Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

The Mystical Strain In Dickens

Noisy place the countryside!

A tractor is going up and down the field next to ours, mowing the grass for silage. It makes a high-pitched buzzing noise which is much less friendly than the noise made by a passing warplane (odd that!) but the smell of new mown hay makes up for it.

The middle chapters of Oliver Twist move of us out of London and into a rural idyll somewhere on the outskirts of Chertsey. Dickens knew nothing of country life and his descriptions of the rural landscape- so unlike his descriptions of the urban landscape- are generalized and conventionally expressed- and feature a lovely old lady and even lovelier young lady who are also generalized and conventionally characterized- suggesting- as with the landscapes- that Dickens had only come across such things in dreams. One taps one's foot and longs for the reappearance of Fagin- which come unexpectedly and ghoulishly- and with the impact of a very large stone landing in a very still pond.

These middle chapters could be removed from the story (as they tend to be in the filmed adaptions) with little loss to its coherence but they were clearly important to Dickens himself- and not just because they padded out his monthly numbers. He was reaching after transcendence- and falling short- but doesn't everybody?

Sometimes he comes close. And this, I think, is rather beautiful...

"The memories which peaceful country scenes call up, are not of this world, nor of its thoughts and hopes. Their gentle influence may teach us how to weave fresh garlands for the graves of those we loved: may purify our thoughts and bear down before it old enmity and hatred; but beneath all this, there lingers, in the least reflective mind, a vague and half-formed consciousness of having held such feelings long before, in some remote and distant time, which calls up solemn thoughts of distant times to come, and bends down pride and worldliness beneath it."

The 20th century either disregarded or mocked the mystical strain in Dickens- calling it sentimental- but perhaps the 21st century will be more in sympathy. I say this because my 20th century self would have skipped lightly over a passage like this- while my 21st century self pricks up its ears and slows down and reads carefully. My older self knew that Dickens believed in an afterlife but my newer self has just noticed that- less conventionally- he also had intimations of pre-existence...

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