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Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
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Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 12 May 2015 09:51:21 -0700
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Friends of the Dickens Forum,

     Luther Nelson <[log in to unmask]> points us to a passage from his 
book which
summarizes very well his view of Dickens's political creed:     (pjm)
> Patrick,
> Thanks for that piece stemming from Gopnik's article on Trollope  (I just
> got that New Yorker today).  *Hard Times* belongs on that list of novels
> you close with:  "No grand program then, but what Sissy has to offer, is
> what the world needs; and there needs no system for that.  Perhaps this
> explains why Dickens was a radical but no revolutionary: why overturn an
> imperfect system to set up another? deflate a blustering manufacturer like
> Bounderby so that a windy labor leader like Slackbridge may swell into his
> place? . . . ." (p. 201, in my last chapter).
> I'd like to see a "companion piece on Dickens," too.
> Harland
> On Sat, May 9, 2015 at 12:24 PM, Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]
>> wrote:
>> Friends of the Dickens Forum,
>>      We could not read Adam Gopnik's article "Trollope Trending" [New
>> Yorker, May 4, '15] without
>> thinking whether one could write a companion article on Dickens.
>>      Gopnik strikes a line through Trollope's enormous output--forty-seven
>> novels and much else
>> besides--a line that is primarily political.  He focuses on two of the
>> "three distinct Trollopes": "The Trollope of
>> the Barsetshire (Barchester) novels, [and] the Trollope of the Palliser,
>> or political novels" while
>> passing over "the Trollope of the odder, one-off books."  Trollope
>> described himself, as Jack Hall
>> noted, as "an advanced, but still conservative, Liberal," and his novels
>> have as background "this
>> special crisis of modernization--...but a crisis of institutions, produced
>> by reform and standarization."
>> What strikes us as especially Trollopian in both the Barchester and
>> Palliser novels is that the
>> those who benefit from the old, corrupt system are often kind and gentle
>> figures and  the
>> reformers hard, idea-driven figures.  Mr. Harding of *The Warden* is the
>> signal example of the former,
>> and John Bold who would oust Mr. Harding from his sinecure, the signal
>> figure of the latter.
>>      Thus in Trollope there is much to admire in the old order while the
>> system that supports their
>> gracious lives must give way to a more egalitarian order.   To cut to
>> Gopnik's salient insight--and
>> we pass over the delightful, knowledgeable detail of his article--, he
>> points to actions of two of the
>> principal figures of the parliamentary novels, Phineas Finn and
>> Plantagenet Palliser, actions which
>> they take "only because it is the right thing to do."   The humanity of
>> those who must perforce
>> give up the past is always to the fore while they cooperate with the
>> forces that eventually
>> annihilate the order that supports them.
>>      Now, what of Dickens?  Gopnik says briefly, "[Dickens's] view of the
>> world is a poet's, painted
>> in violent and unnatural colors," and the crisis he stresses is "the
>> crisis of industrialization
>> and mass immiseration."
>>      The generally received view of Dickens is that he is a Radical who
>> wishes institutional change
>> but abhors violence.  Edmund Wilson and George Orwell see him as "an
>> enigmatic mixture of Radicalism
>> and Conservatism in his novels."  Where does one turn for further
>> information?
>>        "The Politics of Dickens' Novels" by Monroe Engel [PMLA,71 (5),
>> Dec.56], despite its title,
>> concentrates on CD's periodical writing in *Household Words* and *All the
>> Year Round.*  Joint-
>> stock banks, misuse of money, ("false idolatry of the golden calf"), and
>> fear of industry are Dickensian
>> concerns, while belief in invention and change versus an imagined past
>> (say, "the noble savage")
>> are subjects touched upon.  He concludes: "He was a subversive who
>> undermined the accepted
>> principles of his time whether those principles related to representative
>> government, class structure,
>> the treatment of the poor, the making of money, or numbers of other
>> subjects."
>>      For more recent considerations, we found ourselves in large agreement
>> with four articles in the
>> *Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens* (1999, ff): "Politics and
>> Politicians" (by Eric Evans), "Poor
>> Relief and the New Poor Law" ( Robert Newsom), "Government" (Eric Evans),
>> "Chartism" (Evans).
>> What then of the novels?  We think of course of *Oliver Twist,* *Little
>> Dorrit,* *Bleak House,* and
>> *Our Mutual Friend*  and wonder whether his positive attitude to Lord
>> Dedlock (not his relatives)
>> can be thought of as Trollopian.    Do we think of Trollope as more
>> balanced in political views?
>> Is Dickens too ready to condemn a perceived political evil?  Are his
>> characters, whether low or high on
>> the political spectrum, invariably corrupt?   Where does he see the
>> political future of England in
>> the safest hands?