A Dissertation submitted to the
Department of English
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Awarded:
Fall Semester, 2009
The members of the committee approve the dissertation of Jane Phares defended on
October 21, 2009 .
John Fenstermaker
Professor Directing Dissertation
University Representative
Committee Member
Eric Walker
Committee Member
Ralph M. Berry, Chair, Department of English
The Graduate School has verified and approved the above-named committee members.
Neil Jumonville
Fred Standley
I dedicate this to my great cloud of witnesses,
who never gave up hope that I would complete my degree, and
whose spirits continued to encourage me throughout the process:
Bill Caddell
June Smith
My aunt, Marie Kyzer
And most especially,
My beloved mother, Rachel Phares
My sincere appreciation goes to
Sally Allocca,
for her assistance with proofreading
and checking citations;
to the members of my committee,
Dr. Neil Jumonville, Dr. Fred Standley, and Dr. Eric Walker;
and to Dr. John Fenstermaker,
who provided invaluable help on this project,
showed unending patience,
and inspired my love for Dickens.
List of Abbreviations .................................................................................
Abstract ................................................................................................
INTRODUCTION ................................................................................
1. A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ...................................................
3. DICKENS‘S NATURAL MAN ...........................................................
4. DICKENS‘S CIVILIZED MAN ...........................................................
5. DICKENS‘S CITIZEN .........................................................................
THE CITY ............................................................................................
CONCLUSION .....................................................................................
WORKS CITED ........................................................................................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......................................................................
Abbreviations used in citations for works of Dickens:
CC – A Christmas Carol
DC- David Copperfield
DS – Dombey and Son
GE – Great Expectations
HT – Hard Times
MC – Martin Chuzzlewit
NN – Nicholas Nickleby
OMF – Our Mutual Friend
OT – Oliver Twist
PP – Pickwick Papers
Abbreviations used in citations for works of Rousseau:
SC – Social Contract
This dissertation presents evidence, using the vehicle of Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s
philosophy, that Charles Dickens remained an optimist, contrary to critical opinion that claims he
became a dark pessimist during the latter half of his life. Rousseau and Dickens shared a belief
in the innate goodness of humankind and, if not in the perfectibility of humanity, at least in the
redemption and possibility of betterment both of the individual, and through the individual, of
society. Critical connections between the two writers are examined in Chapter 1: ―A Review of
the Literature.‖
In one of his early discourses, The Origins of Inequality , Rousseau posits hypothetically
that in the early stages of human development, the ―natural man‖ existed in a state of peace and
tranquillity; his identifying characteristics were self satisfaction (in Rousseau‘s terms, amour de
soi ), contentment with only the material goods necessary to sustain himself, genuineness, a self
concept based on his own inner evaluative system, innocence (freedom from vice), and most
notably, compassion for other human beings. When humans began to gather in groups and form
societies, they evolved from natural men into ―civilized men,‖ thus developing pride ( amour
propre), a competitive nature, greed, pretension, a self concept determined by others, immoral
and/or illegal behaviors, a lack of compassion. In the more mature writings of Rousseau he
acknowledges that a return to nature is impossible, and that the only hope for the redemption of
society is individual transformation, by which the individual retains or regains natural
characteristics and exhibits them within the confines of society. The person who achieves this
type of life is the ―citizen‖ as presented in Rousseau‘s The Social Contract . While these are the
works of Rousseau in which he presents the typology, he also portrays the same characteristics in
Émile , Julie , and his first discourse. Evidence and illustrations of these types are presented in
Chapter 2: ―Rousseau‘s Philosophy: The Relevant Principles.‖
In this study, characters in Dickens are measured by the sets of characteristics set forth by
Rousseau. In each of the novels under discussion ( Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas
Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and
Our Mutual Friend ), at least one character represents each of the three types, natural man,
civilized man, and citizen. One character per novel is presented in each of three chapters here
(Chapter 3: ―Dickens‘s Natural Man‖; Chapter 4: ―Dickens‘s Civilized Man‖; and Chapter 5:
―Dickens‘s Citizen‖), with references to relevant others. For each character, evidence is
presented to show that he or she displays all the characteristics of the particular type.
In addition, in Chapter 6: ―Geographical Significance: The Country vs. the City‖ the role
of geography in the natural/civilized dichotomy is discussed. Rousseau believed that rural life
(i.e., life in the country, away from the city and large numbers of people) is more conducive to
one‘s remaining natural; city life, on the other hand, leads to corruption and the development of
civilized characteristics, due to one‘s proximity to others. Dickens‘s novels contain a similar
sentiment, although as both Dickens and Rousseau concluded, life in the country (in ―nature‖)
becomes less and less possible with the advance of civilization, so one‘s only choice is to
become citizens, living naturally within the city.
Taking into consideration the survival of natural characters throughout Dickens‘s literary
corpus, as well as an increase in the number of redeemed characters (albeit in a civilized setting),
conclusions are drawn that Dickens did not lose his optimism toward the end of his life; in fact,
he presents the survival of natural goodness as possible in spite of the corruptive forces of
civilization. Like Rousseau, Dickens ultimately reinforces not only humankind‘s innate
goodness, but also its resilience and adaptability.
In an article that appeared in Temple Bar on the occasion of Dickens‘s death in July
1870, Alfred Austin said that Dickens
was for giving Man generally a chance, and many chances. In a word, he was an ardent
believer in the perfectibility of the human species. To Charles Dickens, no doubt, a belief
in human perfectibility was probably so strong that he was unable even to conceive its
negation. In that, he was the man of his epoch, and had the spirit-time throbbing within
him. (Qtd. in Collins 534)
Since the year 1833 when Charles Dickens published his first story, critics have generally been
in agreement that Dickens‘s view of humanity is optimistic. In fact, some have criticized him for
being excessively optimistic, to the point of unrealistic sentimentalism and idealism. On the
other hand, others have attributed to Dickens, at least during the last half of his career, a darkness
and pessimism that illustrate humanity as fallen, wicked, and unredeemable. Nevertheless,
according to William J. Palmer, although the settings of Dickens‘s novels become bleaker as
time passes in his novel chronology, ―Dickens‘ world view, his philosophy of man, . . . remains
consistent and optimistic‖ throughout his literary career (32).
Studies are few that examine how and from whom Dickens developed his view of
humanity. However, there are elements of Romanticism in the writings of Dickens, to the point
that he has been called a ―Romantic-Realist.‖ And indeed, Dickens was born and lived his early
years during the Romantic period. Andrew Sanders, citing an inventory of Dickens‘s
bookshelves at his home at Devonshire Terrace, states that those shelves held books of the poetry
of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Southey, among others ( Dickens 82). But Donald S.
Stone says that even so, ―His knowledge of the Romantic poets was spotty‖ (250), and that
―Dickens was an instinctive Romantic‖ (250), rather than intentionally following the great poets
and essayists of the period. It stands to reason, however, that he could have inherited some of
the optimistic views of the Romantic writers, along with the views of the eighteenth-century
writers whose works he also read. Palmer goes on to say that ―Dickens‘ ‗vision‘ derives from an
eighteenth-century philosophical view which all his life he tried to apply to an unaccommodating
Victorian world‖ (17), indicating a disagreement with Austin that Dickens ―had the spirit-time
throbbing within him.‖ Palmer points out that Dickens‘s optimistic view of humanity was in
stark contrast to the Evangelical climate in which human depravity and original sin were the
However, this ―philosophical view,‖ by all accounts, would not have been gleaned from
the philosophers themselves. Palmer asserts that while Dickens probably did not read the works
of Enlightenment philosophers, he did read the novels of Sterne, Fielding, and Goldsmith, all of
whom promoted similar optimistic views of humankind (21). Sanders concurs that Dickens was
not a reader of philosophical theory. Along with the books of poetry on Dickens‘s bookshelves,
Sanders notes books of drama, history, and fiction, but ―relatively little that might have been
described at the time as ‗philosophical‘ or ‗scientific‘ literature‖ ( Dickens 82). R. F. Dibble, in
his article entitled ―Charles Dickens: His Reading,‖ states that it is ―impossible to be precise in
regard to what [Dickens] read . . . He does not . . . mention any direct knowledge of the writings
of many, and we are thus left to infer such knowledge according to the law of probability‖ (334);
and according to such law, Dibble apparently found no probability that Dickens read philosophy,
with the exception of Carlyle (339). Palmer goes so far as to say that ―almost certainly, Dickens
never read Shaftesbury‘s Characteristics or Butler‘s Sermons or even Godwin‘s Enquiry
Concerning Political Justice ‖ (21), all of which propounded the ideas of natural goodness and
human perfectibility. We might also add to Shaftesbury, Butler, and Godwin the name of Jean-
Jacques Rousseau as one of the philosophical authors left unread by Dickens, but who also
espoused similar views. Francesco Casotti, in his article ―Dickens e Rousseau,‖ agrees with both
Palmer and Sanders, averring that Dickens did not read philosophical works, nor did he have the
preparation necessary to understand them and develop a passion for them. He was greatly
limited, says Casotti, by his culture when it came to the French authors, at least in the French
language; included among the authors to which he was exposed are Voltaire and Buffon, but not
Rousseau. Casotti cites three critics who have examined closely and explored in detail the
culture of Dickens—Sylvère Monod, Humphry House,, and Edgar Johnson—and notes that none
of the three mentions Rousseau 1 (281). But, Casotti insists, the contact Dickens constantly had
with the great minds of his day, including Carlyle, surely would have acquainted him with
Rousseau and his theories (281).
1 Dickens non leggeva opera di filosofia, né possedeva la preparazione necessaria per intenderle e appassionarcisi. E
limitata pare assai la sua cultura in fatto di autori francesi, o comunque di lingua francese, anche letti in traduzione:
compaiono fra essi Voltaire e Buffon, ma non Rousseau. E per citare tre critici che hanno vagliato ed esplorato
minuziosamente la cultura di Dickens, Sylvère Monod, Humphry House ed Edgar Johnson, notiamo che nessuno dei
tre ricorda il filosofo ginevrino.
While evidence is convincing that Dickens was not a reader of philosophy, two instances
give us reason to believe that Dickens was, indeed, at least vaguely familiar with Rousseau. But
aside from a brief reference to Rousseau in a letter to Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1860, Charles
Dickens apparently never mentioned the eighteenth-century French revolutionary philosopher in
his writings. The only direct proof we have of his exposure to Rousseau is the fact that he
acknowledges that he drew on a passage from Rousseau‘s Confessions for A Tale of Two Cities.
Writing to Bulwer-Lytton of his sources he said, ―Rousseau is the authority for the peasant‘s
shutting up his house when he had a bit of meat‖ ( Letters IX:259). John Forster, Dickens‘s first
biographer, includes Dickens‘s statement regarding this reference (565), as have many other
biographers and critics over the years. Andrew Sanders contributes that Dickens received the
copy of Confessions as one book among ―cartloads‖ from the London Library, as a result of his
asking Thomas Carlyle for suggestions of background reading about the French Revolution
(―Cartloads‖ 40). Carlyle‘s own The French Revolution was one of Dickens‘s primary
references for A Tale of Two Cities .
