My flight from Dallas was delayed… big surprise, right? As I sat in the Delta terminal waiting for my flight home, I looked around and saw a man sitting alone in an empty terminal across the way. He was in his early to mid fifties and was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap and a pair of Costa sunglasses, but what gave Charles Dickens’ identity away was his goatee and the velvet along the lapels of the sports coat he was wearing. I knew right away who he was, and I watched for several minutes to see if anyone else recognized the writer who has given us so many iconic characters, phrases, and moments. To my dismay, people passed him by without so much as a passing glance.
I approached Mr. Dickens,he rose (like the Victorian gentleman he was), and I introduced myself. I noticed that he was holding a small notebook in his left hand into which he had hurriedly stuck a pen. He asked if I would like to join him, and I had to remind myself not to get giddy and giggle when I accepted the uncomfortable terminal chair next to his. I told him that I had recently taken a class on some of his lesser read works and that the most recent thing I read was his original Sketches by Boz. He laughed heartily and informed me that that particular collection was written from moments just like this one. I asked him how he was able to be so very specific and vivid in his descriptions of characters like those presented in his “Thoughts about People.” He chuckled and pointed to the small notebook in his other hand and then pointed to a young woman seated alone across the way. He began to weave a story about where she had come from and where she was going. He noted her dress, accessories, and the things she carried with her. He pointed out the pin she was wearing on her lapel, a gold star with a box across the middle. He told me that she was a “gold star wife,” the wife of a Marine killed in action, and he began to tell her story. She had cleaned out the little house she and her husband had on base and that she was headed back home to be with her parents until she figured out what her next step would be. She and her husband had not had children. They were waiting until he picked up his next rank and could be a little more financially stable. This was a regret she would carry with her for the rest of her life. Returning to her parents’ home as a twenty-five year old widow had never been part of her plan. This was to have been her husband’s last tour in Iraq, and his next post was to be in intelligence (a nice safe job stateside). In an additional twist of fate, she found herself sitting alone in the Dallas airport on what would have been her husband’s thirtieth birthday. He continued to spin his tale of this young widow, and I found myself in tears before he was done. I was incredibly moved by her story, whether it was fact, fiction, or a combination of both.
He spun tale after tale for me of the travelers who passed us as we sat in the airport. Mr. Dickens drew my attention to a young man and began to tell me his story. This young man was an up and coming banker on his way to a meeting where he would face a choice – maintain his integrity or break a slew of SEC laws and make a ton of money. He pointed out the three-year-old being dragged by his exhausted father through the airport in a rush to catch the flight which would return the miserable child to his mother who lived in Miami. I could have sat in that airport forever with this remarkable man and his incredible understanding of human nature and his skills of observation, but Time waits for no one and my flight was finally called.
I rose, picked up my carry-on, and told Mr. Dickens how much I appreciated his time. I took few steps and then remembered that my classmates would never forgive me if I didn’t find out how Edwin Drood ended. I turned back around to ask him who the murderer was… and he was gone. In the seat he had occupied, there was nothing but the Red Sox cap, the sunglasses, and a beautiful ring – diamonds and rubies in the shape of a rose.
Barnaby Rudge traces the Gordon Riots from the inside out and makes a wonderful case that the leadership, participants, and opposition had no idea what was really going on. Dickens addresses the Mob several times in his descriptions, and the members of the mob are depicted as misled, uneducated, and misguided. Dickens says of the Mob, “Many of those who were banded together to support the religion of their country, even unto death, had never heard a hymn or psalm in all their lives.” Most of the participants had no idea what they were involved in, and their motivations were hardly pure. It is clear that Dickens is no fan of a mob mentality. He treats the mob much the same way in A Tale of Two Cities. The participants are depicted as mindless and blood thirsty but are undeniably united under a horrible set of circumstances.
While Dickens isn’t kind to the Mob as a character and does not excuse its behavior in any way, he does offer an explanation as to why so many people became involved in something so tainted. Dickens’ Mob is made “for the most part of the very scum and refuse of London, whose growth was fostered by bad criminal laws, bad prison regulations, and the worse conceivable police.” The London of 1780 had many of the same problems that Dickens’ London faced – poverty, corruption, and discontent. The lower classes had less and less power and less and less influence; this inevitably leads to frustration and ultimately violence. Dickens does not absolve the individuals for their involvement, but he does explain why so many would join a cause they knew nothing about.
Dickens doesn’t just use the Mob as a character; he uses individual characters to embody the individual elements found within most conflicts.
- George Gordon – a true believer, blinded by his devotion to a cause.
- Gashford – an opportunist without a scrap of loyalty to anyone or anything but himself; quick to use those around him and discard them when they are no longer of use.
- Joe Grueby – the voice of reason, frank and honest without a political or social agenda; these are few and far between in any uprising
- Barnaby Rudge – those who get caught up in something they don’t understand; these individuals are almost always the casualties of any cause
- Hugh and Dennis – blood thirsty, looking for a reason to do evil; these are the agitators who will join any cause if it provides them a reason to do damage
Children in Prison
At the young age of 11, Ellen Woodman was ordered to do 7 days hard labour after being convicted of stealing iron
Crime was on the increase alongn with populations, wealth, and poverty. The industrialization of England brought a great deal of success to many, but technology and populations grew much faster than regulations and management could keep up. All too often, the casualties of society’s problems are children. Many children found themsevles completely alone in the world for a variety of reasons and found themselves crushed under the wheels of Victorian justice.
- Some parents fell into addiciton (alcohol or drugs) and were useless to their children.
