”There are many recorded tales and traits of the author’s infancy, but one small fact seems to me more than any other to strike the note and give the key to his whole strange character. His father found it more amusing to be an audience than to be an instructor; and instead of giving the child intellectual pleasure, called upon him, almost before he was out of petticoats, to provide it. Some of the earliest glimpses we have of Charles Dickens show him to us perched on some chair or table singing comic songs in an atmosphere of perpetual applause. So, almost as soon as he can toddle, he steps into the glare of the footlights. He never stepped out of it until he died.”
He never forgave his mother for ”being warm for my being sent back” to the shoe blacking factory. His Father,absorbed in his own self-serving foolish pride and the pretentious appearance of family gentility, had him sent back to school, if only for his own sake. In fact, the abuse of Dickens though exasperated by the crude and vulgar people he was obliged to compose with, was actually more visceral and viscious within the home circle. An emotionally frozen mother and ego-centric father was a toxic trauma cocktail in itself. The role of black sheep was not a mantle naturally suited for young Dickens.
And so the blacking warehouse episode was over. His parents never again referred to it, and neither his wife nor his children knew anything anything about it until after he was dead. ” I have no idea how long it lasted; whether for a year, or much more, or less,” Dickens wrote in his posthumously published autobiographical notes. Actually it lasted for less than six months. But to the child, overwhelmed by a sense of deprivation, degradation, loneliness, and despair, and having no idea when, if ever, he would be released from his bondage, it obviously seemed interminable. Even when he was released in fact, he was never to be released in spirit. It is not merely that superficial references to boot blacking, to Warren’s, to debtors, and to prisons occur repeatedly throughout his work; it is not only that, as most noticeably in ”Little Dorrit” , modern society is seen as a prison like the Marshalsea, or in terms of imprisonment like his life at Warren’s; it is not only that his books are filled with ill-treated children, victimized children, and they do not contain a single example of a completely happy, self-fulfilled child; it is that the very spirit of his imagined world reflects the atmosphere and the experience of those days.
There is a basis for believing that Dickens’s never ending campaigning and zeal for the amelioration of the plight of the poor, his railing against injustice and hypocrisy and many other deeds of kindness, was simply a false-flag to throw people off the scent of who he really was. It was only many years after his death that what Forster would term the ”darker, more turbulent, and altogether more complex figure began to emerge”. A case can be made that Dickens, excessively egotistical, exploited children in his own fashion to fulfill his properly ambitious nature which was as cold and calculating as the oppressors he wrote about. In fact, his obsession with money and his ability to control and manipulate his family,and create dependencies through its distribution bears some resemblance to Fagin.
”First, then, the desolate finality of Dickens’s childish mood makes me think it was a real one. And there is another thing to be remembered. Dickens was not a saintly child, after the style of Little Dorrit or Little Nell. He had not, at this time at any rate, set his heart wholly upon higher things, even upon things such as personal tenderness or loyalty. He had been, and was, unless I am very much mistaken, sincerely, stubbornly, bitterly ambitious. He had, I fancy, a fairly clear idea previous to the downfall of all his family’s hopes of what he wanted to do in the world, and of the mark that he meant to make there. In no dishonorable sense, but still in a definite sense, he might, in early life, be called worldly; and the children of this world are in their generation infinitely more sensitive than the children of light. A saint after repentance will forgive himself for a sin; a man about town will never forgive himself for a faux pas. There are ways of getting absolved for murder; there are no ways of getting absolved for upsetting the soup. This thin-skinned quality in all very mundane people is a thing too little remembered; and it must not be wholly forgotten in connection with a clever, restless lad who dreamed of a destiny. That part of his distress which concerned himself and his social standing was among the other parts of it the least noble; but perhaps it was the most painful. For pride is not only, as the modern world fails to understand, a sin to be condemned; it is also (as it understands even less) a weakness to be very much commiserated. A very vitalizing touch is given in one of his own reminiscences. His most unendurable moment did not come in any bullying in the factory or any famine in the streets. It came when he went to see his sister Fanny take a prize at the Royal Academy of Music. “I could not bear to think of myself — beyond the reach of all such honorable emulation and success. The tears ran down my face. I felt as if my heart were rent. I prayed when I went to bed that night to be lifted out of the humiliation and neglect in which I was. I never had suffered so much before. There was no envy in this.” I do not think that there was, though the poor little wretch could hardly have been blamed if there had been. There was only a furious sense of frustration; a spirit like a wild beast in a cage. It was only a small matter in the external and obvious sense; it was only Dickens prevented from being Dickens. ( Gilbert Keith Chesterton )
page 41. 9.3 cm x 13.7 cm.\’\'”]Most of Dicken’s heroes begin their lives cut off from other people. Insecure, obliged to make their way in a strange, discordant, threatening world, they try to become accepted by it and become a part of it, to understand it and to understand themselves, and in the meantime they share the sense of deprivation that made Paul Dombey live with ”an aching void in his young heart, and all outside so cold, and bare and strange.”