We may also mention that the January 23, 1858, issue of Household Words contained an
article entitled ―Running Away‖ written by William Moy Thomas, in which the author discusses
the tendency of human beings to run away from society; he cites Rousseau as an example, along
with Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and others. Thomas gives
significant attention to Rousseau, referring to his own copy of Confessions as ―well-thumbed
when I had it, and wanting some pages at the end,‖ and relating an episode of Rousseau‘s
running away that Thomas sees as particularly formative for the philosopher (134). We may
assume that as the editor of Household Words , Dickens would have read this essay and would
thus have been indirectly exposed to Rousseau through Thomas, in addition to his own reading
previously documented.
By clarifying simply the elements of Rousseau‘s philosophy relevant here, we may see
how comparison and connection with Dickens is plausible. As has been insinuated, Rousseau
believed that humans are naturally good, that society/civilization is responsible for their
corruption, and that ultimately, humans are redeemable and perfectible. These ideas were first
set forth in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1755), and were expounded in his
subsequent works, notably Julie (1761), Émile (1762) , and The Social Contract (1762).
Rousseau also includes as elements of his philosophy a belief in the restorative properties of
solitude, nature, and rural life. In Origins of Inequality , Rousseau contrasts the fictional being he
calls ―natural man‖ with so-called ―civilized man.‖ (We must note here that the term ―noble
savage‖ is not Rousseau‘s; while he does occasionally speak of the natural man as a savage, this
term was originated by John Dryden decades earlier, and was not used by Rousseau. The
significance of this point will become clearer presently.) Rousseau‘s natural man is not the Zulu
warrior, the Native American, or the South Sea aborigine; instead, he is a being described as
Rousseau imagined him, before the coming of industry, agriculture, progress, and civilization.
No such actual being exists nor existed, and therefore Rousseau‘s natural man is admittedly only
a philosophical construct rather than a historical reality. However, Rousseau‘s theory indicates
that this fictional natural man had a particular set of desirable characteristics, including a
nonviolent nature, which logically disappeared as civilization encroached upon him. Thus, he
evolved into Rousseau‘s civilized man, whose qualities may be seen to be the undesirable
opposite of those exhibited by the natural man. Rousseau‘s philosophy of the nature of
humankind is summed up in the oft-quoted opening statement of Émile : ―Everything is good as
it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man‖ (37).
Chapter 2 contains a more in-depth examination of the relevant principles of Rousseau‘s theory.
Some critics claim that Dickens directly and unequivocally rejected the philosophy of
Rousseau, citing as evidence Dickens‘s essay ―The Noble Savage,‖ which appeared in the 11
June 1853 issue of Household Words . In this essay Dickens says, ―I beg to say that I have not the
least belief in the Noble Savage‖ (qtd. in Slater, ‗Gone Astray‘ 143). It is important to note,
however, several things about this essay. First, it is a response to the ―noble savage,‖ and not
―natural man.‖ Secondly, it does not include any reference to Rousseau, who, as mentioned
earlier, did not use this phrase. Thirdly, as Slater posits, Dickens was annoyed into writing it by
the frequent exhibition in London of native Africans, whose displays of ―howling, whistling,
clucking, stamping, jumping, tearing‖ (qtd. in Slater, ‗Gone Astray‘ 143) Dickens found
extremely offensive. Indeed, it is hard to question Dickens‘s views after reading his essay, in
which he describes the savages as ―cruel, false, thievish, murderous‖ (qtd. in Slater, ‗Gone
Astray‘ 143) and says that ―the world will be all the better when his place knows him no more‖
(qtd. in Slater, ‗Gone Astray‘ 148). However, we must bear in mind that the characteristics
exhibited by these natives (and those that the popular rumor mill attributed to them) are not those
that were set forth in Origins of Inequality , and that this noble savage bears no resemblance to
Rousseau‘s natural man. In fact, we might see in the chapters that follow that ―cruel, false,
thievish, murderous‖ more nearly apply to his civilized man.
Numerous critics have connected the works of Charles Dickens with the philosophy of
Rousseau, most only hypothetically, some erroneously. But a careful study of the novels of
Dickens over the span of his literary career shows that intentionally or not, consciously or not,
Dickens portrayed fictional representations over and over again of the character types that
Rousseau presented as natural man, civilized man, and later, citizen. In almost every novel,
Dickens includes a character or characters who exhibit characteristics of the ―natural‖ man, such
as simplicity, generosity, and compassion. Oliver Twist, perhaps, is the prototype; because we
see Oliver as a child, we can watch as he resists the corruptive forces around him to retain his
naturalness. But perhaps it is the natural adults who are most notable, since they have retained
these qualities and their innate goodness throughout their lives—Joe Gargery, Samuel Pickwick,
Tom Pinch, the Cheeryble Brothers, Dan Peggotty, among others—in spite of the corruption
(i.e., forces of civilization) that might have changed them. When we examine the characteristics
of civilized humanity as Rousseau perceived it to be—greed, pride, competitiveness, insincerity,
corruption, and lack of compassion—we can recognize some of the qualities for which the
Victorian Age is often criticized. Indeed, these are some of the very characteristics that Dickens
most often satirized in his novels, along with the institutions that Rousseau, too, condemned for
displaying and perpetuating these same flaws. Through characters such as Ralph Nickleby,
Uriah Heep, Bill Sikes, Jacob Marley, Seth Pecksniff, Jonas Chuzzlewit, the Lammles,
Veneerings, and Podsnaps, James Steerforth, and a host of others, Dickens portrays people who
closely fit Rousseau‘s definition of the civilized man.
Perhaps all of Dickens‘s characters fall somewhere on a continuum with the natural man
at one end and the civilized man at the other, depending on the closeness of their match to the
characteristics of each designation. But outside this continuum is another character type in
Dickens‘s novels that may be said to reflect Rousseau‘s philosophy. Like Rousseau, Dickens
also portrays characters who have fallen from grace but who have achieved through redemptive
action the state of what we might call informed innocence or new naturalness, such as Ebenezer
Scrooge, Pip, Mortimer Lightwood, Eugene Wrayburn, and Martin Chuzzlewit the younger. For
Rousseau, these were ―citizens,‖ so called in his Social Contract . For Dickens, we may say that
these characters are the redeemed. It is perhaps these characters that most clearly reflect
Dickens‘s belief in human perfectibility, because each of them is a notably better person at the
end of the novel than he was at the beginning.
In addition to these character types, other relevant similarities exist between Dickens and
Rousseau. As stated earlier, Rousseau also propounds a belief in the restorative properties of
solitude, nature, and rural life as part of his natural theory, mainly because ―civilization‖ only
takes place when humans are in too-close proximity to one another. While some critics would
argue that Dickens did not share such beliefs, there is evidence in his novels to suggest
To reiterate Palmer‘s idea quoted in the first paragraph, and to once again dispute the
statements of those who say otherwise, Charles Dickens shows in his novels throughout his
career an optimism toward humankind and a belief that humans can always move toward
perfection in spite of the corruptive influences of ―civilized‖ society. In these beliefs, as
portrayed in novels from Pickwick Papers through Our Mutual Friend , we can see an indubitable
affinity between Dickens and the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Because concrete connections between Charles Dickens and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are
slight, not surprisingly many critics fail to even mention Rousseau in their studies of Dickens.
Critic Edgar Johnson and biographers Fred Kaplan and Peter Ackroyd, for instance, never refer
to the philosopher. Neither does Humphry House mention Rousseau, but he does make a
connection between the young Dickens and another philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (37), noting,
interestingly enough, that ―Dickens only mentioned Bentham once in all his written work‖ (38).
At the same time, however, House notes Dickens‘s frequent use of the word ―natural‖ (referring
to the ―natural state of man‖) and says that Dickens ―always adopts the view that man as a child
of a good father is himself good, and that the evils of the world are obstructions which prevent
him from being himself. He rejected Original Sin‖ (111-112). These views are similar, if not
identical, to Rousseau‘s.
But in addition to the Dickens critics who omit Rousseau altogether, those who note only
a minor association between the two, and those who suggest but never make a direct connection,
a number of others include Rousseau as a significant component of their argument. These critics
may be divided into three categories: those who focus on Rousseau‘s ideas regarding childhood,
based on his Émile ; those who focus on his ideas regarding politics ( The Social Contract ); and
those who focus on his ideas regarding human nature (the First and Second Discourses and
Julie ). Some critics, of course, fall into more than one of these categories.
Peter Coveney was one of the first critics to explore a relationship between Dickens‘s and
Rousseau‘s ideas about childhood. In his Poor Monkey , originally published in 1957 and later
revised as The Image of Childhood (1967), Coveney traces the development of childhood in
literature from Rousseau through Dickens. He asserts that the idea of ―original innocence,‖ a
term he applies to the nature of children, ―informed the work of Blake, Wordsworth, and
Dickens,‖ and originated ―most forcefully from Rousseau‖ (xii-xiii) as a concept counter to the
long-accepted, traditional belief in original sin. Coveney traces the development of Rousseau‘s
child through Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Dickens, showing how the frail innocence of
the Romantic Child logically led to the early Victorian Child‘s victimization by society (53). As
a part of this development, Coveney shows how ―Rousseau‘s ‗natural man‘, Blake‘s ‗Vision‘,
Coleridge‘s ‗Imagination‘, and, in political thought, Burke‘s principle of ‗human nature‘, were
all solvents of the rationalist order of the philosophes ‖ (4) of the eighteenth century. In this
rebellion of the Romantics (and pre-Romantics) against the prevailing philosophy, Coveney
notes, the writers‘ portrayal of childhood, and sensibility, came to the forefront. Coveney
explains, ―The establishment of the child as a literary theme was everywhere closely related to
this reinstatement of Feeling . . . The cult of the child which informed the romantic literature of
childhood lay with the opposing school, with the ‗cult of sensibility‘ associated with Rousseau‖
(4). Examining in detail the presentation of this sensibility in Blake and the Romantics, Coveney
observes that ―The child in Dickens lives at the point of impact between the world of innocent
awareness and the world of man‘s insensitivity to man‖ (72). He goes on to say that Dickens
saw evil as embodied in society itself and its institutions, of which individual men are
either the innocent victims or culpable agents. But whether evil is expressed through
individuals, or through the institutions of a corrupt society, goodness is always
characterized through individuals remarkable for their generous flow of human feeling.
The quality of the characterization may change, the account become more subtle, but the
warm-hearted, generous, kindly individual is always there, suffering the oppressions of
evil, or combating the influences of an inhuman and corrupt society. (73)
The characters of Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, and Little Nell immediately come to mind, as
Coveney continues, ―The child became for [Dickens] the symbol of sensitive feeling anywhere in
a society maddened with the pursuit of material progress‖ (74).
According to Coveney, Dickens shows an affinity with Rousseau through his belief in
natural goodness and his interest in sensibility, but also in his bold portrayal of the institutions of
society that seek to corrupt the innocence of childhood. As Rousseau says in the Second Preface
to Julie , ―Nature made them [‗beautiful souls‘], your institutions spoil them‖ ( Julie 20).
Coveney explores various institutions that ―spoil‖ the children in Dickens‘s novels: the Poor
Laws in Oliver Twist , education/schools in Nicholas Nickleby , wealth/money in Dombey and
Son , and industrialism/utilitarianism in Hard Times (71-119).
