Tag Archives: charles dickens

Great feast of fellowship, what a thing it is!

Education is quintessentially utilitarian. it is the soul of a society that grows into a collective human civilization in which individuals become cosmopolitans of the global village. William Butler Yeats saw education as “not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In fact, education is the beginning of enlightenment, the road to Alpine Path to reach the peaks of your dreams and goals in triumph, no matter how rigid and challenging it may be. It is, therefore, a human right belonging to all ranks and titles, and it is this very reason that I was very glad to come upon this wonderful website “Working Class Academics Conference” on Twitter.

The conference is a congress of academics with honorable intentions to form a supporting network of collegiality that encourages their increasing presence and voices in academia where normally is dominated by scholars and academics of the affluent middle-class and privileged high class. It purposes to signify, acknowledge, and salute the achievements of working-class people embarking on an odyssey of their own in search of will to meaning in life via education despite biological, social, and cultural inhibitions against the elitist currents of Higher and Education and the University often unfriendly toward their peers of another class. It is Parliament of Kindred Spirits and Faeries that guide their fellow academics of similar socio-economic backgrounds to climb to their due respect and well-deserved recognition from the mainstream academia. 

In fact, there have been many notable figures of the working class who rose above social and biological planes that would not dispirit their noble, unyielding spirits flying high over the mountains of existential difficulties. Take Charles Dickens. Although Dickens’s family was originally of the middle class, his debt-ridden lawyer father took his family to a debtor’s jail and even sent very young Dickens to a factory for livelihood, which practically makes Dickens and his family working class. However, his talent for words and literary aspirations overcame the vicissitudes of hardscrabble life and made him arrive as one of the greatest writers in English Literature. Then there is also Ben Jonson, a leading neo-classist in the Elizabethan era who was abruptly driven out of his much-beloved the College of St. Peter at Westminster by his bricklayer stepfather at his youth to be set to work at bricklaying for living. And yet, Jonson tried to preserve a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on social recognition by relentlessly pursuing his literary ambition to be justifiably on par with his contemporary less-talented stiff upper lipped university-educated dramatists, poets, and scholars. Speaking of which,the immortal Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare also worked as an actor as well, ruffling the feathers of his expensively educated high class contemporaries and to our contemporaries to this date.

In conclusion, the conference is a great feast of celebrating the fellowship of working-class scholars whose existence in academia is often regarded as slighted lesser equals who dare to hobnob with their academic peers of privileged class on equal terms. These fellows of solidarity do not brandish placards championing a campaign against expensively privately educated scholars or academics in a frenzy of excitement fulled by their class-related jealousy. On the contrary, the conference is a celebration of their achievements, a festivity of who they are, a festivity of where they come from. And I want to praise them for the following virtues: pleasant without affectation, welcoming without exclusion, audacious without impudence, learned without pedantry, and brilliant without sententious bromides.

‘The Signal-Man’, by Charles Dickens – review

The Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): AnnotatedThe Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): Annotated by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charles Dickens wrote this short story of a lonely signalman in 1866 based upon the Clayton tunnel crash in 1861. The setting of the story was a station by this tunnel with a dismal and eerie atmosphere around it, which dovetailed with the ambiance of the story itself. But while I was reading the story and thereupon, I was unsure of who’s the ghost here: the narrator or the signalman? First of all, the image of the narrator calling the signalman’s attention to him from above seems to me uncanny enough to conjure up the calling of a spectre wandering about the haunted tunnel. Or it might be that the signalman, the station, and the train per se were all in fact illusions, bewitched elements of the tunnel crash victims eternally haunting the place, not knowing their demise. Or in terms of modern psychoanalytical perspective, either the narrator or the signalman saw his own representations of the reality in his own mind, the hallucinations, which were different from and invisible to the others. And that is what I found this story at once hauntingly rueful and lingering with the images.

Villain got heart too: review of Oliver Twist (1985 BBC TV adaptation)

1330854631What distinguishes Charles Dickens from his contemporary writers is his belief in redemption, forgiveness, and benevolence of a human spirit triumphing over poverty, guilt, and death, the three cardinal ordeals of existential phenomena. For almost every character in his oeuvres, including villains, heroes/heroines, and even minor characters, has some shred of redeemable traits, if not goodness in the case of swindlers, pickpockets, or murderers. The question of morality in the Dickensian world is never proprietarily imposed upon the reader, and thereby leaves out harsh puritanical judgment of a character because humans are more sinned against than sinning. That’s the beauty of Dickensian reality set in the background of the stuffy Victorian reality. That’s why I can’t hate any of his characters, such as Bill Sikes, The Artful Dodger, and even Fagin from Oliver Twist in the parade of humanity.

The TV adaptation of the novel by BBC (1985) is truthful to the original context, capturing every moment of emotions and feelings as finely portrayed by a skillful cast of the characters. The story of an impoverished orphan child whose resilience and innocence got him through misadventures and ultimately rewarded him with a bounty of loving family and well-deserved munificent largess may look to be a typical rags-to-riches fable. But such a presumptuously precarious judgment of the story will deprive the reader of the beauty of Dickensian characters as aforementioned.

Take Bill Sikes, a tall and lean professional burglar whose callous treatments of Nancy, his live-in girlfriend also a pickpocket, and his loyal mutt Bull’s eye are downright contemptible. It goes without saying that this Bill Sikes character is in no way likable or pitiable. Yet, such egregiousness that only invokes contempt is what makes Sykes a fortiori pathetic. After he killed his beautiful-hearted Nancy in a paroxysm of rage, Sikes shed a cascade of tears that looked to me more of guilt and regret than of any other reason I could think of. As a matter of fact, watching the Sikes character shedding tears perturbed my heart because I could glimpse at his heart hardened by his life of poverty that had led him to the life of crime.

What about Fagin, a boss of juvenile pickpockets, who is driven half mad at the thought of his being hanged at Newgate? Maybe it’s because his character was visually manifested on screen, but he also won my sympathy over such madness, which made me wonder if his insurmountable surge of remorse for his crime made him mad. Also, the artful Dodger, the most skillful pickpocket of the gang captured and tried at the court, was the figure of pathos. Would he have fallen into the world of crime had he been born into a well-to-do family? Or if a divisory lot – that is, a play of chance given by goddess Fortuna – had been favorable to him, would he have found himself in where he was?

Call it childlike credulousness or a feminine streak of maudlinness, but I don’t want to make draconian measures against these antagonistic characters by putting them into a Procrustean bed of morality one by one. For it is necessary without a gesture of condescension or insolent attitude masked in charity to get into the inside world of the characters to understand what made them choose the life they lived in the face of poverty, hopelessness, and loneliness. I cannot help thinking that a game of chance each of them tried to get was against him and scoffed at his attempt to make it right in his life. In that regard, this is the question that Dickens asks to us: what would you do if you would put yourself in their shoes?  Dickens tacitly implies that only the goodness of our heart that comes from our empathy can save the world. Come to think of it, it is no wonder why Catholics and Marxists alike wanted to claim Dickens to be one of their own in his era. For these reasons, his novels should not be confined in a genre of Victorian literature because the subjects are timeless, and the characters appealing with universal traits of humanity that know no cultural, linguistic, and social barriers.

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