out is how Fagin and the Gang were discovered? When Nancy talks with Rose & Mr Brownlow she insists and is promised that Fagin, et al, not be taken; even if information about Fagin is given by Monks, Brownlow promises her ‘they shall go scott free’. I assume the discovery of Nancy’s body leads to Fagin & Gang being taken, but who finds her? It wasn’t Bet, for she went to identify the body but didn’t discover it, and if it had been one of the Gang, wouldn’t they have gone straight to Fagin who would have quietly disposed of the body to keep the integrity of the Gang intact? Who did the detective work here? Suggestions?”

2.) “The ‘secret’ of the Oliver-Monks connection is the foundation for the action of the novel, though it is really rather incidental….These explanatory chapters (not just here but in other novels also) are dense and confusing and need an attentive reader – I often wonder why Dickens, with all his talent, wasn’t better at inserting clues earlier or somehow revealing this information in a more dramatic (i.e., showing rather than telling) way.”

~Chris M. comments

My only thought on the first was that Charley was so horrified by Nancy’s brutal murder, that he is one of those to pursue Sikes to the end, and he is the one who is changed/redeemed. Later, I have considered the possibility of Noah, too, as he was the spy on Nancy for Fagin (and might well be spying on them both after Fagin had incited Sikes’ rage against Nancy), and Noah is let off with more leniency due to his testimony against Fagin. Seeing what happens to Nancy, Noah, the most recent recruit who’d done little more than steal and spy, was perhaps terrified enough to go against the gang. Does the text support anything of this, or something else?

As to the second, I wrote: “I’m thinking of what Boze wrote about a few weeks ago, and that Dickens hadn’t the faintest idea himself of the direction the story was going in. I wonder if he even knew that ‘Monks’ would come into it, at the beginning…?”

Boze answers:

Boze H. comment

Wrap-Up on Discussion of Fagin and Antisemitism in Oliver Twist

In our first week of Oliver Twist, Boze had written a marvelous essay on Making Sense of Fagin, Dickens’ Most Troubling Character”, asking us the difficult question: “What’s a Dickens-lover to make of Fagin?”

“Fagin’s uncomplicated portrayal as a wizened, repulsive-looking, smelly old man who hungers for money and snatches innocent Christian children away from their homes traffics in the most durable and disgusting antisemitic stereotypes.”

~Boze H.

Boze H. from the essay on “Making Sense of Fagin”

This spurred some real dialogue; this week, our Stationmaster commented on the distinction between the stereotyping of the culture/race, versus the religion:

“It’s interesting that the only reference to Judaism in the novel I can remember portrays Fagin as rejecting it. (“At one time he raved and blasphemed; and at another howled and tore his hair. Venerable men of his own persuasion had come to pray beside him, but he had driven them away with curses. They renewed their charitable efforts, and he beat them off.”) Because of this I feel like Fagin, for all the antisemitic stereotypes he embodies, isn’t as defined by being Jewish as, say, Shylock is in The Merchant of Venice.

“I don’t want to excuse any racism on the book’s part, but for all the negative stereotyping Dickens did with Fagin, I don’t get the vibe that his motivation in writing Oliver Twist was specifically to make readers hate Jewish people. It was more about making them hate beadles...

~Adaptation Stationmaster

I had written, in response to Boze’s moving essay:

“I really appreciate what you say here, too, about those things which make Dickens such a genius (his sense of the popular mind/imagination), can also be a HUGE blind-spot, as he plays into the old hatreds, stereotypes, and…Humbug.

“This is one of the reasons why Oliver is my least favorite Dickens to read, though there are still many, many marvels in it. But I’m so glad you got this discussion really and truly started ~ I don’t want to side-step this most important and troubling reality.”

~Rach M.

