NOSTALGIA, MISERY & MEMORY

Its a marked an obvious pattern in Dickens;  a depiction of characters who employ nostalgic remembrance in a way that critiques this mode of selective memory, showing it to be harmful to both the self, who desires to remember only what is pleasant and useful, and to the society that would forget its vexed relation to, in his novels, of a “criminal” past. There is a haunting nostalgia for the yoke of colonialism and forms of  Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism, that are taken to almost pathological extremes. The forms of pathologies are seen in the relationship of different classes to culture as an active issue. And Dickens examination reveals the seamier side of  John Stuart Mill’s dominant political thesis of Liberalism, one to which Dickens’s publicly encouraged by advocating advancement through education into the propertied ranks of society, yet privately was attracted to the the those alienated and rejected by his own concept of the ”purity of the middle class” .

Great Expectations 1946.

Great Expectations 1946.

Dickens’s often relied upon a kind of sentimental longing for childhood that has come to be known as “Dickensian nostalgia,” which consists of “pristine, idealizing, mnemonic interludes relating to a lost childhood, hearth and home, the rural retreat, the mother’s gaze, and the protective goodness of the yeomanry” Regarding ”Great Expectations”:

Janet Carlisle asks of Dickens: “Why was [he] writing about a convict in Australia even as transportation to its penal colonies was being ended? Does Australia serve merely as a convenience of the plot or does it identify Dickens as a ‘participant’ in the history of colonialism?” . To ask this question of  Dickens is to discover, of course, that he is a participant, not only in the history of colonialism, but also in the narration of this history.Dickens the social reformer, played it pretty safe, most of the time between the forty yard lines.  He employed nostalgic and/or amnesiac characters that illustrate narrative strategies that suppress many of his characters quirky origins but also the implications of Victorian England’s participation in these origins, and its need to sustain them while preaching piety of purpose.

Great Expectations. 1946

Great Expectations. 1946

Despite years of research, the concept of pathological grief remains tenuous and controversial. Dicken’s work is filled with characters including odd composites of himself, that examine the syndrome of grief gone awry. Dickens could have  concluded that pathological grief may be best viewed on a continuum of psychopathology, the expression of which depends upon the interaction between the personality of the individual, the nature of the lost relationship, and the circumstances of its loss. His own life childhood likely helped fashion him into the expert he became….

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Twelve year-old Charles was removed from school and sent to work ata boot blacking factory to help support his familywhile his father John was in Marshalea debtor’s prison. This dark experience cast a shadow over the clever, sensitive boy that became a defining experience in his life, he would later write that he wondered “how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.” This childhood poverty and feelings of abandonment, although unknown to his readers until after his death, would be a heavy influence on Dickens’ later views on social reform and the world he would create through his fiction.

”Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse. Charles Dickens is here shown as a boy of between eight and twelve years of age, working in a factory.”

The worst period in Charles Dicken’s life , and by far the most formative for the future writer, began in the winter of 1822 in London. Dickens had been born near Portsmouth and had grown up in Chatham, a large country town of neat , three storied houses and hayfields, dotted with buttercups. His family had always been poor, yet poverty in rural Chatham was genteel and endurable.

Then, his father’s job in the Navy Pay Office forced a move to London, and because of John Dicken’s incurable improvidence, the family’s finances steadily deteriorated. There was no money to send Charles to school, and the first year was a series of moves from one cramped, inadequate house to another even smaller, drearier one. Charles books were pawned; he was without companions. He felt sure he could not be more unhappy. But the next six months were to plunge him even deeper into the dark, unfathomable miseries of childhood despair.

In this 1840 engraving, ‘Love Conquered Fear,’ fictional character Michael Armstrong, a boy adopted by the mill owner, is shown embracing his brother Edward who is one of the ragged factory boys working amongst the spinning mules. By Michael’s foot, a child can be seen crawling out from under a mule, employed to keep the floor under the mules dust and fiber free to minimise risk of fire.

When a family friend, James Lamert, offered Charles a job in the small business he managed, it seemed to the boy like the end of hope. The factory made boot blacking and Charles was to be paid six shillings a week for a twelve hour day. It would not be very inspiring work, but would keep him occupied until his father’s financial situation would improve or so the reasoning went; the money compare

vorably with what the other boys got and would at least do something to help the family.

His worried parents accepted the offer with gratitude. They agreed it was a pity that he could not go back to school, but then, most boys had no more schooling than he had had, and many started work much younger. It was not as though the boy showed any exceptional promise, except in the comic singing line; part of a tendency to narcissism he never surpassed. He was bright enough that was clear, and Mr. Giles, his last schoolmaster, had praised him. But after all, they agreed, there were the other five children to think of, and there were debts to pay.

