Dickens essay free in the American Conservative

A hat tip to reader Alphonsus for letting us know that Dalrymple’s essay on Dickens, Hard Times Again, has been made freely available. An excerpt:
The adjective “Dickensian” is more laden with connotation than the adjective that pertains to any other writer: Jamesian, for example, or Joycean, even Shakespearian. We think of workhouses, of shabby tenements with bedding of rags, of schools where sadistic and exploitative schoolmasters beat absurdities into the heads of hungry children, of heartless proponents of the cold charity, of crooked lawyers spinning out their cases in dusty, clerk-ridden chambers. We think of Oliver Twist asking for more, of Wackford Squeers exclaiming, “Here’s richness for you!”, as he tastes the thin slops his school doles out to his unfortunate pupils, of Mrs. Gamp looking at her patient and saying, “He’d make a lovely corpse!”
If he had been only a social commentator, though, Dickens would have been forgotten by all except specialist historians of his age. But he is not forgotten; he survives the notorious defects of his books—their sometimes grotesque sentimentality, their sprawling lack of construction, their frequent implausibility—to achieve whatever immortality literature can confer. Over and over again, in passage after passage, the sheer genius of his writing shines from the page and is the despair of all prose writers after him.
When Dickens called himself “the Inimitable,” he was speaking no more than the truth; he was the greatest comic writer in his, or perhaps in any other, language. And the comedy runs deep: it is not trivial, for while it depicts absurdity, pomposity, and even cruelty, it has the curious effect of reconciling us to life even as it lays human weaknesses out for our inspection.

8 thoughts on “Dickens essay free in the American Conservative

  1. Colin

    This is a very good essay. The only trouble is it’s too short! I’d love to see an extended treatment by Dalrymple on the work of Dickens, perhaps a small book.

  2. Clinton

    I agree, Colin. I was hoping for something a little more in-depth. Too bad they didn’t give him more space to work with, because I’m sure he has a lot more to say about Dickens. A book is a great idea.

  3. Jay C

    May I recommend a lovely book by a New Yorker who is a contemporary of Dr Daniels: Dickens and the Social Order, by Myron Magnet.

    Magnet said at a City Journal event that “Tony is one of the best-read men I know”, and both of them are very much in the literary elite. Their complex, delicate, refined attitudes to life are based in large part on their extensive acquaintance with good literature of every variety.


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