Dana, regretting that this kind of stereotyping, and the “Blood Libel,” is “a trope that just won’t die,” and refers us to Timothy Snyder:

Dana R. and Boze H. comments

Lenny responds:

The Stationmaster responded, about my comments on how some of the many repetitions of “the Jew” were replaced in a later edition with Fagin’s proper name, in response to the criticism, that it still seems like we see that phrase so often. He also asks about the original “Fagin” that Dickens knew from the blacking factory:

Adaptation Stationmaster comment

Chris responds about the original Bob Fagin:

Chris M. comments

Daniel, who has been for years engaging in the rich practice of Mussar and has been actively involved in the welcoming Jewish community in Ashland, Oregon, finds such stereotyping “a source of anguish” and was grateful to Boze “for shining light on this issue of social/cultural antisemitism” with its concluding note of hope that, in Boze’s words, “hard hearts can soften; slumbering consciences can be stirred; a life can be made right”:

Daniel M. comments

Final Thematic Wrap-Up

As I did with Pickwick, I thought I’d try to briefly capture the overall themes we discussed in Oliver, based on the original, anticipated thematic overview in the introduction, with the changes/additions that we actually encountered in our journey:

1.) Light and Shadow, Comedy and Tragedy (Lenny has been bringing us back to Jung, and archetypes; see also “Doubling”.)

2.) Crime and Violence (A big theme, discussed especially in relation to Sikes’ brutal murder, but also how the criminal underworld seems often less culpable and more humane than the Law itself.)

3.) Theatricality (Boze and I have been especially interested in this topic, ongoing from the Sketches and Pickwick. The theatricality of Oliver was decidedly that of the Gothic and melodramatic stage. In Oliver, we see the influence of such Victorian melodrama–big emotions/gestures, the sense of the paranormal/numinous/foreboding; big convergences and final character/relationship reveals; poetic justice coming to the villains and a neat, happy wrap-up for the heroes.)

4.) Rich versus Poor; Dickens’ Social Conscience (See #6. And as Chris has observed, we see Dickens “in full ‘angry young man’ mode” in Oliver.)

5.) Dickens’ Women (We’ve all discussed this in relation to several characters, but particularly Nancy. Chris notes that Dickens’ women are often “the movers and shakers” of the novels.)

6.) The Law/Institutional Shortcomings–or Evils/Oliver as “A Reproach to the System”/The Criminality of Lawbreaking vs. the Criminality of/within the Law (The workhouse, the New Poor Law, the police, etc. Chris and many of us have discussed this; the Law and institutional evils sometimes seem even more inhumane than the criminal underworld.)

7.) Sense of Place; City versus Country (We discussed this particularly in relation to Dickens’ Romanticism.)

8.) Voice/Language in Creating Character (Perhaps not so commented on as the Jinglese and Wellerisms in Pickwick, but we have noted it throughout.)

9.) Mutability and Mortality (I’ve kept it in the summary, though we’ve not referred to it as often or with the particularlity that we have in our previous reads, but it is embedded in all of our discussions, and is a carryover, thematically, since the Sketches.)

10.) Memory (Rach has been particularly interested in this topic; Lenny and Daniel have also commented on it. Memory as something almost of “religious significance,” referencing Peter Ackroyd’s marvelous passages on this topic.)

11.) Change/Redemption in Suffering (Chris and the Stationmaster have both written about this in terms of Charley Bates and even Sikes. We’ve all written about it in reference to Nancy.)

12.) Benevolence as the Reconciling Influence (e.g. Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Bedwin, Rose Maylie, Harry, Dr. Losberne.)

13.) The Child as Hero ~ and Victim of Society

14.) Surrogate or Honorary Parents

15.) Dickens’ Romanticism (Lenny, Daniel and I have been discussing this, and Peter Ackroyd discussed this beautifully in the introduction to the work, which Chris shared in our first week. Lenny has been referring particularly to Wordsworthian Romanticism, and the Romantic Poets. “The Child is father of the Man”; the primacy of Nature.)

16.) Dickens’ “Writing Lab”: Imagery; Craftsmanship; Foreshadowing; Mystery/Surprise; Surrealism; “Plot Contrivances and Coincidences”; the Multi-Plot or “Zig-zag” novel (Boze has particularly been highlighting this for us in our journey with Oliver, though we’ve all commented on it, and Lenny has been very active in this topic as well.)

17.) Doubling (Rach and Lenny have both written on this; both in terms of characters and, as Lenny noted, in terms of the light-dark themes.)

18.) Entrapment/Claustrophobia; the Place as Image of the Person (Lenny has particularly written about this; entrapment was a theme late in Pickwick. Now, in Oliver, it pervades the atmosphere–at least, until we get to the country.)

