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4.2. The Victorian Realistic Taste, its Roots and Different Manifestation in Dickens’s and Thackeray’s Novels

In the light of the last statement made above, we can group together Charles Dickens and  William Makepiece Thackeray not only as the two popular early Victorian novelists but also as two writers who work in the looser and more accessible comic mode, the mode of social realism. At the beginning of the age of Victorian fiction they experiment while still applying some conventions of the 18th century novel, in the comic and garrulous vein, sentimental or didactic as in the picaresque novels, when not in the downright glamorously romantic vein, as in the Christmas fantastic fables or in the historical novels. Thus, in the 1830s, 40s and 50s, the novels of success concocted social panorama, witty conversation and satire as in Thackeray’s ambitious ”Vanity Fair” (1847) or in Dickens’s humorous ”The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” (1836); they  oscillated between such different interests as sentimentality, history and romance in Thackeray’s autobiographical, dynasty novels ”Pendennis” (1848-1850) and ”The Newcomes’ (1853-1855) or in the social frescoes of ”The History of Henry Esmond” with its American sequel ”The Virginians” (1857-9). When the rigour of historical understanding invested the Victorian present with analytical pertinence, the result was a highly serious social realism that explained the present in terms of the typical. When the puritanical moralism of the Victorian age was transferred onto the canvass of the past ages, there resulted an enhanced panorama of moral and historical wisdom whose exemplary power was overweening. This is especially true for Thackeray’s ambitious panoramas, for Dickens’s more ambitious historical or social novels, ”Barnaby Rudge”, 1841, ”A Tale of Two Cities”, 1859, ”Martin Chuzzlewit”. 1843-4 and ”Dombey and Son” but also for later panoramic and intellectualised novels by George Eliot, such as ”Middlemarch”, 1871-2). When, for instance, the 18th century English empire and its decline, then its continuation in America was presented by Thackeray in  ” The History of Henry Esmond” and the sequel ”The Virginians”, the Victorian Walter Scott historical romance fans were probably thrilled to realise how much more universal the ethics of their own empire probably was. (It would be wrong, however, to imagine that realism was the only literary fashion in the latter half of the 19th century. In the Victorian genre of the Christmas stories, there was a similar thrill to the one provided by the projection of the present into the past, coming this time not from history but from fantasy, or, in other words, from the region of romance, in the guise of cultivated literary mediaevalism,  or from the updated fairy-tale folk corner. Sociologically speaking, this possibly had the compensatory function of making a difference from the straight, self-confident realism and the general utilitarian moralism of Victorian prose. Popular literature as a typical Victorian entertainment thus included not only social, realistic prose but also fantasies which were destined not only for Children but also for the entire family circle at Christmas. It is in this way that one should regard Dickens’s books of the 40s: ”A Christmas Carol”, ”The Battle of Life” and ”The Haunted Man and the Ghost Bargain” and Thackeray’s ”Rebecca and Rowena” of 1849, which purports to be a sequel to Sir Walter Scott’s ”Ivanhoe”.  When they were not moral parables, these fantasies on the one hand updated the gothic – not to call it, jocously, the ”ghost-ic” – literary genre, while on the other hand they updated the ”topoi” of mediaeval literature, as happened in Thackeray’s ”Rebecca and Rowena”’s inventories of names: Arthur, Cedric, Athelstane…  With a more commonsensical measure of fantasy or medievalism, even such a novel of  George Eliot’s as  ”Silas Marner”, 1861, would also qualify for being a Christmas story or parable).

