Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dickens' Unflawed Heros

Book Cover: Dickens: A Biography

Here's another interesting quote from Fred Kaplan's Dickens : A Biography. I've always found Dicken's first person narrators, like David Copperfield and Arthur Clennam, problematic. While they are participants in the plot, their communications to the readers are a little too insightful for the limitations of their characters. Dickens seemed to feel quite comfortable with omniscient narrators ("A Christmas Carol," A Tale of Two Cities), and I wonder why he ever chose first person narratives. This quote suggests that he felt constrained by this technique, and he seems to have blamed his readers' and critics' moral requirements.

....Dickens was radically conservative in his combination of realistic psychological portraiture and moral idealism. To the realists, though, even his sharp psychological portraiture lacked a fullness of dimension that would make the depiction true to life. Clennam was an instance at hand, as Little Dorrit progressed. Despite his complications of history and character, Clennam embodies conventional decency, and never struggles with the anger, violence, vengefulness, sexual fulfillment, even self serving irrationality of the sort that such a man might naturally be expected to feel Having gone as far as he thought it sound to go, Dickens felt the frustration of his situation as a Victorian writer. If "the hero of an English book is always uninteresting--too good, not natural, etc....what a shining imposer you," the English critic, "must think yourself and what an ass you must think me, when you suppose that by putting a brazen face upon it you can blot out of my knowledge the fact that this same unnatural young gentleman (if to be decent is to be necessarily unnatural)...must be presented to you in that unnatural aspect by reason of your morality, and is not to have, I will not say any of the indecencies you like, but not even any of the experiences, trials, perplexities, and confusions inseparable from the making and unmaking of all men!"

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