…is hilarious! I’m going to let Dickens have most of this post, in support of that claim.
Scene: busy London street. Oliver is mistakenly identified as the nabber of Mr. Brownlow’s handkerchief. He makes a run for it and gets a mob on his heels. Oliver’s new friends the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates join in the chase to divert attention from the real thieves, namely, themselves. Take it away, Dickens:
“When the Dodger and his accomplished friend Master Bates joined in the hue and cry which was raised at Oliver’s heels, in consequence of their executing an illegal conveyance of Mr Brownlow’s personal property, as hath been already described with great perspicuity in a foregoing chapter, they were actuated, as we therein took occasion to observe, by a very laudable and becoming regard for themselves: and forasmuch as the freedom of the subject and the liberty of the individual are among the first and proudest boasts of a true-hearted Englishman, so I need hardly beg the reader to observe that this action must tend to exalt them in the opinion of all public and patriotic men, in almost as great a degree as this strong proof of their anxiety for their own preservation and safety goes to corroborate the confirm the little code of laws which certain profound and sound-judging philosophers have laid down as the mainsprings of all Madam Nature’s deeds and actions; the said philosophers very wisely reducing the good lady’s proceedings to matters of maxim and theory, and, by a very neat and pretty compliment to her exalted wisdom and understanding, putting entirely out of sight any considerations of heart, or generous impulse and feeling, as matters totally beneath a female who is acknowledged by universal admission to be so far beyond the numerous little foibles and weaknesses of her sex.” (Book the First, Chapter the Thirteenth)
Zing! Oh boy, that still smarts! I wonder if Dickens rolls in his grave every time an economist praises self-interest. Seriously, it seems to have been the norm that if Dickens exposed something stupid his fellow countrymen were doing, it would cease. He wrote about the public hangings, they stopped hanging people. He wrote about abusive schools in the country, they closed them down. He wrote about certain slums in London, they were reformed. However, he wrote about the ridiculousness of a society which praises self-preservation above all, and that paradox sadly lives on.
(Speaking of Dickens’ grave, it happens to be at Westminster Abbey. And did you know he separated from his wife, with whom he had 10 children, and fell in love with an actress? Even bought her a house?)
Okay, my second-favorite quote happens to come from the same chapter. Someone needs to look for Oliver at the police station. Everyone in the gang is naturally reluctant. It is proposed that Bet should go:
“It is due to the young lady to say that she did not positively affirm that she would not, but that she merely expressed an emphatic and earnest desire to be ‘jiggered’ if she would; a polite and delicate evasion of the request, which shows the young lady to have been possessed of that natural good-breeding that cannot bear to inflict upon a fellow-creature the pain of a direct and pointed refusal.”
The loveliness about Dickens, I think, is that the plot is of secondary importance. It’s so filled with crazy coincidences to drive it forward that it’s hard to lose oneself in it. I quite like that, as I’ve never liked plots much, myself. They’re always trying to steal the show. The worst thing ever is when the gist of a book can be pretty much made clear by saying ‘and then this happened, and then this, and then this…’. Who wants to read a logical and connected series of events? Much better to enjoy each page as you come to it, rather than trying to slog through the words to find out ‘what happens’.
And I’ll be jiggered if Dickens didn’t get me back into blogging.