It is, however, only at the more particular attentive look of literary criticism that the special qualities of the individual novels and writers’ views, which distinguish them, become apparent. From this last point of view, it is obvious that Dickens’s talent casts the realistic stuff in a very different mold from that of Thackeray’s ambition, for example. Dickens’s powerful imagination  is fascinated by and fascinates with one single detail of social observation on which he can construct a whole stream, chapter, thread or theme that make up his novels. Such is the case, for instance, in his symbolically intense fictional emblems called Podsnappery (in ”Our Mutual Friend”) or Deportment (in ”Bleak House”), practically new, concrete universals as the American new Critic of the 20th century John Crowe Ransom would call them, or new local abstractions as we can explain them. These start from obvious social observations of the Victorian class of gentlemen, some or them pompous and empty - as the name of Mr Podsnap suggests - before being turned into a concept, or some, in appearance graceful, elegant gentlemen endowed with deportment but being like mechanical dolls who do nothing except performing the feat for which they have been designed. Thackeray’s social comedy, by comparison, has the value of  simile, as compared to metaphor or symbol: it offers a purely didactic judgment on the facts of social or human behaviour observation. In ”Vanity Fair”, Becky is sharp not only because her wit outdoes all the novel’s (negative and positive) characters’ intellectual lights taken together, but she is meant to totalize Thackeray’s own satirical but ferociously sharp attack upon the block of Victorian copious vanity or hypocrisy, as he editorially explains in his preface ”Before the Curtain”, which explicitly connects his panorama with Bunyan’s exemplary allegory ”The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Indeed, Thackeray’s well-read, well-educated gentlemanly background makes him proceed as a literary commentator for the benefit of the Victorian readership primarily and more often than not fastidiously so.  His ambitious literary projects can be shown to fail because Thackeray  is instilling too much in them. Thus, if ”Vanity Fair” was really meant as a picaresque, then Thackeray overcharges the inherent satirical vein of the picaresque by introducing romance characters, in accordance with the project inherent in the parallel with the Puritanical quest type of ”Vanity Fair”; Amelia Sedley and Captain Dobbin pertain to the literary Puritanical romance as their clear  prototype and they clash or simply do not fit in with the spicy Becky, the picaro or with Jos Sedley, the satirical alazon, as this comic type can be identified according to Northrop Frye’s ”Anatomy of Criticism”. And this is not the intended clash of satire in its mock-heroic version, rather it is a case of incongruity, because the discrepancy between these characters is itself not a witty, meaningful one; neither is it efficient as a lesson in virtue versus vice or… viceversa, because, as many critics have noted, Becky Sharp is far too inspiring or wittily spectacular when she ingeniously ”minx-handles” everybody [sic!]. The main problem of the novel seems to lie in the distance between the heroism implicit in the exemplary allegory of ”the progress” as illustrated by Becky’s efficient ascent, and the entire project of this book which, in terms of its title and  prologue was written to mock the very ”progress” itself, by the satire on the mercantile ”fair’s” vain spirit. It seems as if Thackeray unwittily, in both senses of the word, misdistributed his artistically good characters in mock-heroic ”bad” virtuous roles, while the conventionally ”good”, virtuous characters remained unfunctional in the economy of the novel at large. 

Another  difference between Thackeray’s and Dickens’s realism’s is to be derived from their different brands of conversationalism, or, as it can equally well be called, different brands of  ”comic mode garrulousness”. A charming  because convivial conversation among genial, refined interlocutors, engaged in the skilfully conversational cooperation of equally well-educated gentlemen pervades virtually any part of a Thackeray novel. We recognize in this the 18th century conversational type which in the literary essay recommends the ”table-talk” genre, sometimes witty and richly, though informally, informative. This kind of conversation is replaced in Dickens’s novels by the more accessible, heartier genial sharing of humour often modulating into more privately sentimental apartés. But it seems to be not only a matter of different literary temperament or of a casually different discursive idiom that underlies the dissimilar quality of Dickens’s and Thackeray’s comic mode conversationalism. Sociologically speaking, Thackeray’s conversation has at its back the upper middle-class witty spirit, whereas, the written conversation of Dickens’s novels is based on more common, lower middle-class standards of public communication so much more commonsensically direct, easier to share and to follow for practically anyone. This amounts to two different brands of  dialogical, intimate ommniscience in these two early Victorian writers: on the one hand, Thackeray’s ironical, witty conversation, the dramatised narrator’s editorial omniscience covering the vision of the world of a basically disenchanted or simply phlegmatic gentleman, especially when regarded from the outside; on the other hand, Dickens’s plainer, neutral (and so, genuinely dialogical) omniscience which is nevertheless doubled by Dickens’s inexhaustible imaginative intensity that sometimes makes spectacular, comic pranks in the turn of the phrase or the clause but, more often than not is perfectly original, very sophisticated and in fact highly monological, if we want to follow the workshop opposition between the dialogical and the monological discourse, which is not the Bakhtinian, 20th century narratological one, but simply the classically rhetorical one. In this connection, the most important critical reading task for decoding Dickens’s literature is one of identification with the centrally controlling mind that conceives almost palpable fictional images, characters, situations and imaginary plus imaginative idioms unparallelled in the Victorian fiction.  