Dickens, from Pickwick to Dombey

Dickens, from Pickwick to Dombey

Dickens, from Pickwick to Dombey

Dickens, from Pickwick to Dombey

Excerpt

My main purpose in this book is to present what I believe to be an explanation of Dickens's development as a novelist through the first half of his career. I have tried to do this by means of an analysis in chronological order of the seven novels written during this period, from Pickwick Papers through Dombey and Son, and by relating these novels to each other, to the course of Dickens's life and thought, and to the culture to which they belong. Occasionally I have permitted myself to discuss the bearing, direct and indirect, of certain elements in Dickens's writing upon the literature of our time.

Originally I had planned to encompass Dickens's entire life, and to place strongest emphasis upon the later novels. But as I continued to study his earlier works it became clear to me that such an undertaking could not be adequately realized within the scope of a single volume. Dickens's novels are themselves so dense and complex that they require rather strenuous critical examination before their unifying principles can be adduced. What Henry James called "free aesthetic life" is found in such abundance in these novels, and particularly in the early ones, that for a long time it was considered irrelevant (not to say irreverent) to look for unity within them, much less among them. James used the phrase I have quoted to describe a quality he felt to be missing in George Eliot's work, and he went on to say that although the figures in her novels "are deeply studied and massively supported . . . they are not seen, in the irresponsible plastic way." To see things in "the irresponsible way," James implies, is the natural, the primitive mode of the novelist. The limitations of this mode were doubtless what F. R. Leavis had in mind when he characterized Dickens's novels, with the exception of Hard Times, as suffering from the . . .

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