Finally, Coveney examines how Rousseauean/Romantic sensibility develops into
sentimentality in Dickens‘s children. The Romantic image of the child, Coveney says, weakens
in Dickens, pointing up a ―major part of the development of the child in nineteenth-century
fiction. The sentimentality was a new major concomitant‖ (118). But Coveney does not see this
new development as an advance in the image of childhood. He charges that Dickens
directed towards the child exaggerated emotions of pathos, deriving from his self-pitying
attitude to his own experience as a child . . . There is the sentimentality of sadness which
indulges the pathetic; and there is the sentimentality of optimism which idealizes. There
is, of course, that other sentimentality of the squalid . . . which, for no very evident
purpose, makes things—life, sex, industrialism, society—seem absolutely, by
sentimentalizing selection, squalid, and ‗worse than they are‘. . . (116)
Dickens, according to Coveney, indulged in all three, primarily in an effort to present an image
of himself as a child, ―at once pathetic and idealized‖ (117). In connection, Coveney states that
Dickens introduced, as part of his sentimentality, morbidity in childhood; this, Coveney says,
―became the central focus of the popular idea of Dickens‘s children‖ (119). Coveney‘s final
assessment of Dickens‘s contribution to the development of the literary image of childhood is
that it was not wholly positive. He maintains that Dickens‘s ―characters sometimes exist in a too
straightforward world of innocence and villainy. His ‗innocence‘ and ‗experience‘ have not
always the richness of emotional definition we find in Blake‘s‖ (118).
Angus Wilson, in his essay ―Dickens on Children and Childhood‖ (1970), says that ―at
first sight, Dickens‘s views of blessed childhood would seem to spring‖ from Rousseau‘s Émile ,
―the very gospel of the eighteenth century‖ (218). However, Wilson‘s discussion centers around
Dickens‘s seeming ambivalence toward Rousseau‘s tenets, as reflected in his criticism of
Thomas Day‘s Sandford and Merton , a book Dickens read as a child. Thomas Day, according to
Wilson, was supposedly a ―disciple‖ of Émile , although Day‘s character, the teacher Mr. Barlow,
teaches mere facts and has a ―continuous pedagogic (and moralizing) purpose‖ (218), very much
like Dickens‘s Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times , and very much unlike the master in Émile . But it is
obviously not this point that is problematic, according to Wilson. Day‘s hero, Harry Sandford, is
a reflection, Wilson says, of ―the true gospel of Rousseauism‖ (218). Sandford is ―the healthy,
vigorous son of a farmer whose natural boyish goodness is contrasted with the weak, pampered,
over-civilized effeminacy of Tommy Merton . . . reared on the evils of slave labour‖ (218), yet
Dickens ―attacks Harry Sandford as a little hypocrite‖ (218), according to Wilson, thus rejecting
Rousseau. Wilson concludes his argument:
. . . The rescuing of children from their reprobate state . . . depended greatly upon that
healthy, vigorous (ultimately revolutionary, anti-aristocratic, Godwinian) view of nature
which Rousseau provided. The Wordsworthian view of children . . . is far nearer to this
concern for a vigorous, healthy, natural childhood than the sickly, pale little people who
are the heirs of Wordsworth in Dickens‘s pages. (219)
Of course, Dickens certainly does not present his ―sickly, pale little people‖ as the desired norm.
In indicating that Dickens departs from Rousseau in virtually ignoring the hale and hearty, farm-
grown children of his day, Wilson fails to give adequate attention to the fact that one of
Dickens‘s main objectives was to show the corruptive effects of society‘s institutions on
children, a view certainly in keeping with Rousseau‘s philosophy.
Mark Spilka, using Coveney‘s work as impetus, also explores the development of
childhood as a theme in literature in his ―On the Enrichment of Poor Monkeys by Myth and
Dream; or, How Dickens Rousseauisticized and Pre-Freudianized Victorian Views of
Childhood‖ (1984). In fact, Spilka‘s work contains striking similarities to Coveney‘s,
investigating as he does the same developmental trajectory through the Romantic poets, Dickens,
and on to Freud. Rousseau, he says, was the first to present the child ―as a being important in
itself . . . a self-active soul endowed with natural tendencies to virtue which needed careful
nourishment‖ (164). In short, Rousseau replaced the ―severe Christian doctrine of Original Sin
. . . with another Christian doctrine, that of Original Innocence or natural virtue‖ (164).
According to Spilka, the English Romantics, ―cultivators of solitude and communion
with nature and with natural types like peasants and children‖ (165) ―transposed this doctrine
into poetry‖ (165), and the Victorian novelists, most notably Dickens, ―who are essentially
urban, social, or immersed in social and civic conflict‖ (165), transposed it from the work of the
Romantics. It is therefore the focus on the child, seen in Dickens as the ―infantile perspective‖
of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Pip, that is the connecting thread.
Spilka makes another significant point in regard to Rousseau‘s influence on Dickens. He
first says,
It was Dickens who first identified with the childhood victims of social injustice, and
who presented from their point of view, and with the emotional honesty, the innocent
directness, the touching vulnerability which can be expressed through that perspective,
the absurdities, tyrannies, and obtuseness of the adult social world. (169)
Spilka goes on to say:
He [Dickens] uses Rousseau, as it were, as his entering wedge in that assault on our other
middle-class predilections. Thus Obedience and Forbearance, Diligence and Factuality,
are often challenged by his childhood victims of adult inequities. When offered poor
nutrition or unrewarding labor or the impoverished abstractions of utilitarian science,
these self-active claimants of Rousseauistic rights win our assent by demanding richer
fare. (170)
Emphasizing Rousseau‘s ―self-active‖ nature of children as well as his revolutionary overtones,
Spilka, at least as convincingly as Coveney, presents a clear link between Rousseau and Dickens.
Malcolm Andrews has authored two works in which he discusses Dickens‘s views of
childhood and his connection with Rousseau. In his book Dickens and the Grown-Up Child
(1994), he places much emphasis on a link between Dickens‘s views of childhood and
eighteenth-century theories of primitivism, that is, of the Noble Savage. However, in his
discussion of the Noble Savage theory, he makes no mention of Rousseau. Andrews asserts,
―Children in Dickens‘s fiction are often presented as little newcomers from a pre-lapsarian
world, bewildered as they try to make their way through the streets of Victorian London‖
( Grown-Up Child 9), a presentation that can be traced back to ―eighteenth-century primitivism,
mediated through the writings of the early Romantics‖ ( Grown-Up Child 9). Perhaps Andrews
sees Rousseau as one of these mediators, although he does not name him.
Later in this argument, Andrews does make a direct connection between Dickens‘s views
of childhood and Rousseau‘s ―emphatic belief in the importance of respecting the early natural
impulses of the child‖ as expressed in Émile ( Grown-Up Child 23). Andrews says that Dickens
―[regarded] as the proper culture of childhood . . . the cultivation of the sentiments and
affections, playing with toys, knowledge of the world of fairy-tale,‖ a viewpoint that perfectly
coincides with Rousseau‘s belief that parents should ―Leave childhood to ripen in [their]
children‖ ( Émile 89, qtd. in Grown-Up Child 84). This concept, of course, is applicable to both
men‘s theories of education, but as Andrews‘ title indicates, many of Dickens‘s fictional children
are forced by life circumstances to mature more quickly than is natural.
In the article on childhood in The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens (published in
1999), Andrews no longer points to primitivism as an influence on Victorian ideas of childhood,
at least not Dickens‘s. Instead, he refers to the two attitudes toward children that were
predominant in the Victorian era, attitudes he cites from Walter Houghton‘s The Victorian
Frame of Mind (1957). Houghton had said that ―Rousseau and Wesley can be thought of as the
immediate fountainheads of the two great streams of Victorian morality‖ (267). Andrews says,
as Houghton before him, that John Wesley represents the view of childhood ―as a condition of
innate depravity,‖ and Rousseau represents the view that childhood is ―a period of natural
innocence and purity‖ (―Childhood‖ 87); both views, according to Andrews, ―had by Dickens‘s
time become popular clichés‖ (―Childhood‖ 88). Thus, Andrews adds, ―These contradictory
valuations constituted Dickens‘s ideological heritage in terms of his attitudes toward childhood‖
(88). However, Andrews goes on to say that ―Dickens is held to be the Victorian champion of
the Rousseauesque-Romantic idealization of childhood‖ (―Childhood‖ 88), in spite of the view
often illustrated in his novels that children are ―naterally wicious‖ ( GE 26). Andrews notes that
Rousseau‘s views of childhood became popularized as the belief that from a child‘s ―earliest
days it [is] prey to the corrupting influence of civilization with its unnatural restraints and
enervating luxuries‖ (―Childhood‖ 87); this idea, of course, is integral to the novels of Dickens.
Finally, Arthur A. Adrian corroborates and strongly states the conclusion that Dickens
saw childhood more as Rousseau did and less like Wesley. In his essay ―Dickens‘s Crusade for
Children‖ (1999), Adrian says, ―Dickens followed a tradition directly opposed to the Puritan and
Wesleyan view of the child as inherently depraved. He upheld the cult of innocence, which
stressed primeval goodness and natural piety‖ (57), a view ―deriving its inspiration from
Rousseau‖ (57). Adrian leaves his argument at this, without any qualifications.
A second focus of Dickens/Rousseau critics is politics. There would seem to be a logical
connection between the two men, whether or not they agreed in principle, with regard to the
French Revolution. Rousseau is widely credited as the father of the revolution. Dickens wrote a
novel about it, A Tale of Two Cities , and borrowed from Rousseau in the writing of it; however,
most critics agree that Dickens was not a revolutionist. In fact, A. E. Dyson claims that there is
―an absolute rebuff in this novel to any revolutionary idealism, especially to the romantic
primitivism with roots in Rousseau and the eighteenth century. . . which has sustained optimistic
revolutionists before and since‖ (217). Dyson also says that Dickens understands ―that while
consistent violation of justice and humanity produces revolution, revolution produces a more
dreadful violation of justice and humanity in its turn‖ (217), a premise that is vividly portrayed in
A Tale of Two Cities . In contrast to the ―left-wing‖ beliefs of the revolutionists, Dickens,
according to Dyson, was ―conservative in his belief that social forms and laws should not be
simply overthrown or rejected, but criticized and reformed from within . . .‖ (217). At the same
time, Dyson asserts that Dickens had little faith that human nature would be the means of
ameliorating the condition of society; in fact, Dyson goes on to say, ―No reformer has ever been
less utopian than he‖ (217-218).