19.) Rest (We’ve referred to this in relation to Memory, and to the nature of the country–as opposed to the city. For one so maniacally and perpetually active and working as Dickens was, the theme of “rest” seems unusually strong, and is connected to being cared for for one’s own sake, and not for what one can do or produce or accomplish. This will keep coming ’round again. Perhaps the longing for what we too often lack in life.)

A Look-Ahead to the Next Two Weeks…

“Oliver and His Family” — the “cancelled” illustration by George Cruikshank

Friends, based on our updated Dickens Club reading schedule, this will be our first “Break” in-between reads; however, since we’ve only just recently altered the schedule, we don’t have events planned. (But always open to suggestions/brainstorms!) Speaking for myself, Oliver wasn’t one of the reads I had intended to do a special-interest post on, unless it be to delve further into the discussion on Memory, guided by Peter Ackroyd. (Though perhaps I’ll go back and write up that one on Sam Weller…)

But our break will be a great time to catch up on what Chris calls our “in-between reading,” on your other non-Dickens reads, or to get a head start on our next…Nicholas Nickleby!

I’m sure we’ll be engaged in some great conversation before we start tagging along with Nicholas and Smike, but at the very latest…we’ll see you on May 31 for our “Introduction to Nicholas Nickleby“!

13 Comments

  1. Wow. Rach! A wonderful and knowledgeable encyclopedic wrap-up of the novel as a whole and our final group reading experience. I especially liked your “capturing” of the main and many “themes” that we, as a group, were dealing with and discussing with our reading of OLIVER. What great depths of analyses and questionings we had about the novel, generally, and about the characters and plotting in particular! This was, indeed, a treasurable five weeks of reading and writing.

    I can imagine that many of our “discoveries” will carry over into NICHOLAS and the other novels.

    What a great job you’ve done; thanks so much for your hard work and thoughtful organization of this monumental task!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lenny, thank you so much, that absolutely brightened the day!! I think we’re doing such a marvelously fun and truly unique thing here…and I too am SUPER excited to see how these carry over into Nicholas and beyond. It’s my absolute pleasure to just try and pull it together at the end, as the heavy mental “lifting” has been done!

      I’ve thought a lot about the *one* concern with the break, which you voiced: we don’t want to lose momentum! I think paradoxically it’ll actually enrich it a lot…even if the schedule allows for ample reading time, it always felt a bit rushed to just dive right into the next when we’ve just wrapped up one. I really felt that with Pickwick…mentally, I wasn’t ready to leave him and Sam. 🖤

      But, our first break is the one time where I **do** have a slight concern, since we haven’t had anything planned for it, and I frankly hadn’t really planned a special-interest post. (Though I might yet…!) But I’m hoping it’ll end up being a really enriching time. I certainly diving into some extra Dickensian reading…and getting a little start on Nicholas! 😁😊

      I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re in this group…when I really stop to think of it, I always marvel, and am so, so grateful for it! What a lovely core company we have 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question! I haven’t read a reason for why, but Dickens had asked him to redo it, and the Rose & Oliver one was used instead. I’ll see if I can find anything more 🙂

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  2. Reading A. N. Wilson’s “The Victorians” last night, I was struck by this passage with respect to our discussion on Dickens’ evolving social conscience:

    “Many of the ‘benevolent’ characters in Dickens will strike some readers as clumsily drawn and manipulative of our tear ducts. One thinks of the brothers Cheeryble or of Mr Brownlow or Pickwick himself. It was well said that ‘their facile charity forbids censoriousness; they are too busy being happy to think.’ Yet each time one reads A Christmas Carol, it works. The ethics of Scrooge (which are the ethics of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, the ethics of the mill-owners and factory-builders who created the wealth of Victorian England) are held in check by a tremendously simplified form of Christian charity.

    “Dickens admired and promoted the notion of benevolence, both in his person (for example in his work at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital) and in his writings, to the point where he must be recognised as a hugely benign force in Victorian England. He is both the cause, and a symptom, of a benevolence which is palpable.”

    Of course ideas of charity and benevolence are embedded in Jewish and Christian teachings, but I wonder how responsible was Dickens for making us aware of that fact? To what extent did he create our modern world in which tangible compassion for the poor is seen as the hallmark of a healthy society? I remember Russell T. Davies (the head writer for Doctor Who) saying once that A Christmas Carol had almost replaced the original Christmas story as *the* Christmas story, and it must be said that Dickens has made us gentler, and more Christ-like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On a quick little lunch/tea break here, so I just had to jump in, even though this topic definitely deserves more time/thought, & I’m sure it’ll keep coming round again. I love this: “He is both the cause, and a symptom, of a benevolence which is palpable.” However, I might lose my charitable feelings at Wilson’s comments about the Brothers Cheeryble and especially Mr. Pickwick!

