Saturday, April 13, 2019
A Note On Being 4/5ths Through Dickens’s Bleak House And A Theory About It
Note to a friend:
Shattered when Little Joe, not Bonanza’s, died.
Dickens with him, as he often does, outdoes himself. He conveys the beautiful, pitiable soul of the boy the way Twain does with Huck, though Huck is neither pitiable or doomed. The commonality is the illimited penetration to the deepest core of these boys and then representing them, especially in their voices, so that their effect on us is as well illimited.
We’re educated to reject sentimentality in art—a low form of excessive emotion of sadness or regret or tenderness that upsets some presumed balance between our hearts and our minds such that good judgment is offended, but Dickens in his genius makes it transcend itself so as to become high art. He’s able to do this, I’d venture, because of his masterful authorial technique in creating it, that technique being the sum of what it is great writers do in making their fiction great. (List to follow in the next life.)
Btw, back to Dickens’s treatment of women in Bleak House, nobody’s gonna ever refer to Lady Dedlock as “little woman.” And in that a counter thesis is suggesting itself to me: maybe Dickens somewhat unaware is of the devil’s camp.
The lavish generosity of person he lavishes on most not all of the little women—Lady Snagsby not so much, “not to put too fine a point on it,” to quote Mr. Snagsby—leads to a certain tiresomeness as finally their selflessness involves self abnegation.
I think of Esther, Charlie, Rosa, Ada up to a point, Caddy. Ada breaks that mould in determinedly defying sense in marrying Carstone. It will not go well for them, I have no doubt. The great goodness of the little woman starts to become boring. Whereas which woman in the novel is more intriguing than the, I’m guessing, homicidal Lady Dedlock, has more complexity, is more compelling?
Esther, where I’m up to so far, doesn’t know herself. She’s aware that a couple of others, namely Allen Woodcourt and Ada, sense her sadness after she has agreed to marry John Jarndyce. They intuit she’s denying herself in doing so. She has a passion for Woodcourt that can’t break, so far I stress, into her consciousness. She has no reason to think why others detect sadness in her. She is perfectly happy she tells herself and sincerely but self-deludedly believes. Here selflessness clearly leads to self abnegation. Generous goodness faces its own limit, its obstruction to human happiness.
In all this the novel seems to me to house a paradox, a tension between selflessness and selffulness, to coin a word, between, could it be said, a kind of extreme sense and extreme sensibility, sensibility as Jane Austen has it. Where the demands of the emotional self dominate, when characters seek their fulfillment in following their passions, sensibility, they seem to seal their fate and doom themselves in different degrees of doom, say Ada and perhaps Lady Dedlock. But when they obey the dictates of sense, as in duty and in doing for others, they lose themselves and suffer their own measures of doom.
Just a working theory right now.