A discussion of Dickens‘s political views necessarily overlaps the discussion of his views
of human nature, as evidenced by the final point in the previous paragraph. It seems logical that
society, made up of human beings, is the sum of its parts, but for both Dickens and Rousseau,
this assumption is problematic. In his article ―Dickens e Rousseau‖ (1969), Francesco Casotti
posits, among other ideas, that both men struggled with the same contradictions: Why, if all
(including humanity) is good when it is in the hands of the Creator, does it degenerate in the
hands of man? Why is a society wicked if the people of which it is composed are essentially
good? (Casotti 281). Casotti says that whereas Dickens stops short of addressing this
contradiction, Rousseau makes a forceful effort to resolve this paradox, as shown in the Second
Discourse, in which he diagnoses the ailments of humankind, and in The Social Contract , in
which he presents his remedy 2 (281). It is on this point, according to Casotti, that Rousseau and
Dickens part political ways. Rousseau, he says, is recognized unanimously as the founder and
authorized theorist of democracy in the modern world, or at least of the French type of
democracy: he is the ―Marx of Jacobin democracy‖ (281). Dickens, however, distrusts
democracy, according to Casotti, at least the kind of democracy with a parliamentary structure 3
Casotti‘s essay is one of the most in-depth discussions of Dickens‘s relationship to
Rousseau available to modern scholars. He analyzes several novels with regard to Rousseau‘s
(and Dickens‘s) ideas of the natural man, ideas that Casotti shows to be fundamental to both
men‘s political stances but more so, perhaps, to Dickens‘s. Dickens obviously did not deny that
contemporary society needed reform; in fact, he worked throughout his adult life to effect it, but
he did not believe that society in general was ruined at the core. He believed, like Rousseau, that
humans are good upon their creation, and that the degeneration takes place in and as a result of
society; but Casotti goes on to say that Dickens did not believe that this degeneration is so severe
2 Non è possible negare che Rousseau, lungi dall‘arrestarsi, come farà il romanziere inglese, alle contraddizioni,
compirà un energico sforzo per liberarsene: dal secondo Discours , che contiene la diagnosi del male, al Contrat
social che ne rappresenterebbe i rimedi.‖
3 Rousseau è riconosciuto unanimamente il fondatore e teorico autorizzato della democrazia nel mondo moderno o,
almeno, della democrazia di tipo francese: il Marx della democrazia giacobina. Dickens, invece sebbene ―ami du
people‖ non ha fede nella democrazia, specie poi se di struttura parlamentare.
as to make impossible man‘s reclaiming the original ―idea divina‖ 4 (292-293). Indicating,
contrary to Dyson, that there is a utopian strain in Dickens, Casotti concludes his essay by
saying that Dickens‘s alternative to Rousseau‘s revolution was not political at all; his means of
improving society was by the patient laboring to cultivate, from the inside, the individual man 5
In his lengthy discussion of Dickens‘s reflection of Rousseau‘s philosophy of human
nature, Casotti takes as his basic premise the belief stated above, that humans are good when
they are created, but are corrupted by society. Casotti draws a contrast between the truly and
(according to some critics) unnaturally good characters, such as the Cheeryble Brothers, John
Jarndyce, Esther Summerson, Mark Tapley, Tom Pinch, Florence and Paul Dombey, Joe
Gargery, and Biddy, and those along a continuum of wickedness, such as Ralph Nickleby, Mrs.
Nickleby, Pecksniff, Old Dombey, James Carker, Miss Havisham, and Estella. In his discussion,
however, Casotti only skims the surface of Rousseau‘s criteria for ―natural‖ and ―civilized.‖ He
mentions that the good characters do not necessarily look for solitude, nor do they return to a
state of nature, but they demonstrate with their actions that goodness is present and feasible even
in an imperfect politico-social system 6 (285). Later in his essay, he returns to this idea,
conceding that several of Dickens‘s characters retreat to the country at the end of the novels.
Except for these brief mentions, Casotti employs his own defining characteristic to determine
which are Dickens‘s good characters: these men and women, rarely the principals according to
Casotti, serve as ―points of light,‖ either concealed or obvious, that illumine the main characters 7 ,
as the Cheerybles do Nicholas Nickleby (285). While this appears to be a valid theory,
supported well by Casotti, there is no corresponding idea for it in Rousseau.
In the final pages of his essay, Casotti concludes that ―Rousseau and Dickens, one in his
philosophical conclusions, the other in the achievement of his novels, are almost always in
4 Benché, dunque, Dickens non neghi che la società a lui contemporanea abbia bisogno di riforme e, anzi, si sforzi di
collaborare ad esse come può, egli non crede che la società in genere sia guasta alla radice . . . Tutto ciò che è uscito
buono dale mani dell‘Autore di tutte le cose degenera, certo, fra le mani dell‘uomo; ma questa degenerazione non è
tale che sia impossibile risalire all originaria idea divina.
5 Dickens . . . sente che conformarsi ad essa non si può mediante rivoluzioni politiche o costituzionali
laboriosamente escogitate come nel Contrat social , ma pazientemente lavorando a coltivare, dall‘interno, la pianta
6 Senza dubbio l‘individuo uscito buonon dale mani del Creatore, in Dickens non cerca la solitudine o il ritorno allo
stato di natura ma dimostra, con la sua azione, che la bontà è attuale e attuabile anche in un sistema politico-sociale
imperfetto come il nostro.
7 L‘individuo, poi, buono per sé stesso, costituisce, nel romanzo dickensiano, sempre un punto di luce, più o meno
nascoto o evidente, che illumine gli altri.
agreement. Man, leaving the hands of the Creator, is good, and society ruins him‖ 8 (291). The
only significant point of divergence between the two men, according to Casotti, is in their
response to this belief. Rousseau, he says, thought that only the wealthy in his contemporary
society could receive an education, while the poor, the general masses, were forced to follow
their paternal trades. As a result of this inequity (along with other personal reasons), Rousseau
broke with society. It must be noted here, however, since Casotti does not make the point, that
Rousseau states that
The poor man does not need to be educated. His station gives him a compulsory
education. He could have no other. On the contrary, the education the rich man receives
from his station is that which suits him least, from both his own point of view and that of
society. . . Let us, then, choose a rich man [to educate]. We will at least be sure we have
made one more man, while a poor person can become a man by himself. ( Émile 52)
In spite of many such statements in Rousseau‘s works regarding the superiority of the peasants
and common people, Casotti seems to claims that Rousseau did not advocate the free education
of the lower classes. Citing this as a bone of contention between Rousseau and Dickens, Casotti
states that Dickens ―firmly refused such social pessimism‖ 9 (291), and believed that ―Virtue
shows quite as well in rags and patches as she does in purple and fine linen‖ (qtd. in Casotti
291), as well as that ―every beautiful object in external nature claims some sympathy in the
breast of the poorest man who breaks his scanty loaf of daily bread‖ (qtd. in Casotti 291-292).
Thus, as Casotti goes on to paraphrase Dickens, the poorest man displays not only ethical virtue,
but he is also a good candidate for aesthetic and religious education, or, in short, complete
education 10 (292). A close examination of Rousseau‘s works will find not a disagreement, as
Casotti infers, but corroboration of Dickens‘s very point here.
Myron Magnet, along with Casotti, provides us a segue from the political philosophy to
the nature of humankind. Magnet‘s analysis of Dickens‘s understanding of the ―nature and
function of society‖ (5) found in his Dickens and the Social Order (1985), again necessarily
8 Rousseau e Dickens, uno nelle sue connlusioni filosofiche, l‘altro nelle realizzazioni dei suoi romanzi, vadano
quasi sempre d‘accordo. L‘uomo, uscito dale mani del Creatore, è buono e la società lo guasta.
9 Ma dove il romanziere inglese è più lontano o, meglio, si stacca nettamente dal filosofo ginevrino è nel rifiuto
deciso di quell pessimismo sociale che ispirava al Rousseau un‘azione di rottura con la società del tempo. Il
Rousseau pensava che solo ai ricchi, nella società a lui contemporanea, si potesse dare una libera educazione. Gli
altri, i poveri, la gran massa degli uomini, sono, dalla loro stessa condizione, forzati ad addestrarsi al mestiere
paterno . . .
10 . . . Non è solo virtuoso di virtù etica, ma anche un buon soggetto di educazione edtetica e religiosa, o insomma,
di educazione integrale.
combines these two philosophical concepts. Magnet, however, unlike many other critics, begins
with the assertion that Dickens ―concluded that aggression was an inborn instinct, uninhibited by
anything in man‘s ‗natural‘ constitution and continually threatening to make human life into the
universal war that Hobbes‘s myth of the state of nature imagines it originally was‖ (5).
Therefore, according to Magnet, Dickens consequently concluded that the civilized state is
desirable to the natural one. Magnet cites evidence from Nicholas Nickleby , Barnaby Rudge , and
Martin Chuzzlewit to support this point. In fact, he states that in Barnaby Rudge , ―Dickens
discovers that the great force serving to restrain and neutralize human nature‘s inherent
aggressiveness is civilization, externally embodied in society and internally institutionalized
within the mind of every civilized individual‖ (5). This premise is arguable if we define
civilization as Rousseau did, but Magnet does not include any mention of Rousseau in this part
of his argument.
In the other major part of Magnet‘s study, he attempts to prove not only that Dickens
champions the civilized over the natural, but also that Rousseau does. Magnet discusses the
opening paragraphs of Chapter 36 of Nicholas Nickleby , in which Mr. Kenwigs muffles the
doorknocker due to Mrs. Kenwigs‘s confinement. The narrator says, ―There are certain polite
forms and ceremonies which must be observed in civilised life, or mankind relapse into their
original barbarism‖ ( NN 437). Magnet claims that this passage ―demonstrates beneath its
comedy how consciously Dickens is examining the difference between ‗civilized life‘ and
mankind‘s ‗original barbarism,‘ and it registers his belief that society evolved out of a barbarous,
Hobbesian state of nature‖ (39). Perhaps Magnet misses Dickens‘s irony here. Taking into
account Dickens‘s attitudes toward pretentious gentility throughout his novels, it seems highly
unlikely that this passage is not satirical on Dickens‘s part.
Magnet also draws on Rousseau‘s philosophy to make another point regarding Nicholas
Nickleby . He paraphrases Rousseau‘s ―account of the origin of self-consciousness,‖ in which he
says that ―self-consciousness arose . . . at the moment when, having abandoned their primeval
solitude and having newly formed themselves into bands, primitive men began to compare
themselves to each other. . . Self consciousness, in this view, is a product of one‘s relation to
others. . .‖ (25). Magnet uses this point to show that Ralph Nickleby‘s conscious efforts to
achieve (or preserve) his authenticity by rejecting the opinions and judgments of others are
doomed to failure. Magnet says,
Absolute authenticity, impervious to the opinions of others and with all the solidity of a
fact of nature, is thus the prerogative only of an unreflecting creature like the original
natural man of Rousseau‘s Discourse on Inequality ; and such a creature avoids
experiencing his identity as problematic not because he is exempt in his solitariness from
the hypocrisy inherent in social life, but rather because he has not yet developed a sense
of himself as a self. . . (25)
In other words, Ralph is inherently unable to achieve absolute authenticity because he has
already become self-conscious. Thus, Magnet says, he finds not ―emancipation from society, but
only another position taken with respect to it‖ (26). In this section of his analysis, Magnet seems
to take for granted the truth of Rousseau‘s philosophy, especially as it applies to Ralph Nickleby.
One of the flaws in Magnet‘s study is his use of the theories of Monboddo to define
Rousseau‘s natural man. Lord Monboddo is linked most notably to the natives of the South Sea
islands, observed on his trip there in the 1770s. Magnet expands this group of ―barbarian
peoples‖ to include the natives of America and Africa, as well as the deaf, infants, idiots,
orangutans, and Barnaby Rudge (76). It must be emphasized that in describing his natural man,
Rousseau was not attempting to describe any specific living beings. His essay on the Origins of
Inequality is purely theoretical, although he does explore what role native islanders and others
like them play in his theory, due to the continual attention given by explorers to this concept
during the eighteenth century.
