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Men, women, and children still find themselves irritated, then confounded, then outraged, and finally maddened by cases which affect them deeply, and seem to go on and on and on—maybe not for generations, as happened in , but long enough for particular children to suffer in extended custodial fights, and for particular workers and families to suffer while the responsibility for, say, dangerous environmental pollution is argued in court for months which become years.Yet is much more than a novel that portrays the outcome of a legal impasse.
True, Dickens tips his hand (as he so often does) with the name of Dedlock: Sir Leicester is indeed a baronet who (with others in England’s 19th-century nobility) is headed nowhere.
The social foolishness, the moribund paralysis, intellectual and moral, of a particular upper class is more than indicated in the early chapters .
At the same time he immersed himself in his own world—reported on the workings of his mind’s imagination, its exceedingly vigorous life.
Soon enough a substantial segment of the English reading public, rich and poor and many, many in between, became familiar with the antic and sometimes soberly edifying carryings-on of Samuel Pickwick and his fellow clubsmen Nathaniel Winkle, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass—and those they met: Alfred Jingle, Dr. Wardle, his daughters Bella and Emily, his spinster sister Rachael, Samuel Weller, Job Trotter, and the landlady Mrs.
Inside him burned, even then, a writer’s desire to expand upon incidents, convey a given atmosphere, give moral shape to a particular factuality. Shortly thereafter he began the first of his Pickwick pieces—”The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.” By now he was ready to marry, and to shift course as a writer.
He abandoned the writing of conventional journalism, though he worked for a while (two years) as an editor.At 15 Dickens was studying law as an attorney’s apprentice. He had a keen eye for 19th-century English politics—its moral postures, its moments and longer of theater, both high and low, its possibilities, and its sad limitations. He traveled anywhere and everywhere in search of a good political story.He also had developed a compelling manner of narrative presentation—strong, suggestive prose. All London became his routine beat; all England easily tempted him, if he felt the story demanded that extra effort.This prison, Marshalsea, figures prominently in , even as it did in the life of the young Dickens, who spent time behind bars in accordance with prevailing custom; a debtor’s family often accompanied him when be became locked up.As a child, Dickens also worked for extremely low wages in a shoe-blacking factory: he pasted labels on bottles.Even in Dickens’ lifetime, some of the tedious, if not outrageous aspects of London’s Chancery Court had succumbed to reform.And, too, Dickens knew when he wrote that the very Marshalsea Prison he described (and knew as a young inmate) no longer was the giant debtors’ world of old, filled with entire families whose crime was an inability to pay their bills.Nor did his success as a writer and an eager public speaker, if not performer, prevent him from going back, time and again, to the memories generated by an earlier life: the child in a debtor’s prison, the youth struggling with a harsh and mean life, the young man observing lawmakers at their shilly-shallying or corrupt worst, and, above all, the apprentice writer taking note of lawyers—who, of course, are right there when men and women go to prison, or lose whatever rights or privileges they may have had, or find themselves in severe straits because the laws work this way rather than that way or on behalf of these people rather than those.Charles Dickens in his fifties, the most celebrated writer in Britain, still scanned hungrily London’s lowlife, a substantial population, indeed; and, doing so, gave us not only memorable characters (Jo of , the Dorrits of Marshalsea Prison, the prisoner Magwitch) but also terribly searching moral issues to consider and (he would surely have hoped) to connect in their continuing significance to our own considerably later lives.He retires to the country with his servant Sam Weller for a long and restful life.Dickens, on the other hand, with the publication of Pickwick Papers in book form (1838), had ahead of him more than 30 years of demanding labor.