( England: In Charles Dickens Hard Times: 1854)
In the nineteenth-century English novel -- whether the "great tradition" of the realist novel that begins with Jane Austen and that includes George Eliot and Anthony Trollope, or the countertradition of the "romance" novel that begins with Sir Walter Scott and that includes the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy -- the clown figure or the fool is markedly absent. This is not to say that there are not comic characters in these novels; the nineteenth-century English novel is indeed filled with comic characters who take on the function of the fool or clown figure, providing levity to pomposity, deflating ego, and puncturing the official voice of authority and of society. Most notable among these comic fools is Tony Welder in Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers (his first novel and in many ways more of an eighteenth-century picaresque comic novel than a nineteenth-century realist novel) and Sarah Gamp in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit. Significantly, in the works of Dickens, the most popular of the nineteenth-century English novelists both in his day and ours, these comic characters are often cockney characters who share with the more traditional fool characters a linguistic playfulness and a linguistic speech pattern rooted in their social status that separates them and marks them as "other." But the Sleary Circus in Dickens Hard Times stands out in the Dickens canon and in the nineteenth-century English novel because its performers not only take on many of the traditional functions of characters who act as comic foils, but they are indeed professional fools and clowns.
According to Paul Schlicke, in creating portraits of the circus, Dickens drew
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Publication information: Book title: Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History:A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Contributors: Vicki K. Janik - Editor, Emmanuel S. Nelson - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 395.