But Magnet quickly moves from this point to say:
Dickens has about the natural man he presents in Barnaby the same kind of ambivalence
that Rousseau has about the natural man of the Second Discourse . Both writers see
qualities to value positively in their natural men—health, strength, freedom from guilt
and vainglory, exemption from modern social life‘s perversions and insincerity—but both
ultimately take a stand on the same essentially negative judgment. (78)
Magnet says that both Rousseau and Dickens consider natural man to be ―a stupid and
unimaginative animal‖ unless he is civilized by society into ―an intelligent being and a man‖ ( SC
19), quoting Rousseau in application to both. He fails, however, to include the rest of
Rousseau‘s statement which indicates that man ―would be bound to bless continually the happy
moment which took him from it for ever. . . ― ― did not the abuses of this new condition often
degrade him below that which he left [italics mine] . . .‖ ( SC 19). Rousseau‘s entire
philosophical corpus sets forth the theory that nature is preferable to civilization; however, given
the fact that life in nature is no longer an option, people in society must live by a ―social
contract,‖ which provides a way for them to coexist in a way that is beneficial to all. But, as the
quote above shows, Rousseau maintains that there are dangers inherent to living in society.
Dickens also shows how human nature is degraded in and by society; additionally he shows the
barbarism inherent in the ―society‖ of the mob in both Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities.
It should be noted, as Magnet points out, that Dickens himself mentions Monboddo in the
first chapter of Martin Chuzzlewit , along with J. F. Blumenbach, a comparative anatomist of the
late eighteenth-early nineteenth centuries. Magnet says that these two theorists had opposing
theories regarding the origin of humanity, but that they agreed that ―the authentically human
creature is by definition a social creature‖ (212). This, however, is not Dickens‘s point at all.
His narrator says,
Firstly, that it may be safely asserted, and yet without implying any direct participation in
the Monboddo doctrine touching the probability of the human race having once been
monkeys, that men do play very strange and extraordinary tricks. Secondly, and yet
without trenching on the Blumenbach theory as to the descendants of Adam having a vast
number of qualities which belong more particularly to swine than to any other class of
animals in the creation, that some men certainly are remarkable for taking uncommon
good care of themselves. ( MC 6)
Dickens‘s satire here seems obvious. Perhaps many of his characters display characteristics of
monkeys or swine, but most such characters would be considered ―civilized‖ by Rousseau‘s
After setting up the Dickens-Hobbes connection in his first chapters, Magnet turns his
attention in much of the rest of his work to what he perceives to be similarities between Dickens
and Rousseau. But Magnet‘s judgment of Dickens‘s attitude toward ―natural man‖ is based on
very limited evidence, much of which fails to take into account Dickens‘s propensity for irony
and Rousseau‘s true definition of ―natural‖ and ―civilized.‖ In short, Magnet‘s comparison
seems a bit forced.
Over the past half-century, several writers have explored to a greater or lesser degree an
association between Dickens‘s theory of human nature and that of Rousseau. One of the first to
claim this association was A. O. J. Cockshut, who considers Dickens ―the founder of our modern
version of Rousseauist innocence‖ (12). Cockshut says that Dickens influenced general thought
regarding ―the fundamental decency of the working class‖ (12), thus implying a connection
between Dickens‘s working class characters and Rousseau‘s peasants. Earle Davis delves a little
more deeply into this association:
He [Dickens] was a Romanticist; he followed what had been taught by Rousseau and
Godwin as he understood their doctrines. Basically this meant to him that man should
trust his instincts because his instincts are naturally good. If man lets Nature take its
course, happiness will result. Nature, according to this doctrine, will always achieve
perfection if unhampered by decaying, man-made traditions which interfere with
progress. (93)
Using this as his basic premise, Davis explores in The Flint and the Flame its reflection within
the novels of Dickens. Continuing to declare Dickens a ―Romanticist,‖ he says that ―Dickens,
like the early Wordsworth, believed that children are noble in their innocence before they mature
and learn evil from their surroundings and other men‖ (96), an idea that once again echoes the
philosophy of Rousseau. Davis uses Oliver Twist as his exemplar, saying that Oliver ―is one of
those ideally good individuals who retain their primal nobility instinctively‖ (97). In addition to
Oliver, Davis points to other characters ―who are not in complete control of their faculties . . .
Dickens‘ psychological cases are children who never grew up. They retain their connection with
innocence, refuse any association with the evils of a world they do not understand . . .‖ (97). To
illustrate his point, Davis points to Smike, Tom Pinch, Mr. Dick, and Barnaby, who, as
previously noted, Magnet claims is virtually an animal rather than an innocent child.
Beyond his assertion of Dickens‘s initial connection with Rousseau‘s theories, Davis
explores how this philosophy apparently evolved for Dickens into a ―Dialectic Romanticism‖
(92), based on his seemingly ambivalent feelings toward the ―noble savage.‖ As was discussed
previously, the ―noble savage‖ was not a term Rousseau coined, although many critics use the
term and the name of Rousseau interchangeably. Davis attempts to explain Dickens‘s dilemma
as follows, saying that Dickens‘s ―Noble Savage‖ article in Household Words
is a violent denunciation of such a concept. Most followers of the Romantic movement at
some time or other came up against a certain contradiction in terms. If they admired
Rousseau, they looked for perfection in Nature and the unfettered instincts; if they
followed Godwin, they expected perfection to come from gradual development of man
and from social betterment. The Rousseauite may be said to have believed in the noble
savage, the noble idiot, and the noble child; the Godwinian objected to the noble savage.
Davis implies that Dickens, therefore, is more the Godwinian, but he then asks these questions:
―Why should the author hate the noble savage and still believe that Oliver Twist has an
instinctive nobility which wards off all evil? If Oliver does what is right by instinct, why would
not a savage, presumably closer to Nature, have the same instincts?‖ (101). According to Davis,
Dickens‘s answer to this basic question did not come until later in his life. At that point, Davis
says, Dickens came to the conclusion that
man may remain good if he exercises his free will and resists the temptations of his
environment. This is what Oliver must have done. The same opportunity could be seized
by a noble savage, a noble cockney, a noble lord, or a noble laborer, each of whom could
retain his early innocence if he desired to do so. What Dickens apparently resented in his
attacks on the noble savage was the assumption that a man who lived close to Nature was
bound to be perfect just because of his environment. (102)
The novels of Dickens prove, at least in the Dickens world, that a human may remain good and
innocent within society, that a literal return to Nature is not necessary, nor does a life in Nature
in the nineteenth century ensure that a human is good.
But these points in no way refute the theories of Rousseau, as Davis indicates. As has
been stated previously, Rousseau also knew that a literal return to Nature was impossible in light
of the advance of civilization, and would have found little fault with Dickens‘s alternative as
summarized by Davis:
The eventual course of Dickens‘s Dialectic Romanticism is now clear. Man must fight to
keep his original innocence and his instincts pure; he must overcome adverse
surroundings in order to become admirable; the main duty of intelligence is to attack
adverse circumstances and evil institutions. In novel after novel Dickens assaulted the
forces which man had built up contrary to Nature. (111)
Perhaps Rousseau was a theorist while Dickens had his boots on the ground, but contrary to
Davis‘s position, the two were basically in agreement.
Sylvère Monod, in his Dickens the Novelist , mentions Dickens‘s reference to his use of
Rousseau in A Tale of Two Cities , but does not include Rousseau in his list of French writers that
Dickens ―certainly read,‖ such as Voltaire and Buffon (46). At the same time, however, Monod
has this to say:
But an attempt to formulate Dickens‘ philosophy (a thing he wisely refrained from doing
himself, except for desultory maxims) indicates that he had four major tenets in his
system: 1) theoretically, man, especially isolated, natural man, is good; 2) Dickens has
clearly asserted in some of his occasional writings that he believed neither in the Noble
Savage, nor in the virtues of solitude; 3) man is exposed to all kinds of pernicious
influences (and these will be all the more pernicious as the individual‘s environment is
more highly civilized and more socially refined); 4) man is reduced to impotence as soon
as he belongs to a group. (25)
With the possible exception of point number two, Monod might be outlining the basic
philosophy of Rousseau, as well as that of Dickens, yet he never overtly makes the connection.
With regard to the second point, Monod cites, of course, Dickens‘s ―The Noble Savage‖ as
evidence that he rejected that idea, and he cites ―Tom Tiddler‘s Ground‖ as evidence that
Dickens rejected the virtues of solitude (25). But Monod then goes on to show that Dickens also
distrusted society, and saw the majority as ―likely to oppress the minority‖ (26), an idea that is
surely Rousseauean. Likewise, Monod says that Dickens‘s ―basic views will be found in the
idea that men are good, but that politics is a bad thing because it corrupts natural goodness and
tends to stimulate the selfish quest for personal satisfaction and the disregard of the common
good for the sake of private interests‖ (24), a statement that almost perfectly sums up Rousseau‘s
Second Discourse, On the Origins of Inequality .
Within the last twenty years two critics have undertaken the task of proving, unlike any
of the aforementioned writers, that Dickens flatly rejected Rousseau‘s philosophy as a result of
his trips to America, the first of which occurred in 1842. Jerome Meckier‘s Innocent Abroad:
Charles Dickens’s American Engagements (1990) is based on the following presuppositions:
Dickens believed in the possibility of utopia; he believed he would find that utopia in America;
instead he was gravely disappointed; as a result he developed a bleak world view and a lasting
pessimism. Meckier posits his perspective in the opening pages:
Reconsideration of man‘s allegedly Edenic past in terms of America‘s present led to
humbler expectations of society‘s future; it was foolish, Dickens decided, to pretend that
man had been perfect or ever could be. In short, America failed to corroborate
Rousseau‘s idea of a more innocent past and Victorian forecasts of a glittering tomorrow;
this double letdown was largely responsible for Dickens‘s increasing negativity, which
turned the later fictions [after Martin Chuzzlewit ]. . . into ever gloomier dystopian
pronouncements. (1-2)
This statement is based on several fallacies. First of all, Rousseau‘s ―natural man‖ has never
been described as ―perfect,‖ nor has life in nature been described so. Secondly, Rousseau was
not a utopian, and opinions are mixed as to whether or not Dickens was. At any rate, Meckier
gives no evidence that Dickens was a utopian before his trip to America. However, both Dickens
and Rousseau believed and illustrated throughout their literary corpuses that humans are capable
of achieving a type of new innocence, even within the confines of civilized society. Finally, if
Dickens was indeed repulsed by the life he found in America, there is no evidence that he
himself had based his expectations on Rousseau‘s philosophy.
Nevertheless, Jerome Meckier boldly states that ―Dickens discarded Rousseau in 1842‖
(36). Meckier seems to have based much of his opinion on his misconception that Rousseau‘s
theories indicate a belief that a utopia is possible by returning to humankind‘s natural state. If
Dickens believed that this was Rousseau‘s theory, which Meckier fails to substantiate, of course
he most likely would have rejected it. Such a return is impossible, and Rousseau makes this
point clear. Both Rousseau and Dickens instead indicate in their works that society‘s hope lies in
individual transformation. Meckier says that the people Dickens (and Martin Chuzzlewit)
encounter in America are ―in [their] natural state—in a country at an earlier phase of
development than England‖ (10), again, a misunderstanding of Rousseau‘s theory. In fact, the
society that Dickens found in America is actually not to be considered natural, but civilized by
Rousseau‘s criteria.
