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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Dickens and the aristocracy - and a note on Dickens's plots

Don't look too closely at the plot of Bleak House, or probably of any Dickens novel, with possible exception of Great Expectations, because on close examination the plot falls apart - too many extreme coincidences, too much action that's inexplicable, to many surmises that turn out to be prescient, and so on - but these novels are not about plot, as noted in previous posts: Dickens is about character and caricature and the establishment of what appears to be an entire culture in its moment. He can be biting and cynical one moment, saccharine and sentimental the next. It's hard to comprehend how great his humor moment by moment, as we tend to read through these monumental tomes at a 21st-century pace, forgetting that in the 19th century these were to a great extent read aloud to groups - and Dickens was probably one of the world's great performers of his own work. Nearing the end of Bleak House and noticing a bit of his ambivalence toward the aristocratic class. It's true that throughout the book his sympathies are largely with the working classes and the truly destitute, and his antipathy is entirely with the class of lawyers (too bad there's not a single nice, honest lawyer in this tome - he's much kinder to other professions, notably doctors). Though Dickens is extremely hard on the Dedlock family, he can't quite bring himself to make Lady Dedlock a criminal: he leads us to think that she is the one who shot the lawyer Tulkinghorn to death, we know that cannot be, and pretty quickly learn that, though Lady Dedlock was on the scene no aristocrat would or could pull off an assassination - the guilty party? Cherchez la femme! Depsite his loathing of the titled, Dickens can't quite imagine the aristocracy behaving badly, at least not in the criminal sense.

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