The Sentimental Journey: A Life of Charles Dickens

The Sentimental Journey: A Life of Charles Dickens

The Sentimental Journey: A Life of Charles Dickens

The Sentimental Journey: A Life of Charles Dickens

Excerpt

In his brilliant but erratic book on Charles Dickens, Mr. G. K. Chesterton falls heavily on the "purely artistic critic" who regards the popularity of Dickens with mistrust. "The people like bad literature," Mr. Chesterton makes this odious person say. "If your object is to show that Dickens was good literature, you should rather apologize for his popularity, and try to explain it away. You should seek to show that Dickens's work was good literature, although it was popular. Yes, that is your task, to prove that Dickens was admirable, although he was admired!"

As may be guessed from this quotation, the enormous popularity of Dickens is a cause of much irritability among his critics, leading some to regard Dickens with distaste, and leading others to overplay the part of the plain blunt man, for whom the voice of the people is the voice of God. Our judgment of other English writers is not confused in this way. Millions of dumb admirers are not present to our consciousness when we think about Fielding or Thackeray, or Scott or even Shakespeare. The popularity of Dickens is unique and has interfered with a detached view of him both as a man and a writer. To attain this detachment may be possible if his popularity is treated not as an isolated phenomenon, to be assailed or exalted . . .

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