      I just read an introduction in my copy of Nicholas Nickleby by Michael Slater, and was delighted by his eulogizing of Mrs. Nickleby as a genius comic invention, but he too had a few things to say that made me want to throw the book against the wall—one about the dear Brothers, and one about, of all people, Smike! Okay, let me veer off for a moment to get angry by this: “Just because he is so featureless, Oliver is an excellent focus for our own feelings of dread and helplessness, but Smike, a mentally retarded 18-year-old, in his sweet pathos almost as peculiar a creation as Wordsworth’s Idiot Boy or Dickens’s own Barnaby Rudge, is too strange a creature for us to identify with.” (Slater) GRRRR…

      Anyway…!

      And as to the happiness of such characters, I don’t think it’s false or something to make us write them off—on the contrary. I think oftentimes such “happiness” which might also just be consideration for the other person, and not putting one’s own sorrows too much in the forefront, is probably something both cultivated, like Mark Tapley’s wanting to stay jolly under trying conditions, but also a result of their kindliness. Of course, in spite of Dickens’ many, many hardships and trauma, he showed the greatest energy in his philanthropy (the preface of the Tomalin biography about his assistance in the sad case of the mother convicted of killing her child, was one of the highlights of the bio), as in the Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital, and his energy seemed boundless…and amazingly, he never seems to have lost it, however busy he was, however stressed, however successful and sought out.

      Dickens has that utterly unique capacity, I think, for both delighting us with the most eccentric and quirky aspects of human nature, and some delightful randomness that almost makes his characters more real than many we meet every day, but he also really manages to lift up the beauty of generosity in the ordinary. I think, though the ideal of kindness and benevolence is universal among all people and classes, he gives a slightly different emphasis to it in those who are poorer and less fortunate–perhaps manifesting especially in: loyalty, devotion, self-abnegation, self-sacrificial love—and those who have the financial means to do more (e.g. Pickwick, Brownlow, the Brothers C): munificence, benevolence, generosity, devotion of time and resources.

      I was reminded of Little Dorrit, and how Dickens makes ideals, such “inspiration,” a part of our common inheritance—for the layman, if you will, not only for priests, “great souls,” etc:

      “What her [Amy’s] pitiful look saw, at that early time, in her father, in her sister, in her brother, in the jail; how much, or how little of the wretched truth it pleased God to make visible to her; lies hidden with many mysteries. It is enough that she was inspired to be something which was not what the rest were, and to be that something, different and laborious, for the sake of the rest. Inspired? Yes. Shall we speak of the inspiration of a poet or a priest, and not of the heart impelled by love and self-devotion to the lowliest work in the lowliest way of life!”

      The magic of Dickens…the Inspiration.

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  3. Good morning, friends! (Or afternoon, etc, depending on where you are…)

    Daniel is having trouble with WordPress, and while he works on that, he asked me to post his comment for him:

    “Inimitables!

    Thanks so much, Dickensian Wren, for the magnificent summary and mosaic recapitulation of key themes and discussions.

    There is so much to reflect on and, in turn, share, but I would like to make just three brief observations.

    1.) Benevolence: The Latin, I believe, might be translated as “wishing or wanting well (the good) for others.” This is both an attitude and a spring of action. It impels the person imbued with it to seek out those in need of a prayer, a kind word, a generous gesture. Dickens’ benevolent characters inspire me to be more like them. As noted above, this quality of human “being” and “acting” seems to be universal, at least as aspirational. We invariably admire and are moved by it.

    2.) Bates and free will: I find the phenomenon of free will to be such a mysterious truth. Why does Charlie reform his life, while others in the same condition don’t? The inner sanctum, conscience, is not available to the observer; so the movement towards the good (or towards evil) remains a mystery.

    3.) Providence: I delight in the providential aspect of Dickens’ god-like imagination. He is tirelessly working behind the scenes to weave together the actions and consequences of those actions. Rachel’s description of Sikes’ death is a case in point: “Sikes ends up climbing to the rooftop of the dilapidated old building, and, trying to use a rope to lower himself, accidentally ends up swinging by the neck from the noose he has himself created.”

