An Introduction to Philosophy through Literature by Robert C. Baldwin, James A. McPeek

By Robert C. Baldwin, James A. McPeek

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Dickens then comments truly that Martin had never known his fault: If any one had taxed him with the vice, he would have indignantly repelled the accusation, and conceived himself unworthily aspersed. He never would have known it, but that being newly risen from a bed of dangerous sickness, to watch by such another couch, he felt how nearly Self had dropped into the grave, and what a poor dependent, miserable thing it was. It was natural for him to reflect—he had months to do it in— upon his own escape, and Mark's extremity.

The levity is part of reproach and bitter criticism, but it is also typical of Little Dorrit's less tense, grim, c 19 SOCIETY AND THE I N D I V I D U A L and enclosed satiric world. It would be hard to imagine Flora Pinching and Mr F's Aunt, for instance, in Bleak House. But as in Bleak House the comic is often neighbour to the grim or pathetic feeling. In Bleak House we pass innocently from chat about tainted chops to the grisly scene of Spontaneous Combustion. In these last novels Dickens seems to be able to contaminate one feeling by another, so that we scarcely know whether to call the fun grisly or the horror the more macabre for the presence of laughter.

Bradley Headstone, the repressed, respectable, and passionate school-master is opposed to Eugene Wrayburn, the idle, ennuye, able, and perverse gentleman. Backed by Charlie, Lizzie's clever 22 SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL and ambitious brother, these characters act out a splendid crime passionel which is thickly detailed and documented as socially determined action. The several mysteries, some overt, some covert, are less concentratedly unified than the action of Bleak House: there is the impersonation of Rokesmith by Harmon, which goes back to Martin Chuzzlewit, the impersonation of a miser by Boffin, the story of the crime, and rich supporting material, grotesque, comic, pathetic, and satiric.

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