Perhaps one test of greatness for any English-speaking writer, but especially for a British English one is to compare them with Shakespeare. Although this risks remaining nothing but a stale superlative cliché, we shall risk comparing the quality of Dickens’s imagination with Shakespeare’s, just as we feel like comparing the poet Robert Browning’s intensity in his creation of fictional characters with Shakespeare’s , as well as in his handling of colloquial English flexibly for dramatic, stage conversation purposes. ( There is yet another Victorian poet who aspires, as we confess to believe, to Shakespeare’s English posterity in this respect, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins whose equally flexible working with roots of English words rather than with full-fledged items in the English lexicon is as inexplicably effective as Shakespeare’s own. ) 

Before embarking upon the central analytical task of beginning to define Dickens’s fiction-making skill, one more observation may perhaps be of interest, though it is just a digression. If we apply further the rhetorical discourse analysis considerations made in connection with Victorianism in general in the introductory lectures, we should note that where the merit of Thackeray’s prose comes from its fictively deliberative character or fictive  rationalism, the merit of Dickens’s prose comes from its emotionally  fictive intensity,  the intensity of pure, unchecked imagination which is necessarily more monological. Hence the best effects of Thackeray’s prose pair rational joviality with what should be the meddlesome editorial manner, so much like Fielding in the introductory parts to each ”Tom Jones” book, but ends up by empowering rather than constraining his reader, as the narratological theory will have it. Still Thackeray’s, books cannot be as successful as wholes for 20th century readers, for all their (rationally) impressive richness materialised in their overall design, because of their provable imaginative or simply fictive short-sightedness. In Dickens’s novels, on the other hand, the poorer deliberative design or the less intellectual conversation are plentifully made up for by the genuine richness of the fictional invention itself. Also, the deceitful neutrality of neutral omniscience can be clearly exposed in Dickens’s omniscient neutrality, which when doubled by the somersaults of his imagination, can be proved to be much more ”compelling” than Thackeray’s educated reader-empowering techniques. Moreover, these paradoxical combinations prove that no matter what form of rhetorical appeal, rational or emotive, is practiced in a discourse, according, for instance, to Edward J. P. Corbett’s handbook ”Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student”, pp. 50 - 107, in the – silent - fiction just as in public oratory, it is still the quality of the authors’ worldviews or local intentions that will be responsible for the overall qualities of their discourses.

4.3. The Quality of Dickens’s Imagination

Again, Northrop Frye’s ”Anatomy of Criticism” (Essays One and Three) proves to be a helpful tool for beginning the discussion of  this topic. Starting from the – obvious -  observation that Dickens, like many another Victorian realist, actually fuses the mythoi of  spring (or comedy) and summer (or romance), and the characters of different elevations belonging to the earlier historical modes of romance and the high-mimetic in the alembic of Victorian low-mimetic fiction, we can first notice that the Dickensian character types fashioned according to the mythoi or the historical modes are magnificently combined and  imaginatively played upon, with ingenious variations, like in music, so that what begins by being a cast of stock (Victorian or ”Frye-an”) characters engaged in stock conflicts, with socially interacting orphans/heroes, villains, upstarts and hypocrites/alazons is turned into a magnificent gallery of richly symbolic, humorous or dramatic effigies that will obsess and compel our imagination by their unexpected moves endowed with practically infinite significance. Any Dickensian novel is, therefore, a highly defamiliarized artistic whole (as the Russian formalist critics would put it) in which the energy invested in even the most conventional characters, plots, and situations is so inexhaustible that the novels are rendered miraculously symphonic in their illimited semiotic powers. The transformations which Dickens administers to the stock of literary conventions to enrich them may be said to fall into roughly two categories: symbolic transformations which overcharge a type with imaginative connotations and dramatic, quite often comic, humorous transformations, that multiply the possible associations among the characters and situations  moving on a novel’s stage or in a novel’s settings. The operation of these artistic transformations can best be illustrated by reference to particular novels of Dickens’s maturity.