    I believe that a central aspect of Dickens’ perennial appeal is his ability to “sub-create” reality, borrowing a concept from J.R.R. Tolkien. None of us is a creator in the original, ex nihilo sense; but, we can use the “raw material” of our world to reflect divine purpose.

    Dickens, the Inimitable, pulls back the veil on higher realities, purposes, and ends–thereby illuminating our lives, our choices, our attitudes, our actions.

    Blessings, All!

    Daniel”

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  4. Just a few random comments:

    So far, with the two novels we’ve read, the’ benevolent” characters seem to be quite wealthy: Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Wardle, Mrs. Maylie, and Mr. Brownlow. The presumption seems to be that with wealth comes the ability to help those in need. Therefore, money =power, and Power allows these characters to act responsibly and and to have the “ability” to do “good.” Even though Pickwick goes to prison, he is able to spend his way to personal accommodations that are far superior to others in the jail. And even within that enclosure, he is able to help others out financially. And, in keeping with this wealth, he is able to “buy” his way out of prison and to spend immense amount of money to “buy” other characters’ happiness–in accordance with the classical finale of the novel’s overall comic STRUCTURE. In fact, to some extent he is the catalyst for the “romantic comedy” that involves Sam Weller’s marriage and ultimate success. In sum, it is Pickwick’s wealth that “orchestrates” the novel’s comic closure; he operates as a kind of deus ex machina!

    And this pattern largely fits the charitable and humane behaviors of Wardle, Mrs. Maylie, and Mr. Brownlow. Consequently, I’m wondering why this phenomenon is so…. Of the “lower classes,” Sam Weller and, even, Nancy seem to be the exceptions to this rule. Nancy’s “charity” seems to be a kind of psychic “breakthrough” that provides the momentum toward which Oliver can be saved from the evils of Fagin and Sikes. In PICKWICK, Sam’s innate morality extends, in the most part, toward the protecting of his boss, who is therefore allowed to his benevolent “giving” to those he feels are most deserving. Mrs. Maylie realizes that Oliver is innocent and decides he must be saved and protected from the evils that have literally controlled his life from the beginning of the novel. Like Pickwick, she too belongs to the monied class and can extend her giving to whom she feels is deserving of it. Rose, defined by her “mother’s” wealth and morality, is able to extend her charity both to Oliver and Nancy. But again, HER “giving” is made possible by the ideal situation made for her by her wealthy benefactor.

    Mr. Brownlow, in many ways, is the major wealthy catalyst in OLIVER and. Like Pickwick, also operates in this novel’s structure as a kind of deus ex machina. He decides in many ways how certain characters will benefit, either for the good or bad, from his monied charity. Mr. Wardle is the wealthy land owner in Dingley Dell and with his prosperity operates as a kind of “protector” over his family and provides much of PICKWICKS festive and holiday atmosphere.

    In short, money “talks” in these novels and might be said to be the prime catalyst for all that is good versus the various kinds of evils which threaten their novels’ main virtuous characters and assures them their eventual happy circumstances at each novel’s conclusions.

    What is there about this bias that tends to jar me? I’m not sure….

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    1. Fascinating thoughts, Lenny! As I mentioned in my comments above, I think maybe Dickens delineates the different ideals of goodness/giving, depending on one’s social status. It’s interesting, though, since you’ve brought up how prominent wealth is among the good characters in our early reads, I’m wondering if the shift starts happening a little later in the novels, because I usually think of the poorer or more working class characters as being the most giving: Little Dorrit, Little Nell, Esther (who, without Jarndyce’s assistance in the world, would’ve been in great difficulties), the Nicklebys (Nicholas and Kate) and Smike, Lizzie Hexam, the Peggotys, Tom Pinch…the list goes on.

      So, I’m curious about this trend in the first two novels, and I’m totally going out on a limb here, because I have nothing immediately to hand to back this up, but I wonder if young Dickens, so financially deprived through so much of his life and only just beginning to feel what money can do, is giving us an ideal of what people with money ***should*** be doing with it, and how they should be using it?

      Just an initial thought. I hadn’t considered this much before in relation to the chronology of his works, and the possible development of characterizations…!

      Liked by 2 people

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