Page:Works of Charles Dickens, ed. Lang - Volume 3.djvu/19

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INTRODUCTION.

the thieves' quarters: Sikes, Fagin, Nancy, the Three Cripples with its society, and the dog, are all admirable and absolutely original. Many of Dickens's mannerisms, such as his animism, his personifications of lifeless beings, do not appear. Nor does he overdo his escriptions, and that character (later too great a favourite) who is always round the corner, always "lurking for a spring," is absent. The social satire, like all social satire, is mainly negative. We see what is wrong, but we are not told what right action should take its place. There are no constructive ideas. Of course, the weakness of the novel is its plot. There is a greatly exaggerated use of coincidences. That Mr. Brownlow should casually be acquainted with Monks, and his history, is a strain on credulity. The girl who will not marry because of a blot on her maternal scutcheon is as old a figure as the interesting foundling, and the "recognition" is a stock device of the Greek and Roman stage. The character and conduct of Monks may be explained by his epileptic constitution, but he is, at best, painfully melodramatic and unconvincing. About the love affair, Mr. Walter Bagehot, forty years ago, said at least as much, in the way of critical blame, as was necessary. Dickens's strength lay neither in the construction of plots, nor in the conduct of love affairs. Again, the innocence and the elegant language of Oliver himself may be explained by heredity, or may be regarded as mere conventions, like the blank verse talked by kings on the stage, while Falstaff speaks plain prose. The hags in the workhouse, with their talk about laying out bodies, are manifestly an unconscious reminiscence of the hags and their conversation in The Bride of Lammermuir.

With these drawbacks, the novel has the tragic characteristic of "purifying the passions through pity and terror," however we are to understand that famous saying of Aristotle. Dickens

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