- Parents were often in the justice system themselves and were either imprisoned or transported.
- Mothers were seperated from their children to prevent negative influence from a criminal parent.
- Brothers and sisters were seperated to prevent what was thought to be a natural inclination toward incest among the poor.
- Many paupers’ children ended up in workhouses surrounded by individuals suffering from mental illness, those dying from illness, and weeping of broken mothers.
It is no surprise that many of the older children turned to a life of petty crime to try and survive. They had no sense of right and wrong except what the streets and elder criminals taught them. Some were taken in by “thief-trainers” like Fagin in Oliver Twist who fed and clothed them and taught them to be professional pickpockets.
Punishment was swift and harsh.
Punishments were swift and harsh. In 1814, five children under the age of fourteen were hanged at the Old Bailey. One was a young man named William Potter who was hanged for ‘cutting down an orchard.’ Many other received months of hard labor for petty crimes. George Davey, age ten, was sentenced to a month’s hard labor for stealing two tame rabbits. Other found themselves in jail for stealing food and blankets. One eight year old young man identified by his sleeve number, No. 6, was asked by he was imprisoned, “for not moving on, Sir” was his answer. Sounds like Joe in Bleak House, only No. 6 didn’t even have Tom-all-Alone’s. No. 6 had no one and nothing.
While punishment was carried out promptly, trials were often delayed for weeks, and children (young girls and boys) sat in prison with the general population – a worthy group of characters I am sure. Conditions were deplorable and dangerous. Disease was rampant and abuse was common. Not until 1820 were children imprisoned in seperate facilities. By 1851, things were looking better. According to the census of that year, only twenty children under the age of ten were in British prisons; however, the numbers of older children (ten to fifteen) had rised. England still had work to do.
I admit that I am fascinated by Grip! I think Barnaby is underestimated by everyone in the story except Grip. The bird has complete and total faith in him and goes with him everywhere. I love it!
I am also fascinated by the connections between Poe and Dickens. I am an unapologetic Poe fan; I mean who doesn’t love the grisly and grotesque? Not you, you say… you would never pay money to see a movie entitledThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I will call you a liar! You might not go see Saw XIV,but if there is a dead opossum on the side of the road on your way to work, you will examine it daily to see what has deteriorated, blown up, or otherwise altered in the aftermath of said opossum’s pavement poisoning. We love it!
Here is a link to an article about Dickens’ raven who later became Poe’s much more famous raven. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2097090/The-raven-inspired-Edgar-Allan-Poes-haunting-poem-goes-display.html
Once again, I am distraught by one of Dickens’ characters, Charley Hexam to be exact. When Charley marched up to Bradley Headstone with condemnation and distaste for Headstone upon his lips, I was so happy… I thought that sweet, wonderful boy we saw in the opening scenes of OMF was back. It was getting toward the end of the novel, and Dickens has done a great job of redemption with characters like Sydney… so I thought maybe Charley was on his way back. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
Charley escapes a perfectly constructed opportunity for redemption. My moment of hope for him is destroyed when Dickens reveals that Charley is not disturbed by the fact that his mentor has committed cold-blooded murder. He is not disturbed by the fact that he almost sacrificed his sister to a man capable of committing cold-blooded murder. He is bent out of shape due to the suggestion that Bradley Headstone’s committing cold-blooded murder in his deranged love for his sister might reflect poorly upon him! I was totally disgusted that Charley’s only concern was that Headstone’s actions might corrupt his standing and attempts to rise in society. I was furious when Charley ranted about refusing to be “dragged down by others.” I want to take his scrawny shoulders and shake him. He is worried about his sister dragging him down… REALLY! This is the same sister who scraped together every cent she could find for him. This is the same sister who ensured that he was educated to start with. This is the same sister who endured the wrath of their drunken, abusive father when Gaffer became infuriated with Charley’s attempts to better himself. Wait… maybe Gaffer had a point. Charley’s attempts to better himself have turned him into the worst sort of man. Is really “better” for his education and the improvement of his station? I think not. It turns out that Charley is exactly the same sort as his father – selfish, egotistical, abusive, small-minded, and a failure as a man. No matter how I hoped, Dickens refuses to let this apple fall far from the tree.
What a great class tonight! We have such a great time, and there is always tons of laughter to accompany any worthy scholarly pursuits we may undertake. Knowledge surrounded with laughter is one of my favorite things on earth! I was so excited to discuss the end of Bleak House with everyone. I love getting together and discovering things I completely missed when reading the novel.
Surprises of the night…
- I heard Esther’s narrative as a woman without ever questioning the fact that a man penned her words.
- The fog was a sort of bleak house because it surrounded and clogged everything.
- Dickens was much more miserable in his latter years that I had realized.
- Others swept through the ending as I did (and nobody knows what happened to Smallweed – miserable man that he was!)
- Nobody really discussed the murderess or what prompted her to kill the lawyer. I figured that would be a hot topic, but we all seemed to take that little portion of the story in stride.
- Chris (ponderingdickens) was responsible for all the blogs anybody mentioned… Oh, wait! That’s not a surprise… 🙂
Anyway, there’s always lots of silliness and goofing off to accompany the serious work we do, and I for one, am glad to have been a part of it.
Dear Mr. Dickens,
Thank you so much for including Mrs. Bucket in the solving of the murder mystery ofBleak House. My grandmother used to say behind every successful man is a tired woman. She worked as hard or harder than Detective Bucket to catch the killer! She was judicious and careful, sincere and tenacious… I love that she was the key to catching a killer!
Thank you again.