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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jane Austen and Charles Dickens

I have written very occasionally in the past about the strong possibility that Charles Dickens might have been at least a partially committed Janeite.

The topic came up recently in Austen L and Janeites and here is my part of that discussion:


Me: "....I also subjectively just do not love Dickens's writing style, with a few exceptions ( A Christmas Carol comes to mind in particular)...."

Anielka Briggs: "Only A Christmas Carol seem to have the mystery of construction that leads to exgetic depth or subtle ironic allusion."

Yes, that is part of what I like about A Christmas Carol, it has an aura of mystery about it, even as it seems a pretty straightforward morality tale on the surface.

As part of my wife's and my quick tour through the first four seasons of The Mentalist, I particularly enjoyed the episode in which a bad guy attempts to murder a famous retired (American) football quarterback by blowing him up in his car with a bomb, but, by accident, an innocent person gets in the car instead and dies. Patrick Jane, that devious sleuth, seizes the opportunity by having it be spread around that the intended victim actually did die in the blast, and by this strategy eventually the killer is identified. But, alongside the usual thread of solving a murder, there was another layer in this episode, because the investigative team, as part of its crime-solving, on several occasions has the quarterback sit behind a one way mirror and watch and listen as various suspects, including his ex wife and girlfriend, are questioned. And that's where The Christmas Carol comes in, because I am sure that the writer of the episode meant to bring up that resonance, repeatedly, by showing us the reactions of the quarterback as he hears what these various people really think about him, now that they think he's dead. And at the end, even after the killer has been identified, we see a final scene in which Patrick Jane, who is a kind of angel delivering justice and mercy in his own quirky fashion, a la Portia in disguise in The Merchant of Venice, questions the ex-wife while the QB is watching, and gets her to confess that she still loves her (apparently dead) husband, and thought he was a good man who lost his way. And the QB is so overcome with guilt and relief that he rushes into the other room, reveals to his ex that he's still alive, and they are reconciled.

A great example of how even popular mass market TV shows can draw upon great literature in inventive and touching ways.


Diane Reynolds wrote:  "This is from Mr. Jingle's speech in Chapter 2 of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

 'Come along, then,' said he of the green coat, lugging Mr. Pickwick after him by main force, and talking the whole way. 'Here, No. 924, take your fare, and take yourself off—respectable gentleman—know him well—none of your nonsense— this way, sir—where's your friends?—all a mistake, I see—never mind— accidents will happen—best regulated families—never say die—down upon your luck—Pull him UP—Put that in his pipe—like the flavour—damned rascals.' And with a lengthened string of similar broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary volubility, the stranger led the way to the traveller's waiting-room, whither he was closely followed by Mr. Pickwick and his disciples. "

Hardcore Janeites will be anticipating me. What immediately leapt to my mind but Mrs. Elton picking strawberries at Donwell Abbey: Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking—strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—"The best fruit in England—every body's favourite—always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one's self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired—every sort good—hautboy infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable—hautboys very scarce—Chili preferred—white wood finest flavour of all—price of strawberries in London—abundance about Bristol—Maple Grove—cultivation—beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries—currants more refreshing— only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade." JA naturally uses parataxis with more bite. END QUOTE

Diane, your post reminded me of something I read online a few years ago when I was looking at possible Dickens/Austen connections---somebody in an online group pointed out the similarity of the strawberry scene to the following passage also in Chapter 2 in The Pickwick Papers:

"Heads, heads -- take care of your heads! cried the loquacious stranger, as they came out under a low archway, which in those days formed the entrance to the coach-yard. "Terrible place -- dangerous work -- other day -- five children – mother tall lady, eating sandwiches -- forgot the arch -- crash – knock -- children look round -- mother's head off -- sandwich in her hand -- no mouth to put it in -- head of a family off -- shocking, shocking"

Now, did Dickens get this idea from Emma? Can't prove it, but certainly he was an extremely well read guy, and Emma would have been a novel that would have crossed his path. And moving further into the future, Joyce definitely was a Janeite,and there's no question that he, literary scholar that he was, knew Emma well. And don't forget Beckett, who was also a Janeite:

" . out . . . into this world . . . this world . . . tiny little thing . . . before its time . . . in a godfor– . . . what? . . girl? . . yes . . . tiny little girl . . . into this . . . out into this . . . before her time . . . godforsaken hole called . . . called . . . no matter . . . parents unknown . . . unheard of . . . he having vanished . . . thin air . . . no sooner buttoned up his breeches . . . she similarly . . . eight months later . . . almost to the tick . . . so no love . . . spared that . . . no love such as normally vented on the . . . speechless infant . . . in the home . . . no . . . nor indeed for that matter any of any kind . . . no love of any kind . . . at any subsequent stage..."

It's cool to think of Jane Austen as an innovator in literary word salads,  leading the way for Dickens, Joyce and Beckett, among others....

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S. added 01/13/13 at 3 pm EST:

See the following followup  post re another Dickens  borrowing  from Jane Austen:

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