Thus, in ”Great Expectations”, both Pip and Estella are orphans, but the circumstances and alleviations of their orphanhood turn their similarity as orphans into a surprise rather than an obvious fact. The surprise of their pertaining to the same social or psychological category, that of the orphan, is made unexpected by the fact that Pip has been predestined to crave for Estella, a symbolically distant, foreign, alien star, as her name indicates. Pip is the village orphan more likely to be reintegrated into the community, with the help of his series of lower-class, virtuous, unambiguous benefactors: Joe Gargery, Biddy, Abel Magwitch, the convict, Herbert Pocket, the member of an impoverished, unconventional  urban household of social underdogs as well as Wemmick, the architect of the eccentrically humane Walworth island of happines; Estella, on the other hand has been radically conditioned to become a minx  by her urban benefactress who happens to be a vengeful feminine villain/victim at the same time, Miss Havisham. The mysterious construction of the plot makes the shadow of deceptive benefaction hover over Pip’s outward and inward progress in life, then transitively over Estella’s own and it leads to Miss Havisham’s late recognition of her own villainy not only in respect to Pip, the young male sappling whom she chooses to maim by using Estella, but also in respect to Estella, the young feminine beauty whom she has spiritually stunted on purpose, just as she herself had been spiritually stunted by Compeyson earlier in life. The betrayal-saving plot is thus dramatically made to bear upon  all the main characters and to transitively transform them. On a higher level, the relationship between these two orphans, as victims of fate and society in both similar and different ways, is turned into the typical relationship between a marriage-villain, Estella and a marriage-victim, Pip. As a result of the primary marriage-victim’s (i.e, Miss Havisham’s) revenge, Estella is first maimed and taught to become the perfect urban marriage temptress and snob (just like Becky Sharp), then Pip himself is made into a love/marriage victim soon to behave like a villain to his initially intended mate, Biddy (and to his first friend, Joe). The village orphan Pip is first turned into the urban snob addressed by Joe, in recognition of this fact as Mr. Pip; then, after deserving to be attacked by the village criminal, Orlick, Pip is saved by the universal underdog victim, Magwitch, whose archetypal victim’s name is Abel. In ”Great Expectations” thus, the only real social benefactor is the real, absolute social victim, Magwitch, not the angry emotional victim, Miss Havisham, who uses her social status vengefully and hypocritically while claiming to be a benefactress to Estella and Pip; Miss Havisham uses her wealth to do psychological harm to Pip and Estella while promiscuously playing the role of the philanthropist to Estella (and to Pip, too, but only in his imagination). The complexity of the victim-benefactor cluster is very similar to that of the orphan. In more general terms, social living seems to require the sacrifice of shattering all youthful illusions ( first, Pip’s great expectations as critically retold by the old, maturer Pip as the dramatised narrator; then, the dazzling beauty of the young Estella acknowledged as frigidity by the outspoken Estella in the latter part of her fictive life); also, it seems to demand the shattering of all old-age villainy (real, as in Miss Havisham’s case or again just imagined, by young Pip or suspected by the temporarily villainous urban Pip in Magwitch’s case). This last statement about life is really trite but the reading of ”Great Expectations” remains stimulating because of Dickens’s dramatic mastery in subjecting his readers to the temporarily disturbed cluster of values, attributes, characters made to work against each other, kept distant in time, a-synchronous and inharmonious for the best part of the novel. From this dramatic space that a Dickens book opens by its suspension of time and of  positive, desirable – usually moral - values, there emerges an interesting range of symbolic or semiotic powers characteristic