Friends of the Dickens forum,
The lead article of *Dickens Quarterly* (March issue) centers on
Dickens's *Sketches of Young Couples*. We had not read this collection
for so long as to have forgotten them almost entirely. We found them in
our Boz Sketches volume of the Oxford Illustrated Dickens and, to our
surprise, online. Dickens had written them to work off part of his
contractual obligations to the publisher Richard Bentley and the
resultant small book (or as a reviewer called it "brochure") was
published anonymously on 10 February 1840 to coincide with the marriage
of Victoria and Albert.
So overwhelmed by work as to refuse evening invitations, Dickens
turned the sketches out quickly as a light job of work. In sending a
copy to the painter Daniel Maclise, he requested that his authorship
"remain in the bosom of your family."
We enjoyed reading these sketches partly for themselves and partly
from the knowledge of what was to come from Dickens. There are twelve
sketches in all, but not all of young couples. They vary from one on a
newly married pair, a young pair given to public shows of affection, a
pair established in life but without children, a couple with a large
family, couples who appear not to have children but who have been long
in developing their egotism, plausibility, hypochondria and self-coddling,
and an old couple with children and grandchildren. As one would guess,
the tone toward the couples varies considerably, from lightness and mild
criticism, to sharp irony and at at one point to steady sadness breaking
into rare joy. They are, as we said, an easy and enjoyable read.
The couples are all of the upper middle class. They have
comfortable households with servants in attendance and nurses for the
children. Even a very old servant who lives in an alms-house is
"cheerful and contented" with "a warm hearth to sit by."
The conclusion has two surprises for Dickens readers. The first
speaks of his having "purposely excluded ... the couple in which the lady
reigns paramount and supreme, holding such cases to be of a very
unnatural kind." Ah, then, take notice Catherine Dickens. She and Charles
had been married not quite four years.
The second surprise, surprise in the light of several marriages
Dickens was to depict, in the unhappiness of some of the couples he
has just written about and the one he experienced himself, is an
adjuration to all couples. They should "learn to centre all their hopes
of real and lasting happiness in their own fireside; let them cherish the
faith that [lies] in home, and all the English virtues which the love of
home engenders, lies the only true source of domestic felicity; let them
believe that round the household gods, contentment and tranquillity
cluster in their gentlest and most graceful forms, and that many weary
hunters of happiness through the noisy world, have learnt this truth too
late, and found a cheerful spirit and a quiet mind only at home at last."
The Pilgrim edition of the letters suggests that Dickens was
not recognized as author of these sketches because many sketches of the
kind were being published. But this pompous conclusion by itself would
put us off the scent.
In a second post we shall discuss the DQ article, written by Wendy
Parkins and entitled "Emotions, Ethics and Sociality in Dickens's
_Sketches of Young Couples_."