Monday, July 10, 2017

A Few Notes On Dickens's Style In Oliver Twist


I'm rounding the club house turn reading Oliver Twist.

One question that continually occurs to me is: what is the essence of Dickens's totally singular style? 

One thing I'm noting is the narrator's high and inapposite rhetoric when talking about the various lowlifes and pompous phonies. He may refer to Bill Sykes's sleeping as his "slumber" or Fagin's declarations or assertions as "asservations" or Mr. Bumble's self importance as his "state of high elevation." The examples are so endless as to be a key pattern in the fabric of the novel's prose. 

The inapposite high language is of course purposefully high burlesque, meant, in a playfully, whimsically arch way, to demean and puncture the objects of its description. 

So, for example, Mr. Bumble's self importance gets underlined, mimicked and parodied by the high rhetoric

And Fagin and Sykes get diminished by the whimsy that undercuts them by bracketing them even as the portrayal of their leeching, parasitic viciousness is shown full bore, Sykes soaked in his violent predatory nature, moving violently forward like a shark, and Fagin in his predation, in his insidiously malignant false sympathy and false affection,  "Ma Dear," mere cover for his manipulative exploitation and destruction of young lives to feed his own maliciously obsessive acquisitiveness . The destruction they both wreak is perhaps most pathetically evident in Nancy, whose few shreds of dignity, sympathy and pride shine out from and make seem worse the otherwise hapless, destroyed creature that Sykes and Fagin have reduced her to. 

In contrast to the tension in the narrator's paradoxical high falutin descriptions of the lowlifes and pompous fools, some malign and some benign, is the constancy of suitably approbative language, even to the point of sentimental idealization verging on caricature, in the descriptions of the exemplary characters like delicately sensitive Oliver himself or saintly Rose Maylee or the goodly Mr. Brownlow. In these descriptions there is very little, if any, irony or playfulness or anything arch, although the narrator does poke fun at the self important but ultimately harmless Mr. Grimwig, who repeatedly threatens to eat his own head and who his great friend Mr. Brownlow doesn't usually take too seriously.  

Anyway, these are some immediate thoughts. It would be interesting to take a passage or two and closely analyze them to try to get more particularly text based in showing what Dickens is doing.

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