for the experience of reading a Dickens masterpiece that speaks about innumerable things, worlds and human acts at the same fictive time. Thus, in the particular case of ”Great Expectations”, for example, the social and psychological theme acquires interesting subliminal dimensions. As David Shaw puts it in his ”Victorians and Mystery” (Cornell University Press, 1990: the second chapter titled ”We Know More Than We Know We Know: Repetition in Dickens and Hardy”, cf. pp. 34-6), it is amazing how passages from Dickens’s (and Hardy’s) fiction manage to point to ”the concealed origins and ends that matter most”, to ”the power of repressed or unconscious knowledge” in scenes or oraculary strange  phrases which render the narrative more obsessive and acute. It is this acute power of Dickens’s narrative which becomes obsessive due to its (sudden) contact with the subliminal content of the human mind that elevates his fiction over its other obvious qualities. Shaw starts from noting that there exist obsessive phrases strewn through the narrative,  that, he says, ”keep resounding in the ear until the unconscious meanings they intimate become uncannily clear”; then, referring to Dickens’s ”metaphors of situation”, ”which inexorably  collapse the terms that Dickens also conspires to keep separate”; Shaw explains that: ”Even before long-separated elements converge in chapter 39 [of ”Great Expectations”, Magwitch’s return scene], we are made subliminally aware of them”. To illustrate his point, the author invokes a passage at the end of chapter 38 with ”the great iron ring to which the concealed end of the rope is attached in the fable of the sultan [as being] clearly a metonymy for Magwitch, who has been associated from the beginning with a leg iron”. We could add here that what is made manifest through the concealed end of the iron/ring is the frightening,  inescapable symbolic link between Pip the helpless orphan and the other helpless social being, the convict, who has already been called, ”the radical social victim”. Thus, Pip and Magwitch get connected by a weird kind of social kinship which acquires the dimension of a fateful connection between socially frail human beings. (David Shaw’s analysis further follows some textual and Freudian subliminal associations which cast the relationship and late encounter between Pip and Magwitch in the frame of the unconcscious mind’s dramatically repressed contents and their inevitable, painfully surprising return to consciousness. ”When fully understood , Pumblechook’s unspoken prophecy about Pip’s << murdering a near relation>> [in chapter 15 where he’d asked Pip to <<take warning>>, as if Pip <<contemplated murdering a near relation>>] brings a shocking recognition of Dickens’s  Oedipal displacements. For Pumblechook is obliquely linking Pip with Oedipus as the unwitting cause of an adopted father’s death and of the death of a surrogate mother by adoption, Miss Havisham. In loving Estella, Pip is also courting incest with a surrogate sister, since Estella is the daughter of Pip’s second father. The whole novel seems to be generated out of an unutterable seed phrase, with a tang of Oedipal redundancy to it: I am brother and lover in one, and near relations I have murdered include sisters and mothers as well as the father who adopted me. It is no wonder Pip, in telling his story, feels impelled to distance such unspeakable tautologies. Great Expectations keeps using a kind of generalized thesis, the rhetorical figure that separates terms that belong together. Only by opening up a whole chain of intruded middle terms can Pip find space in which to build illusions, including the illusion that in a world where everything is fated he can act as a free agent.’, cf. pp. 34-35).

Sometimes it may take too many pages to analytically re-write or decode the density of (subliminal) meaning concentrated in one Dickensian fictive creation. The application of the archetypal grid to the matter of one novel will anyway be very rewarding in discovering basic, universal meanings, the ”concealed origins and ends that matter most” as David Shaw put it, for individual scenes, characters or various clusters of relationships in the novels.

