CONCLUSION

NO discussion of Dickens's books as historical documents can avoid considering the quality of his reporting and the modifications of his 'facts' by reticence, by exaggeration, and by the peculiar working of his eye interpreting the 'facts' in the very moment of seeing. This book has deliberately treated him as if he were a journalist more than a creative artist; and he was in fact a journalist of the finest kind. There is no such thing as pure reporting; even a hack has to find news, and then can only see it in the schematization of his own mind and only send it to his editor in his own style; he can only depersonalize it into commonplace, and commonplace derives its quality from journalism and not from events. Modifications in reporting are more or less deliberate, and in interpreting journalism it is best to deal with the more obviously deliberate modifications first.

There is one such modification in Dickens which stands out above any other--his reticence about what he thought might be offensive. In the preface that he later added to Oliver Twist he said that he had aimed to describe the dregs of life 'so long as their speech did not offend the ear'. And he applied this principle to many things besides the conversations of Sikes and Nancy; everything was written with an eye on decency, and he himself worked by the rule he mocked at in Podsnap, that there should be nothing in his books unfit for a Young Person. His doing so was almost universally approved: critic after critic praised his 'purity' right up to the end of the century. Even Frederic Harrison could write in 1895:

Here is a writer who is realistic, if ever any writer was,

-215-

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The Dickens World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface to the Second Edition 5
  • Contents 7
  • Introduction 9
  • Chapter I - History 18
  • Chapter II - Benevolence 36
  • Chapter III - Economy: Domestic and Political--I 55
  • Chapter IV - Economy: Domestic and Political--Ii 77
  • Chapter V - Religion 106
  • Chapter VI - The Changing Scene 133
  • Chapter VII 170
  • Conclusion 215
  • Index 225
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