”His brief stint at the Blacking Factory haunted him all of his life — he spoke of it only to his wife and to his closest friend, John Forster — but the dark secret became a source both of creative energy and of the preoccupation with the themes of alienation and betrayal which would emerge, most notably, in David Copperfield and in Great Expectations.”
Lant Street, he wrote later in ”Pickwick Papers” , was colonized by ”a few clear-starchers, a sprinkling of journey-men bookbinders, one or two prison agents for the Insolvent Court, several small housekeepers who are employed in the Docks,a handful of mantua makers, and a seasoning of jobbing tailors…The population is migratory, usually disappearing on the verge of quarter- day, and generally by night. His Majesty’s revenues are seldom collected in this happy valley; the rents are dubious; and the water communication is very frequently cut off. .”
Now that he was living on Lant Street, Charles did not have so far to walk home after evening visits to visit his father in Debtors Prison, and he was able to go to the prison for breakfast and supper. And after supper on Saturdays, as he made his way home, his money burned a hole in his pocket.More than once, as he confessed, ”I have been seduced …. by a show van at the corner; and have gone in, with a very motley assemblage, to see the Fat-pig, the Wild-Indian, and the Little-lady. There were two or three hat-manufactories there, then… and among the things which, encountered anywhere, or under any circumstances, will instantly recall that time, is the smell of hat-making.”
After seeing the show in the traveling circus van, he might call at a shop selling Hunt’s roasted corn, which had become a popular substitute for coffee and which he enjoyed roasting for his Sunday breakfast; or he might spend two-pence on the latest issue of ” The Portfolio of Entertainment and Instructive Varieties in History, Science, Literature and Fine Arts”, a magazine that specialized in burlesque and parody; or a linger at a street corner to watch a Punch-and-Judy show. And he remembered once going into a theatre ”of the lowest description” and seeing a performance that included two dramas, a comic song sung from a donkey’s back, and a display of fireworks.
On Sunday, he spent all day in the prison, going first to fetch his sister Fanny from the Academy of Music, where she was studying. One day he went to the Academy to see fanny presented with a prize and felt overwhelmed by the contrast between her acclaimed success and his own disregard and hopelessness. ”I could not bear to think of myself, beyond the reach of all honorable emulation and success,” he wrote. ”The tears ran down my face…I prayed , when I went to bed that night, to be lifted out of the humiliation and neglect in which I was. I had never suffered so much before. ”
In April, 1824, John Dickens came into an inheritance from his mother, and the debts could be paid at last. The family moved out of the prison, first to stay with Mrs. Roylance, then to Hampstead, before finding a more permanent home in a seedy house in Johnson Street between Camden Town and Somers Town. John Dickens went back to his job at the Navy Pay Office.
With his father working again, Charles was sure that he would be allowed to go back to school. He waited for something to be said. But nothing was. Charles continued with his hated work. He was not so poor now,for his mother provided him with his dinner, which he carried to the Warehouse at Warren’s shoe blacking factory, tied up in a handkerchief, yet he was ”just as solitary and self-dependent as before…”
The only real changes were that Warren’s, having prospered, had moved to larger, lighter, and less tumbledown premises, and that Charles had become so adept at his work that he and Bob Fagin were set to work together in the light of one of the ground floor windows, where they were the subject of great interest to passers-by who collected on the pavement outside to watch. Charles, no doubt , rather enjoyed being watched at his work, as most boys do when they are performing a task quickly and skillfully. He had always liked showing off, and was always to enjoy playing a part, even in his private relationships. But his father was deeply distressed by this public display of his son’s manual dexterity and of his own vicarious disgrace. John quarreled with James Lamert, who had hired Charles, who in turn informed Charles that he could not possibly keep him on.
Instead of being pleased by this longed-for dismissal, however, Charles admitted he ”cried very much, partly because it was so sudden, and partly because in his anger James Lamert was violent about my father, though gentle to me. Thomas, the foreman comforted me, and said he was sure it was for the best. With a relief so strange it was like oppression, I went home.”
At home, his mother was not at all pleased. More practical than her husband, she realized how foolish it was to quarrel with one of the few people who had done something to help the family in the time of their distress. Besides, who could tell how long her husband would be kept on at the Navy Pay Office, having been in prison for mismanaging his own financial affairs? And in the meantime, Charles weekly wage, which had been increased to seven shillings a week, was very useful.
She went to see James Lamert, settled the differences between him and her husband, and persuaded him to take Charles back. This seemed to her son an unforgivable betrayal. ” I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.” His father, however, shocked by what he had seen in Warren’s window and determined that his family should have appeared to have regained their former gentility, decided that Charles, instead of going back to work, should go to school again, whether he could afford to send him or not.
”Later Dickens’ own family was marked by strife as his relationship with his wife deteriorated and his sons seemed to have inherited their paternal grandfather’s trouble handling finances. Dickens once lamented that he had “brought up the largest family with the smallest disposition for doing anything for themselves.” Dickens’ extended family’s constant drain on his finances, along with his built-in anxiety about money caused by his childhood, resulted in Dickens never feeling comfortable enough about his financial situation.”
Dickens own prodigious memory does indeed point to a level of childhood trauma, whether the process of recollection was repressed or dissociative in not entirely clear, though this tension is apparent in Dickens’s work between ,through his writing, the process of knowing the source of the trauma is pitted against the fear of doing so.Freud suggested the possibility of a second state of consciousness created as part of the healing process, and suggested that ”repressed material continues to exist to put out derivatives and institute corrections.”
”Dickens‘s amazing faculties of observation and memory are proved by the use made of all that he had witnessed, especially in the prison scenes of ‘Pickwick’ and in the earlier part of ‘David Copperfield’. That he suffered severely is proven by the unusual bitterness shown in his own narrative printed by Forster. He felt degraded by his humble occupation in a ….”
The complex interplay between emotion and memory;the sheer volume of characters in ”Pickwick Papers” is staggering, running to over one thousand. There is almost a ”memory phobia” at work; a depth of memory to avoid the traumatic visceral comprehension of the traumatism inducing experiences. There is is this force at work in Dickens; a desire yet impossibility of escaping emotional trauma though trough his writing, his inability to cope is always matched by the refined articulation of the characters who extraordinarily express for him that which moves beyond sadness, grief and the more or less common vicissitudes of living.