Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Hard Class Act to Follow

As I have begun to re-read the works of Dickens the complete set of dried-blood-colored volumes I first encountered as a toddler when crawling I looked up and beheld a towering mountain much like the one the startled apes once saw reflected in the living Kubrick's imagination I have just so happily gleaned from G. K. Chesterton’s 1911 “Introduction” to those works the following that has startled this young ape at least once more.

“Dickens was a very great man, and there are many ways of testing and stating this fact. But one permissible way is to say this, that he was an ignorant man, ill-read in the past, and often confused about the present. Yet he remains great and true, and even essentially reliable, if we suppose him to have known not only all that went before his lifetime, but also all that was to come after.

“From this vanishing of the Victorian compromise (I might say the Victorian illusion) there begins to emerge a menacing and even monstrous thing—we may begin again to behold in the English people. If that strange dawn ever comes, it will be the final vindication of Dickens. It will be proved that he is hardly even a caricaturist; that he is something very like a realist. Those comic monstrosities which the critics found incredible will be found to be the immense majority of the citizens of this country. We shall find that Sweedlepipe cuts our hair and Pumblechook sells our cereals; that Sam Weller blacks our boots and Tony Weller drives our omnibus…

“even Americans are all something, though it is not easy to say what it is; it goes with hawk-like eyes and an irrational eagerness. Perhaps it is savages.”