”Victorian children are shown working in a cotton mill. At the beginning of British Queen Victoria’s reign (1837), many children worked in factories for cheap wages. Some workers were as young as five. Few citizens questioned the practice of employing children at the time as there were no laws to protect them.”

Charles however, could not see it in this light. He was not an artisan’s child. He did not openly complain, but he felt as though he had been sentenced to death. For the rest of his life he never ceased to wonder how his parents could have treated him so, never ceased to pity this poor child who had been so cruelly disregarded.”My father and mother were quite satisfied,” Dickens later recalled bitterly. “They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.”

Child labor. Victorian England

It was a forlorn, dirty, ramshackle old building overlooking the river, with old grey rats swarming down in the cellar all marked by an imposing atmosphere of dirt and decay. His work, boring and repetitive, consisted of covering the pots of blacking, first with a piece of oilpaper, then with a bit of blue paper, tying them around with a string, clipping the paper close and neat, then sticking on the labels, ”Warren’s Blacking,30, Hungerford Stairs, Strand.”

”Warren ran a series of ground-breaking campaigns in favour of its product, extolling it in a nationwide series of newspaper advertisements, puffing it in handbills, saluting it in advertisements painted on the side of metropolitan buildings and praising it in letters two feet high daubed on fences at the road side in the country. Sandwich men carried Warren’s placards and advertising vehicles trawled the streets hailing the quality of his ‘brilliant jet’. Warren is said to have been amongst the ‘best advertisement writers’ of his time. It doesn’t stop there for Warren. He was also a poet in his own right and believed that other poets and writers would have the best ability to write his product “puffs” and he appears to have been the inventor of the “strap line” or “jingle”….It is clear that both establishments regularly employed poets to help them sell their wares and in an obscure diary of events for the year 1833, an acquaintance asserted that Dickens himself was one of their numbers.”

”Labor was important during the Victorian Age. As the population grew in England, children as young as six years old were forced to work. The labor that was put upon these children were horrifying and at such a young age you would thing it was illegal. The work was always very dangerous as many lost their limbs and even worse their lives. Labor only increase as the time went on and conditions only worsened.”

Although he managed throughout his lifetime to keep secret these days of his childhood, which filled him with such shame, remorse and bitterness, he could not afterwards resist bringing the name ”Warrens”, and the rhymed advertisements that made the boot blacking famous into book after book In ”Sketches by Boz”, a shabby genteel man looks as though he wrote poems for Warren’s. Tony Weller in Pickwick Papers decides that ”poetry’s unnatural; no man ever talked in poetry ‘cept a beadle on boxin’ day, or Warren’s Blacking.” And in Barnaby Rudge, the old house, ”mouldering to ruin,” in which the secrets of the past are buried, one of many such houses in Dicken’s work that are used as symbols of repression and restriction; is called The Warren.

”Halfway through the serialisation of The Pickwick Papers in July 1836 the servant Sam Weller is introduced, preparing a customer’s boots “with a polish which would have struck envy to the soul of the amiable Mr. Warren (for they used Day & Martin at the White Hart)”. A few months later, in a slum sketch of London’s “Seven Dials”, a shabby-genteel man is described as leading a “life of seclusion in a second-floor room, buying only coffee, bread, pens and “ha’porths of ink” – “his fellow-lodgers very naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are current in the Dials, that he writes poems for Mr. Warren”.

Dickens, Oliver Twist

To be healthy, Dickens seems to suggest, one must remember not only the pleasant aspects of the past, but also those painful memories of one’s own failings; one must, in other words, remember the past in order to seek forgiveness for it. The self-serving nostalgic remembrance often  failed as a means of transforming the chaos of memory into a coherent life; such “selective” memory also fails Dickens, to articulate the trauma he felt through multiple characters, and their redemption was often not conclusive. dickens34

While Dickens does command sympathy for many of his marginal and outsider characters,  that sympathy is not focused toward experience in prison , but toward the way in which their experiences as  cast-offs, children and adult, in jail and out of jail had already warped them into a permanent outsider, and toward the way in which the England and its colonial mentality dressed in Liberalism merely replicates and aggravates the ostracizing social system. Thus, Dickens both participates in and critiques the kind of nostalgic narration of colonial history that rehabilitates and restores failed members of the upper-classes,  but not convicts. By focusing so much on nostalgic returns and the private redemptions, that he seeks through different characters, Dickens finishes by ironically participating  in the erasure of the role of convicts in the history of the Australian colony.

Clarke refuses Dawes and Sylvia the type of nostalgic return Dickens provides for Magwitch and Pip, a return that provides a kind of private redemption but erases the historical trauma of Australia’s convict history. Instead, their final self-recollection, far from nostalgic or redemptive, is painful, forcing the once amnesiac self to recognize its own past failings, its own “misused power” over its fate.

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