In his review of Meckier‘s work, John J. Fenstermaker charges that his ―language is
sometimes too dramatic‖ (125). This writer agrees. Meckier repeatedly makes statements such
as that Dickens was ―obliged to say goodbye to exalted sentiments and romantic dreams‖ (3),
that he ―abandoned as Romantic foolishness the notion of sweeping social change and a totally
transformed society‖ (18), and ―Dickens was duped by a theory of human nature garnered from
Wordsworth and Rousseau‖ (24). Meckier seems to be trying to turn Dickens‘s disdain for
American behavior ( civilized by Rousseau‘s definition) into a rejection of Rousseau‘s
philosophy, and in the process belies what seems to be his own particular bias against the beliefs
of Rousseau and other Romantics.
Nancy Aycock Metz also claims that Dickens‘s works, especially Martin Chuzzlewit ,
show their author‘s rejection of Rousseauean philosophy. Metz states, ―A generally well-read
man, Dickens carried with him as so much mental baggage representations of the New World
popularized by writers as various as Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Rousseau and Thomas Moore‖ (4).
Metz, however, offers no documentation that Dickens actually read any of these authors. She
argues that Dickens ―[engages], among other targets, the ideas given currency in Rousseau‘s
Discourse on Inequality (1755). . .‖ (2-3). She quotes the following passage from the Discourse :
If we see a handful of rich and powerful men at the pinnacle of greatness and fortune,
while the crowd grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former esteem the
things they possess only insofar as others are deprived of them, and because, without any
change in their condition, they would cease being happy if people ceased being
miserable. (Qtd. in Metz 125)
Metz presents this statement as though it is Rousseau‘s view, and notes its similarities to a view
voiced by Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit :
. . . it is always satisfactory to feel, in keen weather, that many other people are not as
warm as you are . . . this . . . was quite natural, and a very beautiful arrangement; not
confined to coaches, but extending itself into many social ramifications . . . ―if every one
were warm and well-fed, we should lose the satisfaction of admiring the fortitude with
which certain conditions of men bear cold and hunger . . .‖ ( MC 116, qtd. in Metz 125)
Pecksniff goes on to say, ―And if we were no better off than anybody else, what would become
of our sense of gratitude; which . . . is one of the holiest feelings of our common nature‖ ( MC
116). What Metz fails to note, however, is that just as Dickens places the deplorable sentiment
in the mouth of his villain, Rousseau is condemning this situation, not condoning it. Both Metz
and Meckier omit the fact that most of the references to ―natural,‖ and ―nature‖ in Martin
Chuzzlewit are spoken by the villains and buffoons, characters who are certainly not reliable
spokespeople for the author‘s sentiments. Surely Metz and Meckier did not miss Dickens‘s
irony in all of these statements as Metz does in the one quoted above.
Among other comments, Metz also cites several statements that she says ―[evoke] ironic
associations with the idea of the ‗noble savage‘, as it is developed in Rousseau‘s influential
Discourses ‖ (388). As we have already seen, the idea of the ―noble savage‖ does not appear in
Rousseau, at least not in such terminology. But Metz cites each mention of the word ―noble‖ in
the novel as ironic, and thus a rejection of Rousseau‘s philosophy. For example, she quotes
Mark Tapley upon his greeting the friends he met on the boat to America; he says, ―You‘re
looking noble!‖ ( MC 516). Metz‘s note reads, ―The adjective evokes ironic associations with the
idea of the ‗noble savage‘, as it is developed in Rousseau‘s influential Discourses ‖ (388).
However, there is no relationship between Rousseau‘s theory and the context of this quote. Metz
simply seems determined to show that ―noble‖ equals ―noble savage,‖ ―noble savage‖ equals
Rousseau (which it does not), and thus ―noble‖ in any context is a referent to Rousseau. This
opinion is simply fallacious.
Metz and Meckier, as well as Magnet, display a very narrow understanding of the theory
of human nature that is set forth in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Unfortunately, a
significant part of their arguments is based on this understanding. Many of the critics discussed
previously perhaps would quibble with minor points of Dickens‘s philosophy in relation to
Rousseau‘s, but most would be able to reconcile the basic premises of the two. As this study
proposes to show, significant similarities exist between Rousseau and Dickens, displayed not
only in the first novels, but throughout Dickens‘s career.
G. K. Chesterton writes, ―Rousseau, whom all his friends and acquaintances treated
almost as badly as he treated them—Rousseau does not grow merely eloquent, he grows gushing
and sentimental, about the inherent goodness of human nature‖ ( Critical Study 41). Elsewhere
Chesterton says, ―Rousseau takes too rosy a view of humanity . . .‖ ( Critical Study 7). Arthur
Melzer expresses a similar view: ―If the very mention of Rousseau‘s name often raises an
indulgent smile, that is because it is usually assumed that his famous principle is a tender-
minded, pollyannish affirmation, indeed the classic statement, of the basic goodness of human
beings as we know them‖ (15). While many such assessments are critical of Rousseau, one thing
about his philosophy is certain: It is consistent. Throughout his works, Rousseau posits the idea
that humans are naturally good, that civilization has corrupted them, that hope lies in the
individual‘s redemption and transformation or in his or her ―negative‖ education, that is, an
education designed to avoid corruptive influences.
From his earliest writings, Rousseau portrays the contrast between the natural state of
humanity and the civilized, or corrupted, state. In his First Discourse, A Discourse on the Moral
Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750), he lays the groundwork for several ideas that he develops
more fully in subsequent works. He writes wistfully of the origins of humankind: ―One cannot
reflect on mores without taking delight in recalling the image of the simplicity of the earliest
times. It is a beautiful shore, adorned by the hands of nature alone, toward which one
continually turns one‘s eyes, and from which one regretfully feels oneself moving away‖ ( Moral
Effects 14). This recession, as the title indicates, is due to the influence of the arts and the study
and advances of science during the previous centuries, and most notably in his own century. He
asserts that none of this knowledge is necessary nor desirable, that humankind naturally has all it
needs to achieve the most important goal—Virtue. He says, ―Are your [Virtue‘s] principles not
engraved in all hearts, and is it not enough, in order to learn your laws, to commune with oneself
and, in the silence of the passions, to listen to the voice of one‘s conscience?‖ ( Moral Effects 21).
At the same time, however, seeming to contradict himself, Rousseau tells how man
―[emerges] somehow from nothing by his own efforts; [dissipates], by the light of his reason, the
shadows in which nature had enveloped him‖ ( Moral Effects 3). He speaks of ―the barbarism of
the first ages‖ ( Moral Effects 3), indicating early on that he does not advocate a return to nature,
which is, of course, impossible. Ideally, he says, the civilized state is an improvement over the
natural one, due to the intellectual tools utilized by civilized humanity that are undeveloped or
unknown in the natural man. However, contemporary society for Rousseau was not ideal. The
corruptive influences of the arts and sciences, according to his discourse, had brought about a
state in which humankind was, he believed, weakened in a number of ways. He says, ―While the
conveniences of life increase, the arts are perfected and luxury spreads, true courage is
enervated, military virtues disappear . . .‖ ( Moral Effects 15). He adds that humankind suffers
from ―this contagion of vain knowledge‖ ( Moral Effects 7). And to put it in even another way
that recurs in his writings, humankind is thus enslaved, although ―the sciences, letters and the
arts . . . spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains . . .‖ ( Moral Effects 3). In comparison to
this corrupted civilized state, the natural one is preferable. Rousseau preaches, ―Peoples, know
then once and for all that nature wanted to protect you from science just as a mother wrests a
dangerous weapon from the hands of her child‖ ( Moral Effects 10). His simile makes clear his
belief that nature takes care of and protects humankind from numerous evils, while civilization
throws them headlong onto the path of ruin.
Nevertheless, Rousseau suggests that there is a third condition, achievable by the
individual. He says, ―Let us leave to others the care of instructing peoples in their duties, and
confine ourselves to fulfilling our own duties well. We have no need to know more than this‖
( Moral Effects 21). In other words, he basically applies the biblical principle of removing the
beam from one‘s own eye before removing the beam from someone else‘s. Rousseau gives few
details in the First Discourse of how this third condition, preferable to both of the others, is to be
achieved; however, in his subsequent works, especially in Émile , he supplies a meticulous ―how-
to‖ manual.
In the Second Discourse, or A Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality
Among Men (1755), Rousseau states his position outright: ―Men are wicked; melancholy and
constant experience removes any need for proof. Yet man is naturally good‖ ( Origins 147). It is
also here that Rousseau fully propounds his concept of the natural man. Whereas in the First
Discourse he examines some of the specific qualities of the civilized man resultant from the
corruptive influences of the arts and sciences, he merely alludes to the qualities of the natural
man. Actually, in reading both of the Discourses, the reader must ascertain in some cases what
those qualities are by reading the more direct catalog of the failings of the civilized man; if the
civilized man is pretentious and false, for example, we draw the conclusion that the natural man
is transparent and genuine. In general, however, Rousseau uses words such as ―peaceful‖ and
―innocent‖ to describe natural man, whom he often refers to as the ―savage,‖ a designation that
seems antithetical to the adjectives. He also makes the following statement: ―. . . In truth
nothing is more peaceable than man in his primitive state; placed by nature at an equal distance
from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civilized man, limited equally by
reason and instinct to defending himself against evils which threaten him, he is restrained by
natural pity from doing harm to anyone, even after receiving harm himself. . .‖ ( Origins 115).
This description is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it places
the natural man above the ―brutes,‖ thus negating the argument of some critics that Rousseau‘s
―savage‖ is little more than an animal. More specific characteristics of the natural man will be
discussed in later paragraphs.
Just as he does in the First Discourse, Rousseau shows most vividly in the Second the
effects of civilization on humankind. Here he presents his theory of how inequality was a logical
consequence of progress in civilization. But more important to our purposes here, he presents
―civilized‖ humans as having been corrupted by the process of their development, a concept that
surely appears over and over in Rousseau‘s works. Unfortunately, one of the few faculties that
the natural man possesses, that of self-improvement or perfectibility, is the ultimate cause of his
downfall. He asserts, ―. . . most of our ills are of our own making, and . . . we might have
avoided nearly all of them if only we had adhered to the simple, unchanging and solitary way of
life that nature ordained for us‖ ( Origins 84-85). Again, specific characteristics, or the ills,
resulting from this corruption will be discussed in future paragraphs.
