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Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
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Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 9 May 2015 10:24:57 -0700
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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 

       "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 

     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?