Thursday, January 29, 2009

Toward a "true 'happily ever after'"

Eleanor Bourg Donlon, in "At Home with Dickens" provides another good reason to read that author in a pretty good argument that his portrayal of family encourages us to "see beyond the limits of grievance, through the violence of redemption, to familial joy that gestures ever heavenward."
.... With his appreciation of the place and function of the family, Dickens shows us both failure and redemption, and he delves into the essence of a true “happily ever after.” This is possible only because dysfunction, discord, and even extreme violence run rampant through the Dickensian canon on every familial level.

Nearly all Dickens’ novels begin with a broken or precarious home. Oliver Twist opens with a destitute mother who dies after embracing her newborn son. David Copperfield is born “a posthumous child” and is soon cursed with a vicious disciplinarian stepfather. Dombey and Son tells of little Florence, left motherless after her brother’s birth and utterly neglected by her father. In Martin Chuzzlewit old Martin is estranged from his willful grandson, and all of the family buzzards swarm in hopes of capturing the family fortune. Our Mutual Friend displays a host of disturbed families, with a living reenactment of the story of Cain. And the dreary catalogue continues.

This is the world of Charles Dickens. One might well ask: What is the point of all of these distressing details when the end of the novel will, in most cases, be a sentimentalized scene of happy family life? The test of true heroism is how the fruits of human striving play out over the course of a life—or, at least, eight-hundred-odd pages. Throughout, family remains the overarching paradigm, the original cell of social life, a community of persons. This literary trajectory images, in microcosm, man’s alienation from and return to his Father.

The family—responsible for nurturing, educating, protecting and loving—is the point of departure and the human goal. When broken, it is the primary catalyst to heroic growth; when purified through suffering and revitalized by love, it anticipates our ultimate reward. Finding and fostering the love of family is the goal of every true Dickensian hero, and losing it is the tragedy of every villain and victim. ....

There are plenty of absurd Dickensian families: the Fezziwigs, the Kenwigs, the Boffins, the Peggottys, the Cheerybles . . . and in them the strangest or most vulnerable characters—the neglected, the eccentric, the disabled—are able to find happiness. Dickens takes us again and again to the family. In the end, a true understanding of the family makes reverence and realism possible. The scene of the Cratchets welcoming a reformed Scrooge to their family hearth is more than an image for Christmas cards; it is an embodiment of man’s desire for God expressed in familial love.

Yes—violence, disruption, estrangement, betrayal—all of these come into play. Love requires the heroic striving of virtuous men and God’s grace beyond the most horrific scenes of family dysfunction. This virtue-based familial outlook does not stifle individuality, for to read Dickens is to encounter the flood of humanity gloriously and eccentrically delineated. Thus, Dickens posthumously undermines the phenomenon of dysfunction and challenges both the modern author and reader to see beyond the limits of grievance, through the violence of redemption, to familial joy that gestures ever heavenward. [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » At Home with Dickens

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.