In the Second Discourse, Rousseau makes clear that the remedy for the corruption of
civilization is not the ―return to live in the forests with the bears‖ ( Origins 153), although some
people may try this method. He instructs, however,
You who can leave your fatal acquisitions, your troubled spirits, your corrupt hearts and
your frenzied desires in the midst of cities, reclaim . . . your ancient and first innocence;
go into the woods and lose the sight and memory of the crimes of your contemporaries,
and have no fear of debasing your species in renouncing its enlightenment in order to
renounce its vices. ( Origins 153)
Only those who have not heard ―the heavenly voice‖ ( Origins 153), however, will throw the
baby (enlightenment) out with the bath water (vices) and abandon society as we know it. More
desirably, what Rousseau proposes for himself and others who ―are convinced that the divine
voice called the whole human race to the enlightenment and happiness of celestial intelligences‖
( Origins 153) is the life of the citizen. These people, he says, are
those who will endeavour, by the exercise of virtues which they commit themselves to
practice while learning to understand them, to deserve the eternal prize they ought to
expect for them; they will respect the sacred bonds of the societies of which they are
members; they will love their fellow-men and serve them with all their strength; they will
scrupulously obey the laws and the men who are the authors and ministers of the laws;
they will honor above all the good and wise princes who know how to prevent, cure and
relieve that mass of abuses and evils which are always ready to overwhelm us; they will
animate the zeal of those worthy rulers, in showing them without fear or flattery the
greatness of their task and the rigor of their duty . . . ( Origins 153)
Here Rousseau describes the life of the natural man within society, the one who determines to
live according to Virtue‘s mandates, and thus retain or regain the gifts with which Nature
endowed him. As we shall see, it is this man that Rousseau proposes to create in Émile , a man
who can live effectively according to Rousseau‘s Social Contract .
In the epistolary novel Julie, or The New Heloise (1760), Rousseau incorporates elements
of his philosophy within the letters written between his characters. Beginning in the Second
Preface, however, Rousseau makes this pronouncement: ―Nature made them [the ‗beautiful
souls‘ of humankind], your institutions spoil them‖ ( Julie 20). His primary spokesperson, the
tutor St. Preux, echoes this sentiment, Rousseau‘s most basic tenet: ―Nature has made everything
as good as it could be; but we want to do still better, and we spoil everything‖ ( Julie 499). He
later quotes his patron, Monsieur de Wolmar, as saying, ―All characters are good and sound in
themselves . . . There are. . . no mistakes in nature‖ ( Julie 461). The plot line of the novel is
hidden among the philosophy, but on the philosophical level we see a protagonist who is exposed
to the evils of ―civilization,‖ society, and city life, and who returns to life away from the city (in
―nature‖) to regain his natural character, becoming, in a sense, the citizen.
Rousseau also places in St. Preux‘s letters his own belief in original goodness (as
opposed to original sin) and the supreme (and usually detrimental) influence of nurture (as
opposed to nature) on human beings. St. Preux, again indirectly quoting Monsieur de Wolmar,
says, ―All the vices we attribute to natural disposition are the effect of the wrong shapes it has
received. There is no villain whose inclinations better channeled would not have yielded great
virtues‖ ( Julie 461). St. Preux adds that unfortunately, through education we often ―thwart
nature at every turn . . . obliterate the soul‘s great qualities, to put in their place small and
illusory ones having no reality . . .‖ ( Julie 462). St. Preux‘s views foreshadow the educational
technique that Rousseau explores meticulously in Émile .
In Julie , the rustic peasants who live near the home of Julie are considered by St. Preux to
live the life of nature. He speaks of ―their simplicity, their equanimity, and that peaceful
tranquility that makes them happy through freedom from pain rather than taste for pleasures‖
( Julie 65). He spends considerable time with them, as well as with the village inhabitants in the
Valais, and makes numerous observations of how these characteristics are exhibited ―in the
remote provinces where the inhabitants are still in possession of their natural inclinations‖ ( Julie
199). Speaking more generally, though, of the natural man, St. Preux says,
God has not breathed life into him [man] in order for him to remain immobile in a
perpetual quietism. But he has given him freedom to do good, conscience to will it, and
reason to choose it. He has constituted him the sole judge of his own acts. He has
written in his heart: do what is good for you and harmful to no one. ( Julie 315)
Later in the novel St. Preux expresses the same sentiment another way:
In creating man he [God] endowed him with all the faculties needed for the
accomplishment of what he required of him, and when we ask him for the power to do
good, we ask him for nothing he has not already given us. He has given us reason to
discern what is good, conscience to love it, and freedom to choose it. It is in these
sublime gifts that divine grace exists . . . ( Julie 561)
A large part of the novel is made up of a scathing criticism of life in society. St. Preux
leaves the de Wolmar residence for an extended stay in Paris, and reports how he himself is
corrupted by the salon society in which he participates:
. . . Thus I see disfigured that divine model I bear within me that both served as object of
my desires and as rule for my actions. . . Mortified, humiliated, dismayed to feel the
nature of man decaying in me, and seeing myself so debased from that inner grandeur to
which our enflamed hearts lifted each other, I return home in the evening prey to a secret
sadness, overwhelmed with a mortal disgust, and my heart empty and swollen like a ball
filled with air. ( Julie 209-210)
Julie comments, ―. . . You had improved among the peasants, and you regress among the wits‖
( Julie 248). The specific characteristics that St. Preux develops as a result of his ―civilization,‖
his foray into Parisian society, will be examined presently.
Fortunately, St. Preux returns to the country and rids himself of the debasing
characteristics he gained in the city, illustrating Rousseau‘s belief in the possibility of
redemption. However, the belief in this possibility is stated most clearly by Milord Edward, a
close friend of St. Preux. He says:
[The body‘s ills] . . . external and temporary alterations of an immortal and simple being,
fade away little by little and leave it in its original form which nothing could ever change.
Sorrow, woe, regrets, despair are short-lived pains that never take root in the soul, and
experience ever belies that sentiment of bitterness that makes us regard our sufferings as
eternal. I will say more; I cannot believe that the vices that corrupt us are more ingrained
in us than our troubles; not only do I think they disappear with the body that occasions
them; but I do not doubt that a longer life could allow men to be reformed, . . . ( Julie 320)
Milord Edward writes these words to encourage St. Preux upon his return from Paris. While St.
Preux does not become a ―citizen‖ in the sense of The Social Contract , he is now a man who
knows what it means to be ―civilized‖ and who has chosen instead a life closer to nature, a life of
The question that Rousseau seeks to answer in Émile (1762) is this: How does one raise
―a man among his fellows for a life in society . . .?‖ ( Émile 313). Admitting that men (and
women) of his contemporary society were more often than not unable to absent themselves from
the ―civilized‖ world, Rousseau explores the educational process that would allow a child to
develop naturally, to retain his ―original dispositions‖ ( Émile 39), and thus become a ―man of
nature‖ ( Émile 255). His objective is clarified in the following statement:
. . . Although I want to form the man of nature, the object is not, for all that, to make him
a savage and to relegate him to the depths of the woods. It suffices that, enclosed in a
social whirlpool, he not let himself get carried away by either the passions or the opinions
of men, that he see with his eyes, that he feel with his heart, that no authority govern him
beyond that of his own reason . . . ( Émile 255)
Throughout the treatise, Rousseau chronicles his tutelage of Émile, explaining best practices to
employ during each stage of human development in order to achieve this goal, but he sums up
what the teacher needs to do above all else: ―What must be done is to prevent anything from
being done‖ ( Émile 41).
One of the most often-quoted statements of Rousseau‘s belief in original goodness is the
opening sentence of Émile : ―Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things;
everything degenerates in the hands of man‖ ( Émile 37). But lest his readers miss his point, he
reiterates it later in the work by saying, ―There is no original perversity in the human heart.
There is not a single vice to be found in it of which it cannot be said how and whence it entered‖
( Émile 92).
In order to make clear what the pupil is being spared, Rousseau describes the effects of
civilization. He says,
Prejudices, authority, necessity, example, all the social institutions in which we find
ourselves submerged would stifle nature in him and put nothing in its place. Nature there
would be like a shrub that chance had caused to be born in the middle of a path and that
the passers-by cause to perish by bumping into it from all sides and bending it in every
direction. ( Émile 37)
Again Rousseau makes the point of the importance of a type of negative nurture—the protection
of the pupil from the influences that would draw him out of nature. And the student should be
taught the dangers of civilized society: ―. . . Let him see that society depraves and perverts men;
let him find in their prejudices the source of all their vices. . .‖ ( Émile 237). Of course, as Émile
is a manual for civilization prevention, we do not see a particular example of the civilized man,
nor do we see the redeemed man, or the citizen. In fact, Rousseau says, ―Forced to combat
nature or the social institutions, one must choose between making a man or a citizen, for one
cannot make both at the same time‖ (39). In Émile , his concern is making a man.
In The Social Contract , also published in 1762, Rousseau turns away from natural man as
his primary concern and discusses civil man and his role in society and in government. His
position here seems to indicate a major shift in his thinking, admitting as it seems he does that
man, ―everywhere . . . in chains‖ ( Contract 2), has left nature behind for good. Here he no
longer glorifies the simple, solitary man of nature; instead he discusses the ―citizen,‖ one part of
the whole, the man who willingly submits to the general will and the common good. Instead of
presenting the development of man from the man of nature to the man of society as being a result
of corruption and therefore bad, he indicates that this development is certainly desirable:
The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable
change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions
the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place
of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only
himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason
before listening to his inclinations. ( Contract 19)
He goes on to praise in no uncertain terms the superiority of the ―civil state‖ over the natural
state, claiming that in making the transition, man trades in the ―advantages which he got from
nature‖ for ones by which ―his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended,
his feeling so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that . . . he would be bound to bless
continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and
unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man‖ ( Contract 19). This ―stupid
and unimaginative animal‖ is a far cry from the creature Rousseau describes in the Second
Discourse. He does concede, however, ―the abuses of this new condition [civilization] often
degrade him below that which he left [nature]‖ ( Contract 19). After this brief reference to the
corrupted civilized state, Rousseau turns his attention to the ideal society and government. The
man who thus surrenders himself to this society is redeemed, in a sense, although not by a return
to nature or the life of nature.
It seems, then, that the only one of Rousseau‘s major works that portrays the return of a
civilization-corrupted man to a state of nature is Julie ; however, there is a concomitant idea in
his philosophy that suggests, perhaps, that a geographical return from city to country, from
crowded streets to solitude, can help one regain the natural life and values. Of course, this is
seen most vividly in Julie , but the contrasts between city life and country life are highlighted
throughout Rousseau‘s works. In fact, it was in the gathering together of natural men into groups
who eventually formed towns and then cities that corruption took its full toll. This process, of
course, is best described in Origins of Inequality , but here Rousseau does not dwell on
geographical place so much, only on the differences between nature and society. We might
correctly assume that ―nature‖ is found in the country, or at least away from the city. We might
also correctly assume that ―society‖ will be found where there are more people, thus in the city.
Rousseau decries life in the city for many of its sordid characteristics, among them ―the
epidemics bred by foul air in consequence of great numbers of men being crowded together‖
( Origins 42), and summarizes his point by saying, ―. . . in a word, if you add together all the
dangers with which these causes are always threatening us, you will see how dearly nature makes
us pay for the contempt with which we have treated her lessons‖ ( Origins 42).
The clearest representation and starkest contrast between life in the city and life in rural
areas is found in Julie . St. Preux states in an early letter, ―No, the heart cannot take nourishment
in the tumult of the world‖ ( Julie 88), contrasting life in society to the idyllic natural scene of the
upper Valais: ―It seems that by rising above the habitation of men one leaves all base and earthly
sentiments behind, and in proportion as one approaches ethereal spaces the soul contracts
something of their inalterable purity‖ ( Julie 64). But even having drawn this conclusion, St.
