Tuesday, January 26, 2010

G.K.Chesterton on Charles Dickens

"Dickens stands first as a defiant monument of what happens when a great literary genius has a literary taste akin to that of the community. For this kinship was deep and spiritual. Dickens was not like our ordinary demagogues and journalists. Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted. . . . Hence there was this vital point in his popularism, that there was no condescension in it......
.
The belief that the rabble will only read rubbish can be read between the lines of all our contemporary writers, even of those writers whose rubbish the rabble reads. . . . The only difference lies between those writers who will consent to talk down to the people, and those writers who will not consent to talk down to the people. But Dickens never talked down to the people. He talked up to the people. He approached the people like deity and poured out his riches and his blood. This is what makes the immortal bond between him and the masses of men. He had not merely produced something they could understand, but he took it seriously, and toiled and agonized to produce it. They were not only enjoying one of the best writers, they were enjoying the best he could do. . . . His power, then, lay in the fact that he expressed with an energy and brilliancy quite uncommon the things close to the common mind. But with mere phrase, the common mind, we collide with a current error. Commonness and the common mind are now generally spoken of as meaning in some manner inferiority and the inferior mind; the mind of the mere mob. But the common mind means the mind of all the artists and heroes; or else it would not be common. . . . In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens"

from G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study
chesterton.org

12 comments:

Ronak M Soni said...

Beautiful. I'd read it just recently, wondering where...

S M Rana said...

Pasted from Ebert's blog.

Seongyong Cho said...

I always feel shame about reading only four of his works(I'm busy(what a lame excuse) and there are so many other good books to read- I am reading Cormac McCarthy's "Crossing"). Nevertheless, these books and its characters are remembered well in my head. I remember watching puppet show version of "Oliver Twist" on TV when I was young. Although it was not-so-faithful version, many colorful characters were remained intact and they returned to me when I read the novel later.

S M Rana said...

The musical Oliver!, made in the sixties, is one of my beloved cinema memories. The link to the Chesterton site, given below my post, has a beautiful essay on Pickwick Papers, which really makes me hungry to read it, but which will remain only a wish.

Ronak M Soni said...

Why will it only remain a wish?

S. M. Rana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S M Rana said...

@ Ronak

I'm watching Attenborough's "Young Winston" which Ebert gives around two stars for it's lack of character development of the protagonist, Churchill. I am immensely enjoying it for it's historical sweep ( after my latest and fourth view of his epic Gandhi in the last 25 years ). As a youth of 18, I would suggest "Winston" to you, since it projects a loftiness of youthful vision. Churchill says that the years from 20-25 are everything.At least Churchill and Gandhi have in common achievements at an early age. The early bird, etc.

I won't be able to read Dickens because life has become a little crowded and Dickens would not be high in the list of priorities. There is Faust, which I still might make, but War and Peace, with it's gargantuan size
is an unlikely contender. Movies take less time, but ofcourse are no match for books.

I quite admire your appetite for reading.

Plum said...

I read that people say the same things about shakespeare, that he wrote something for everyone to love.

Plum
Don't Be a Plum

S. M. Rana said...

@Plum

Yes, it's true that Shakespeare and Dickens have a lot in common.

Ronak M Soni said...

Thanks, SM.

About the Churchill movie, I'd love to watch it (I loved Gandhi), but availability is a problem since it's somewhat obscure. I will keep it in mind to look for a chance to get this one.

S. M. Rana said...

@Ronak

From Churchill's "My Youthful Years":

Of course what I call Mathematics is only what the Civil Service Commissioners expected you to know to pass a very rudimentary examination. I suppose that to those who enjoy this peculiar gift, Senior Wranglers and the like, the waters in which I swam must seem only a duck-puddle compared to the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, when I plunged in, I was soon out of my depth. When I look back upon those care-laden months, their prominent features rise from the abyss of memory. Of course I had progressed far beyond Vulgar Fractions and the Decimal System. We were arrived in an 'Alice-in-Wonderland' world, at the portals of which stood 'A Quadratic Equation.' This with a strange grimace pointed the way to the Theory of Indices, which again handed on the intruder to the full rigours of the Binomial Theorem. Further dim chambers lighted by sullen, sulphurous fires were reputed to contain a dragon called the 'Differential Calculus.' But this monster was beyond the bounds appointed by the Civil Service Commissioners who regulated this stage of Pilgrim's heavy journey. We turned aside, not indeed to the uplands of the Delectable Mountains, but into a strange corridor of things like anagrams and acrostics called Sines, Cosines and Tangents. Apparently they were very important, especially when multiplied by each other, or by themselves! They had also this merit—you could learn many of their evolutions off by heart. There was a question in my third and last Examination about these Cosines and Tangents in a highly square-rooted condition which must have been decisive upon the whole of my after life. It was a problem. But luckily I had seen its ugly face only a few days before and recognised it at first sight....

I had a feeling once about Mathematics, that I saw it all—Depth beyond depth was revealed to me—the Byss and the Abyss. I saw, as one might see the transit of Venus—or even the Lord Mayor's Show, a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly how it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable: and how the one step involved all the others. It was like politics. But it was after dinner and I let it go!

The practical point is that if this aged, weary-souled Civil Service Commissioner had not asked this particular question about these Cosines or Tangents in their squared or even cubed condition, which I happened to have learned scarcely a week before, not one of the subsequent chapters of this book would ever have been written. I might have gone into the Church and preached orthodox sermons in a spirit of audacious contradiction to the age. I might have gone into the City and made a fortune. I might have resorted to the Colonies, or 'Dominions' as they are now called, in the hopes of pleasing, or at least placating them; and thus had, à la Lindsay Gordon or Cecil Rhodes, a lurid career. I might even have gravitated to the Bar, and persons might have been hanged through my defence who now nurse their guilty secrets with complacency. Anyhow the whole of my life would have been altered, and that I suppose would have altered a great many other lives, which in their turn, and so on.


But here we seem to be getting back to mathematics, which I quitted for ever in the year 1894...

Literary Dreamer said...

@ Seongyong Cho

You have read more Dickens than I have--and I was an English major! I have only read a very abridged version of Great Expectations (for shame, public school systems!) and A Tale of Two Cities, which I loved. I also visited his house in London, one of four that he lived in. Oliver Twist, Bleak House, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, A Christmas Carol...the list of books of his that I should read goes on and on.