But even the more obvious, conscious – social, moral, psychological – meanings are wrought into the fabric of a late Dickens novel by means of what has been termed above the symbolic and the dramatic transformations of literary conventions. Thus, in keeping with the thrilling announcement in tropological terms, of Magwitch’s repeated approaching of  Pip at the end of chapter 38 in ”Great Expectations”, there is a richly rhetorical apparatus of relationships in ”Our Mutual Friend” that give multiple meanings to the cluster of mutual relationships that make up the novel. The abstract idea of the basic social link is shown in its most exhaustive operation as theoretically mutual while in real life only hypocritically mutual, as a rule, with the solidly mutual form becoming true only very exceptionally. This idea is presented at work in the non-descript, impersonal cliché referring to a third, absent party in any gossippy, irresponsible conversation that typifies the average social exchange, as it appears in ’’The Man from Somewhere” (chapter 2 of ”The Cup and the Lip”); it is then gradually narrowed down to a particularly theatrical reversal of the same in the thriller-story that proves this third party to be sensationally other than either the average man or other than imagined  (cf. chapter 3, ”Another Man” in ”The Cup and the Lip”); it is then patiently worked in the panoramic individualizations of  social types doubly represented, such as the pair of good fathers: Gaffer Hexam and the conventional Cherub Reginald Wilfer with the complementary daughters, the  virtuous underclass daughter, Lizzie Hexam and the brainless, spoilt daughter of the slightly declassé urban family , the willful Bella Wilfer; these are further doubled by the imbalanced, slighly sadistic father Old Mr. Harmon so partial as to be harsh on his son while doting on his daughter first, only to reverse his ”affection” when the circumstances decided he should, the very next moment - and in good time too, just before he died– which also occasioned the beginning of the whole book’s plot; it goes without saying that the Harmon son would prove as virtuous in the end as the Harmon daughter had been fickle.The reward of the faithful reader in ”Our Mutual Friend”, who has placed his entire trust in the likeable, genial, humorous pair of the Boffin friends, is the revelation at the end of the novel that, yes, their temporary transformation into ordinary rascals, like the plethora of rascals in the society of hypocritically mutual friends of the book as a whole , had been just pretence, a trick meant to take in the gullible reader whose conviction that good triumphs over evil in the end  was too weak anyway. The pair of the Boffins who are proved to have been plotting only for the good, for virtue’s sake, throughout the novel are the archetypally ”mutual friend” of the title  who had been only ironically and conventionally mutual for the better part of the book. Allowed to come into the open only at the end of this narratological or philosophical thriller more than an ordinary fictional thriller. The essential, actually never-changing mutual relationship that true friendship can be is apotheotically represented in this novel as proved by the strength of the pair of the Harmon family friends, Noddy and Henerietty  Boffin. United in a harmonious, friendly marriage relationship, this pair of friends are presented as caricatures at the beginning, from the distorting point of view of Mr. Silas Wegg, a common street rascal and hypocrite; but they will soon be elevated at the status of heroes standing in absolute opposition to all the family/legion of hypocritical (family) friends that crowd the novel, be they in pairs or on their own, firstly as satellites gravitating around the Veneering family centre of spuriously mutual or doubtfully friendly relationships: Alfred and Sophronia Lammle who seem to be a simplification and concentration of  Miss Havisham’s family-clients, in ”Great Expectations”; Mr. and Mrs. Podsnap, the superficially different complementary friends of the family of empty figures called Veneering; the cabaline, equestrian snob, Lady Tippins as a complement to the miserable fear-ridden Twemlow obsessed by the begging question about his being or not being the oldest friend of the Veneerings, while the Veneerings only cultivated him as an object, for the sake of his snobbish family connection with a lord, Lord Snigsworth, or  they ”used” him as ”an innocent piece of dinner furniture … [as he] might be said to represent the dining-table in its normal state. Mr and Mrs. Veneering, for example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with Twemlow, and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him. Sometimes, the table consisted of Twemlow and half-a-dozen leaves; sometimes, Twemlow was pulled out to his utmost extent of twenty leaves. Mr and Mrs. Veneering on occasions of ceremony faced each other in the centre of the board, and thus the parallel still held; for it always happened that the more Twemlow was pulled out, the further he found himself from the centre, and the nearer to the sideboard at one end of the room, or the window-curtains at the other.” (”The Man from Somewhere”, the third paragraph.) This extreme case of mutual pragmatic use of the other called friendship is also exploited by both parallelism and contrast in that part of the story in which the villanous comedian Wegg  gets paired to the pathetically sad noble clown, Mr. Venus, with the two of them finding themselves mutually locked in the pragmatic relationship of the ”friendly move” (read ”plot”) against Mr. Boffin . Here we have a pair of rakish friends gravitating like real birds of prey about the heaps of Dust (read ”money” or ”wealth”) that Mr. Boffin administers as generously, friendly and  heroically as a Carlylean good Captain of  Industry would administer the lives of industrious workers. These two birds of prey are real, unlike the ultimately innocent Gaffer Hexam who is referred to as ”the bird of prey” in the first pages of the novel.) By such parallelisms and oppositions intricately knit into the streams, threads and symbolic scenes of the plot, Dickens seems to explore all the ironical, sentimental, paradoxical or melodramatic possibilities that the mutual relationship thematised by the title offers. It is for reasons such as these that Dickens’s panorama is not just social, like Thackeray’s, but also universally human, as, in John Hillis Miller’s terms, Dickens has in view the whole ”set of humanity”.