”The novel opens in a workhouse north of London where Oliver is born to Agnes, an unwed mother, who dies soon after his birth. The infant is sent to a branch workhouse to be looked after by Mrs. Mann who pockets a major portion of the stipends allotted to the orphans. When Oliver is nine years old, he is taken back to the workhouse to learn the business of picking oakum. Like other children, he finds life in the workhouse miserable. Most of the time they are ill-treated and sent to bed hungry. One day when Oliver asks for more food, he is beaten up and confined to a solitary cell. Later, he is sold to Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker, who makes him his apprentice. He is trained to be a mute at children’s funerals. Though Mr. Sowerberry likes him, Mrs. Sowerberry and her loyal servant, Noah Claypole, make his life miserable. One day, after he hits Noah for taunting him and insulting his mother, Oliver is beaten up and confined to a dark room. Early the next morning, he makes his escape to LondThe first chapter of Oliver’s life thus comes to an end.” ( www.helium.com )
Even Samuel Pickwick feels compelled to conclude that ”we are all the victims of circumstances, and I the greatest.” For though his adventures are comic, the world in which they take place is essentially a menacing, savage world where only the fittest will survive and the unprotected, the simple, and the good treated with indifference if not with cruelty. It is a world in which men live secret lives, in which as Sairy Gamp says in ”Martin Chuzzlewit”, ”we never know wot’s hidden in each other’s hearts; and if we had glass winder’s there, we,d need keep the shutters up, some on us, I do assure you!”
The disquieting sense of being watched in this world, of being spied upon and caught out by gleaming eyes, eager eyes, spying eyes, eyes that stare, inquisitive eyes, which constantly and disturbingly appear, and of being choked or suffocated in a stifling room, or lost in a labyrinth of streets, as in ”Oliver Twist”; the images of crumbling riverside houses that totter suddenly into ruin as the houses of Tom-all-Alone’s do in ”Bleak House” and the Clennam’s house does in ”Little Dorrit”; the desire to escape from the imprisoning city back to the countryside of innocent childhood, as shown in the ”Old Curiosity Shop”; the fascination with dirty, muddled, crowded, fungus-laden interiors; the concern with money; the plots that time and time again revolve around a family mystery and the dread of its revelation; and, of course, rthe difficulties of the relationships between parents and their children, which are investigated in novel after novel. All these ideas and symbols and themes that repeatedly occur in Dicken’s writing can be interpreted in the light of the traumatic experiences and sufferings of these few months of his thirteenth year.
”The little that is written here of his private life does not make for particularly pleasant reading. He and Catherine Hogarth married young and she seemed to spend most of their married life either miscarrying or producing children, some of whom survived, some did not. By all accounts she seems to have been a good wife and hostess and there is little hint of any marital problems until Dickens met and became infatuated with Nelly Ternan, a young actress. He then behaved towards Catherine in a most unpleasant and cruel manner, brutally cutting her out of his life and separating from her. She is a shadowy figure in this biography and I have to say, I found myself very sympathetic towards her. Being married to somebody like Charles Dickens would not have been an easy ride.
Catherine kept every letter he wrote to her and ‘when dying asked her younger daughter to deposit them in the British Museum ‘that the world may know he loved me once’. I found this sentence unutterably sad and also found it rather hard to forgive Dickens his treatment of her.”
”And this precocious pleasure explains much, too, in the moral way. Dickens had all his life the faults of the little boy who is kept up too late at night. The boy in such a case exhibits a psychological paradox; he is a little too irritable because he is a little too happy. Dickens was always a little too irritable because he was a little too happy. Like the overwrought child in society, he was splendidly sociable, and yet suddenly quarrelsome. In all the practical relations of his life he was what the child is in the last hours of an evening party, genuinely delighted, genuinely delightful, genuinely affectionate and happy, and yet in some strange way fundamentally exasperated and dangerously close to tears”. ( Chesterton )