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Before I was ten years old I was having Dickens ladled down my throat by schoolmasters in whom even at that age I could see a strong resemblance to Mr.Creakle, and one knows without needing to be told that lawyers delight in Sergeant Buzfuz and that LITTLE DORRIT is a favourite in the Home Office.If you ask any ordinary reader which of Dickens's proletarian characters he can remember, the three he is almost certain to mention are Bill Sykes, Sam Weller, and Mrs. A burglar, a valet, and a drunken midwife--not exactly a representative cross-section of the English working class.
It might well have been otherwise, for even if Dickens was a bourgeois, he was certainly a subversive writer, a radical, one might truthfully say a rebel.
Everyone who has read widely in his work has felt this.
But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists.
When they do find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief.
I Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing.
Even the burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary.Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself.In its attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling.Gissing, for instance, the best of the writers on Dickens, was anything but a radical himself, and he disapproved of this strain in Dickens and wished it were not there, but it never occurred to him to deny it.In OLIVER TWIST, HARD TIMES, BLEAK HOUSE, LITTLE DORRIT, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached.In every page of his work one can see a consciousness that society is wrong somewhere at the root. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work.He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places.He has no portrait of an agricultural worker, and only one (Stephen Blackpool in HARD TIMES) of an industrial worker.The Plornishes in LITTLE DORRIT are probably his best picture of a working-class family--the Peggottys, for instance, hardly belong to the working class--but on the whole he is not successful with this type of character.Fasten upon this or that minor abuse, expose it, drag it into the open, bring it before a British jury, and all will be well that is how he sees it.Dickens at any rate never imagined that you can cure pimples by cutting them off. The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral.