The Gospel in Dickens
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September 03, 2010


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Ooh, good topic, Christy! I'll have to think about this one, but some of the characters that immediately spring to mind are Mr. Venus (I really did like the book version of the character, and was glad he got a good ending) and Tommy Traddles from DC. I'm not sure if he counts since he's in the book for a fairly good amount, but he definitely reveals himself as one of the most morally-just characters by the end. :)

Because Bleak House is my favorite Dickens, if you can have a favorite, I love the quiet characters like Mr. Snagsby who is very quiet in his service to Jo and then I love of course Mr. Crook, just because he isn't as bad as he seems.

I may come up with a more complete list later, but the characters that immediately spring to mind are

The Marchioness in The Old Curiosity Shop. She exposed the conspiracy between Quilp and the Brasses and saved Kit Nubbles from being transported.

Trabb's boy in Great Expectations. He apparently served no other purpose but providing comic relief until the very end of the novel, when he played a crucial role in saving Pip from Orlick.

Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield. As has been discussed earlier on this blog, Dickens originally intended her to be a villain but relented and instead made her the instrument of bringing Littimer to justice - not to mention her eloquent plea to judge people by their character, not their outward appearance.

Sergeant George and Mr Venus are definitely two of my favourites! And I don't know if Herbert Pocket counts, but I've always liked him, too. And Daniel Doyce; his kindness and willingness to forgive are that everyday kind of heroism, that is still important.

I had quite a large list that I started with, but I soon realized that if I were to write about each of them, I'd be writing a book, not a short essay.

Let me weigh in with Joe Gargery from Great Expectations. Joe represents the solid rock decency and generosity of spirit that sustains a civilized society. His greatness is his ability to do the right thing, regardless of personal cost, and to exhibit a grace that offers to others a chance to see the better angels of their nature. He does this unceremoniously and without the right hand knowing what the left is doing. He is everything that, say, a Seth Pecksniff is not.

I also liked Mr. Mell from David Copperfield. Talk about a quiet hero! He says very little and only appears for a short time, but despite his reticent nature and shabby appearance, he stands up against Steerforth's crap and protects David, even though David lost him his place at Salem House.

Joe Gargery, Miss Mowcher, Frederick Dorrit, Mr. Sleary (Hard Times) ...

There are so many candidates for "quiet heroes" in Dickens that it's simply impossible to name all the good ones. To pick just one example, it's hard to single out Miss Mowcher and Mr. Mell in David Copperfield without also mentioning Mrs. Gummidge.

So instead of compiling a long list, let me just mention that I'm currently reading Dombey and Son and have just finished the chapter where Walter and Captain Cuttle visit Mr. Dombey in Brighton to ask for help in paying Uncle Sol's debt. The scene is hilarious because of Captain Cuttle's misplaced attempts to ingratiate himself with the proud and haughty Mr. Dombey. I can imagine Dickens howling with laughter as he wrote. But beneath the laughter there is no question that Captain Cuttle is one of Dickens's quiet heroes. Without hesitation he offers all his worldly goods - a silver watch, all his ready money, teaspoons, and a sugar-tongs - to help his friend. In its own way it's just as touching a scene as the parable of the widow's mite in the Bible.

Captain Cuttle was one of my favorite choices too! I'm telling you, I should write a book...
If you haven't read Dombey and Son before, just wait until you get toward the end. Captain Cuttle's heroism grows and grows.

I wish I could say I've never read Dombey and Son. That would give me the thrill of discovering it for the first time. But the truth is that I'm just becoming reacquainted with an old friend. In high school I repeatedly read and reread all of the Dickens novels, but some of them I haven't read since. The approach of Dickens's 200th birthday in 2012 has motivated me to reread all his works in the next few years.

Ah, yes, Captain Cuttle is a wonderful fellow. It's been awhile since I last read Dombey and Son. I guess that means it's time for a reread. The thing about Dickens is that a reread is never less than delightful and I notice things I didn't see on earlier read throughs. Sometimes I get to the end of a Dickens novel and want to immediately turn back to the first page and begin again.

It took me a little time to get into Dombey and Son, but once Edith Dombey came into it, I loved it. She's one of my favorite Dickens characters. Along with quite a few others.

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