Dickens pointed out the ills in English society, in the same way that William Blake did.And yet he did so in a way that somehow maintained the status quo at the same time.In spite of all the knowledge that has accumulated since, in spite of the fact that children are now comparatively sanely treated, no novelist has shown the same power of entering into the child’s point of view.
This is written by a man who sees the issues but doesn’t really propose what we all should DO about them (besides notice that there are issues and sometimes the mere act of noticing is the most important step).
Additionally, if you look closely at Dickens, as Orwell points out, “there is no clear sign that he wants the existing order overthrown, or that he believes it would make much difference if it were overthrown.” So why were socialists trying to claim him then? But the system itself is not really called into question, at least not in any way that proposes a solution.
Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself. He observes that Dickens did not write about the famous “proletariat”.
He did not write about agricultural laborers or factory workers, the heroes of Socialist thinking.
On the essays shelf: A Collection of Essays, by George Orwell Orwell’s essay on Dickens is a monster. Dickens is one of my favorite authors, and Orwell’s essay is essential reading, one of the best things ever written about Dickens.
It includes observations such as this, which I think is just so right on: No one, at any rate no English writer, has written better about childhood than Dickens.Dickens has been able to stand both inside and outside the child’s mind, in such a way that the same scene can be wild burlesque or sinister reality, according to the age at which one reads it.That has been exactly my experience but I certainly couldn’t put it into words like that.So to the socialists who think Dickens is one of them, Orwell says, “Come again? Orwell speaks of Dickens’ refreshing lack of nationalism, another reason why socialists wanted to claim him. (It’s also probably one of the reasons why Dickens’ books have traveled so far and lasted so long: they are not rooted in a time and place, they do not read as propaganda for a cause, as so much of the literature done by Dickens’ contemporaries does.Orwell makes the accurate observation that Dickens does not “exploit” the “other” in his works. Dickens’ books are about people, not politics.) I absolutely love this section: The fact that Dickens is always thought of as a caricaturist, although he was constantly trying to be something else, is perhaps the surest mark of his genius.Lenin actually understood Dickens better than the socialists in Orwell’s day who wanted to turn him into some kind of class revolutionary. It is a fascinating critical and political/social analysis.For example: In Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached.The mental atmosphere of the opening chapters was so immediately intelligible to me that I vaguely imagined they had been written by a child.And yet when one re-reads the book as an adult and sees the Murdstones, for instance, dwindle from gigantic figures of doom into semi-comic monsters, these passages lose nothing.Let’s spread it around a little bit.” This was in operation with the French Revolution, too. Because wealth provides opportunities, the wealthy were often the people who knew how to do shit, and without their expertise, the peasants floundered. Once you cut off the past so violently, once you say to an entire class of people: “You are no longer welcome”, you cut off possibility.Cathedrals and mansions were commandeered by the people. This was Edmund Burke’s famous critique of the French Revolution. Yes, there was unfairness in the distribution of wealth, but the solution was not to tear down the institutions themselves. Burke was right, as we saw in France, in Russia, in China, in Iran, and on and on.