Dickens And The Grown Up Child

Malcolm Andrews

"We see it all now in one blinding flash. We see the mightiness of the genius and its limitations. We see why, less than almost any great author, Dickens changed with advancing culture....It may seem putting the case too strongly, but Charles Dickens, having crushed into his childish experience a whole world of sorrow and humorous insight, so loaded his soul that he never grew any older. He was a great, grown-up, dreamy, impulsive child, just as much a child as little Paul Dombey or little David Copperfield. He saw all from a child's point of view - strange, odd, queer, puzzling. He confused men and things, animated scenery and furniture with human souls....Child-like he commiserated himself, with sharp, agonizing introspection. Child-like he rushed out into the world with his griefs and grievances, concealing nothing, wildly craving for sympathy. And just as much as little Paul Dombey was out of place at Dr. Blimber's, where they tried to cram him with knowledge, and ever pronounced him old-fashioned, was Charles Dickens out of place in the cold, worldly circle of literature, in the bald bare academy of English culture." This contemporary review of John Forster's Life of Charles Dickens (1872) believed that the revelations about Dickens's childhood hardships provided the key to understanding the bizarre nature of his genius, a view that has been a critical commonplace ever since. It has been used to account for Dickens's peculiar sympathy with orphaned children and his remarkable ability to render the child's-eye view of the world. It has led critics to see Dickens's work as essentially a sustained attempt, in novel after novel, to exorcise the restless ghosts of his childhood past. InDickens and the Grown-up Child Malcolm Andrews explores in Dickens's writings the unresolved relationship between childhood and adulthood and the problems in constructing a coherent idea of maturity. The issue is far broader than might be expected, because Dickens projects these

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