Saturday, 13 August 2011
One reason I keep reading and re-reading Dickens is because of the way he handles incompetence. In one way or another, large chunks of our lives are moulded by incompetence and Dickens brings it out very well.
So often I come across a passage or even a single sentence that makes me smile at his sense of humour, his sense or the ridiculous or his satirical dexterity in weaving his characters into webs of incompetence. Or he just causes me to pause a while to dwell on what he is saying, the way he says it, what it says about Victorian society, things that still apply to our society and will apply to future societies.
One very short example comes from Dombey and Son. Mr Dombey is a frigid, wealthy owner of a shipping company. When he encounters a nurse, Mrs Blockitt he is quite unable to put her at her ease, just as she cannot even bring herself to state her name without ambiguity, both of them baffled by the social divide.
'Wait! I - had better ask Doctor Peps if he'll have the goodness to step upstairs again perhaps. I'll go down. I'll go down. I needn't beg you,' he added, pausing for a moment at the settee before the fire, 'to take particular care of this young gentleman, Mrs-'
'Blockitt, Sir?' suggested the nurse, a simpering piece of faded gentility, who did not presume to state her name as a fact, but merely offered it as a mild suggestion.
Another short quote from Martin Chuzzlewit concerns Pecksniff, one of Dickens' most odious characters. Pecksniff is a ghastly, sanctimonious fraud, yet ultimately, as Dickens delights in showing us almost entirely through humour and ridicule, an incompetent fraud.
'And how,' asked Mr Pecksniff, drawing off his gloves and warming his hands by the fire, as benevolently as if they were somebody else's, not his; 'and how is he now.'
Dickens is still worth reading and reading again. Forget the literary analysis - he does you good.