Speaking  more generally about heroism and anti-heroism(or hypocrisy) in either Dickens or Thackeray, it is obvious that realism operates with twists of the romance sets or high-mimetic sets of human actors to enrich them and ultimately, to attempt the transformation into a plausible continuum of what in either romance or high mimetic literature had a flavour of the supernaturally sublime or simply ideal. Dickens’s modality of covering the distance between the real and the ideal in fictive terms seems to reside in the exhaustive conjugation or declension of clusters of meaning, so as to fill the world with panoramas of possibilities, as he does when building on the mutual link theme with so many interesting variations, in ”Our Mutual Friend”.  In this connection, it is important to note that the more discontinuity in a novel’s necessary structural levels, the closer that novel remains to either romance or high-mimetic literary species. This is why the picaresque satire is discontinuous, because it is didactic or high-mimetic by ironical default. There appears a similar inclination to move outside its own frame of plausibility in realism, but this time towards the ideal of romantic projection into what Frye would call the world of fulfilled desire. When in a sombre Dickensian novel the reader encounters islands of happy life, such as Wemmick’s Walworth in ”Great Expectations” or Boffin’s Bower in ”Our Mutual Friend”, which also correspond to ideal pairs of people or families on what Hardy would call ”a blighted star” but Dickens simply indicates as the villainous London-town, as in the pair represented by the Aged (parent) and Wemmick, his son - not Wemmick the clerk in a lawyer’s dismal office -, or by the Boffins or by Jenny Wren and Riah the Jew, in the labyrinth of the London streets who are suddenly proved to have a heart, after all. By the same token, we can read in ”Bleak House” the ghostly, dead, bleak shadow of the other of social power, social legitimacy and safety as defended  by the institutions and forces of a rotten state as typified by the legal institution. The ”foggy glory” of the opening chapter of ”Bleak House” will be unravelled in all its consequences in the novel at large. ”Bleak House” seems dedicated to giving a symbolical face to the missing substance, the absence and the ghostly identity of social existence, of man in general. Most of the characters in ”Bleak House” have ghostly existences, they come and go as the ominous ghost whose tread can be heard at Chesney Wold on ”The Ghost’s Walk”: the law-writer remains as anonymous in living as in death; Lady Dedlock’s deadly name is only an alias name for a fallen woman; many characters are brought on stage only to witness death, as ”our dear brother” who comes only to identify the dead law-writer; even Ada and Richard Carstone seem to have a somewhat ghostly being, as if they were consumed from the inside by the very same winds that occasionally trouble  Mr. Jarndyce when angry or concerned, or as if chaos itself were yawning inside their humanity. It therefore becomes probable that very few of Dickens’s eccentrics are innocent or simply humorous creations; rather, they carry the weight of the symbolic meaning which dramatically informs his fictive worlds, so powerful each in its own right in every one of his novels or at least in some peak creation in every one of them. This is why they haunt the readers’ imagination and, like compelling ghosts, demand to be remembered. We may venture to say that humor itself is a kind of healthy instinctual, unconscious escape from the reality principle dominant of realism in a Dickens novel, where caricature seems to fare so well and walk hand in hand with pathos, drama or symbolically intense poetry as in the instances presented above. Critics such as John Carey, have plentifully proved, in fact, how Dickens’s violent instinct works  undisturbed  together with his conscious need for order in the creation of his humorous effigies. (cf. John Carey, ”The Violent Effigy. A Study of Dickens’s Imagination”, Faber and Faber, 1991, the first four chapters) 

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