Preux goes to Paris to ―get to know man‖ by studying ―the inhabitants of a large city,‖ where
man is ―heaped up by multitudes in the same places‖ ( Julie 199). He continues,
I shall begin to judge thereby the true effects of Society; for were it averred that it makes
men better, the more populous and concentrated it is, the better they must be, and morals,
for example, will be far purer in Paris than in the Valais; and if one found the contrary, an
opposite consequence would have to be drawn. ( Julie 199)
In the letters St. Preux writes from Paris, he reveals his finding that society does not, in fact,
make men better, nor does it make them happier. Julie responds,
Why in a City so rich is the populace so miserable, whereas extreme misery is so rare
among us where there are no millionaires to be found? This question, it seems to me, is
entirely worthy of your inquiry; but it is not with those whose company you keep that you
must expect to resolve it. Gilded apartments are where a schoolboy goes to learn the airs
of the world . . . It is there that are conspicuously to be found the obscure maneuvers of
vice, which it covers over in social circles with prettified words; it is there one learns of
the secret iniquities with which the powerful and rich snatch a remnant of black bread
from the oppressed they publicly claim to pity. ( Julie 248-249)
Rousseau catalogs several specific characteristics of the civilized society with which he mingles,
characteristics consistent with those in his other works, and that are discussed in the following
In contrast to his representation of city life, Rousseau, through St. Preux, presents the
other end of the spectrum, as he returns from Paris to ―this solitary place where the sweet sight of
nature alone [will] banish all this social factitious order that has made me so unhappy‖ ( Julie
399). St. Preux effusively praises the rural world around him: ―It is here that the Graces are
enthroned, that simplicity adorns them, that gaiety animates them, and that you have to worship
them despite yourself‖ ( Julie 494).
Similar views are expressed in Émile . Early in the treatise, Rousseau summarizes his
objections to the city and his appreciation of the country in the following passage:
Men are made not to be crowded into anthills but to be dispersed over the earth
which they should cultivate. The more they come together, the more they are corrupted.
The infirmities of the body, as well as the vices of the soul, are the unfailing effect of this
overcrowding. Man is, of all the animals, the one who can least live in herds. Men
crammed together like sheep would all perish in a very short time. Man‘s breath is
deadly to his kind . . .
Cities are the abyss of the human species. At the end of a few generations the
races perish or degenerate. They must be renewed, and it is always the country which
provides for this renewal. Send your children, then, to renew themselves, as it were, and
to regain in the midst of the fields the vigor that is lost in the unhealthy air of
overpopulated places . . . in an abode more natural to the species, the pleasures connected
with the duties of nature would soon efface the taste for the pleasures not related to those
duties. ( Émile 59)
Following soon after this pronouncement, he explains that these are the reasons, among others,
that he wishes to raise Émile in the country.
As has been established previously, Rousseau‘s purposes in The Social Contract are
essentially different from those of most of his earlier works; he does not go into depth regarding
city vs. country life, other than establishing that ―all Rome‘s most illustrious citizens lived in the
fields and tilled the earth . . .‖ and thus became ―the mainstays of the republic‖ ( Contract 125).
He goes on to say, ―This condition, being that of the best patricians, was honored by all men; the
simple and laborious life of the villager was preferred to the slothful and idle life of the
bourgeoisie of Rome; and he who, in the town, would have been but a wretched proletarian,
became, as a laborer in the fields, a respected citizen‖ ( Contract 125).
Beyond the aforementioned general characteristics of the natural man and his corrupted
counterpart, the civilized man, there are a number of specific traits that Rousseau attributes to
each. Just as there is an obviously repeated occurrence of these human types and of his biases
toward country living, we also find many of these traits repeated throughout several of his works.
As stated previously, the natural man makes his first major appearance in Rousseau‘s
Second Discourse, so it stands to reason that we would get our most complete description of him
there. Since Rousseau‘s purpose in this discourse is to trace the development of the natural man
into the civilized man (i.e., man in society), he explains how certain innate faculties lead to
various changes in man‘s psyche, in his actions, in his situation, and in his station. For our
purposes here, however, we will examine the natural man as in a still photograph, capturing him
in his original state before his development actually begins. At the same time, we will examine
the civilized man, in order to see that the two creatures are, for all intents and purposes,
diametrical opposites. By examining the characteristics of one or the other that Rousseau
discusses, we find that there are several antithetical sets of traits which will later serve as our
measuring instruments for the characters of Dickens.
Within the first few pages of the discourse, Rousseau discusses natural man‘s physical
characteristics and his physical superiority to civilized man. Soon thereafter, however, Rousseau
turns his attention to ―metaphysical and moral aspects‖ ( Origins 87), which are more relevant to
the present argument. Even though Rousseau marks this turning point in his attention, he has
already suggested one important characteristic. First of all, he has determined that natural man
was solitary and did not exist as a member of a tribe or clan. Civilized man, obviously, lives in
close proximity to others of his kind and is a social creature. As has been previously suggested,
this proximity is, according to Rousseau, the cause of his degradation. And as the following
paragraphs prove, it is also the root from which all the other traits arise.
Rousseau clearly asserts in the Second Discourse that natural man is pleased with
himself; that is, he is satisfied with who he is and exhibits what Rousseau later calls, in Émile ,
amour de soi . In the discourse he says, ―Self-love is a natural sentiment which prompts every
animal to watch over its own conservation and which, directed in man by reason and modified by
pity, produces humanity and virtue‖ ( Origins 167). Having little contact with others of his kind,
he makes no comparisons of himself with them. Rousseau states, ―. . . with each individual
regarding himself as the sole spectator by whom he is observed and the sole judge of his own
merit, it follows that a sentiment which has its origins in comparisons he is unable to make
[pride, or amour propre ] could not possibly begin to exist in his soul‖ ( Origins 167-168). On the
other hand, pride, he says, is ―only a relative, artificial sentiment born in society, a sentiment
which prompts each individual to attach more importance to himself than to anyone else‖
( Origins 167). And he later teaches Émile, ―Man is very strong when he is contented with being
what he is; he is very weak when he wants to raise himself above humanity‖ ( Émile 81). Pride,
then, only possible where men are in proximity to each other, is a characteristic of the civilized
man, a characteristic that leads to the development of several more prominent traits.
Pride, of course, is a result of comparison, and comparison, according to Rousseau, gives
way to competition. In the natural development that Rousseau describes in the Second
Discourse, he says that as humans gathered into groups, ―Each began to look at the others and to
want to be looked at himself; and public esteem came to be prized‖ ( Origins 114). Eventually,
―this universal desire for reputation, honours and promotion, which devours us all . . . excites and
multiplies passions‖ ( Origins 133), and ―in turning all men into competitors, rivals or rather
enemies, it causes every day failures and successes and catastrophes of every sort by making so
many contenders run the same course . . .‖ ( Origins 133). Among civilized society, one of the
ways that humans began to think they could garner more ―public esteem‖ was to amass more and
more possessions. The desire for property thus grew, and not simply for the necessities of
subsistence. The natural man had been satisfied with the basics, as Rousseau shows in the
second paragraph of the Second Discourse: ―I see him satisfying his hunger under an oak,
quenching his thirst at the first stream, finding his bed under the same tree which provided his
meal; and, behold, his needs are furnished‖ ( Origins 81). Conversely, the civilized man cannot
be satisfied with the necessities:
. . . In the first place it is a question of providing what is necessary, next what is
superfluous, then afterwards come luxuries, then immense riches, then subjects, then
slaves; man in society does not have a moment of respite. What is the more singular is
that the less natural and urgent the needs, the more the desires increase, and what is
worse, so does the power to satisfy them; so that after a long experience of prosperity,
and after having consumed many treasures and distressed many men, my hero will end by
cutting every throat until he is the soul master of the universe. Such is the moral portrait,
if not of human life, at least of the secret ambitions of the heart of every civilized man.
( Origins 148-149)
This idea of luxury is one that pervades all of Rousseau‘s works. In the First Discourse,
he claims that the arts and sciences are luxuries in society. And as he was previously quoted as
saying there, the spread of luxury results in a decrease in virtue ( Moral Effects 15). We see this
theme carried on in Julie , when St. Preux remarks, ―. . . the primary needs, or at least the most
obvious ones, are those of a beneficent heart, and as long as there is someone who lacks
necessities, what honorable man has any surplus?‖ ( Julie 189). Furthermore, Rousseau says in
Émile ,
Do you know the surest means of making your child miserable? It is to accustom him to
getting everything; since his desires grow constantly due to the ease of satisfying them,
sooner or later powerlessness will force you, in spite of yourself, to end up with a refusal.
And this unaccustomed refusal will give him more torment than being deprived of what
he desires. First, he will want the cane you are holding; soon he will want your watch;
after that he will want the bird flying by; he will want the star he sees shining; he will
want everything he sees. Without being God, how will you content him? ( Émile 87)
He goes on later in Émile to comment, ―The propriety, the fashions, and the customs which
derive from luxury and high style confine the course of life to the dullest uniformity. The
pleasure one wants to enjoy in others‘ eyes is lost for everyone; it is enjoyed neither by them nor
by oneself‖ ( Émile 351). Competition, then, based on the number of ―luxuries‖ one possesses, is
a losing battle, but in spite of this fact, greed increases, and there is a constant desire among the
civilized for more material wealth.
But there is another way, according to Rousseau, that humans attempt to rise in the
esteem of others, closely connected to the one just discussed. Not only did man develop into a
being who wanted to have more; he was now one who wanted to be more, or at least to appear to
be more than he was. In the Second Discourse, Rousseau states:
Behold all the natural qualities called into action, the rank and destiny of each man
established, not only as to the quantity of his possessions and his power to serve or to
injure, but as to intelligence, beauty, strength, skill, merit or talents; and since these
qualities were the only ones that could attract consideration it soon became necessary
either to have them or to feign them. It was necessary in one‘s own interest to seem to be
other than one was in reality. Being and appearance became two entirely different things
. . . ( Origins 119)
In order to accomplish this goal, civilized man learned to wear masks. This discrepancy between
appearance and reality, represented by the metaphor of the mask, is a concept that recurs in
Rousseau‘s works.
In the Second Preface of Julie , Rousseau says, ―Trying to be what we are not, we come to
believe ourselves different from what we are, and that is the way to go mad‖ ( Julie 15). This
statement foreshadows the prevalence of this idea in the novel, especially during the time that St.
Preux lives in Paris and writes about the society of which he is a part there. He reports, ―. . .
everyone puts himself constantly in contradiction with himself, without it occurring to anyone to
find this wrong. They have principles for conversation and others for practice; the contrast
scandalizes no one, and it is agreed that there should be no resemblance between them‖ ( Julie
192-193). He goes on to say, ―Thus the men to whom you are speaking are not the ones with
whom you converse; their sentiments do not emanate from the heart, their perceptions are not in
their minds, their words do not represent their thoughts, all you see of them is their shape . . .‖
( Julie 193). The motivation for this superficiality, according to St. Preux, is simply so an
individual can fit in with the society around him. He says, ―. . . No man dares to be himself.
One must do as the others do , is the primary maxim of wisdom in this country‖ ( Julie 203). St.
Preux is drawn into this superficiality and begins to assume a mask in order to conform to
Parisian society but fortunately returns to the country before he is permanently affected.
In Émile , Rousseau instructs,
Let him [the student] know that man is naturally good . . . But let him see that society
depraves and perverts men; let him find in their prejudices the source of all their vices . . .
let him see that all men wear pretty much the same mask, but let him also know that there
are faces more beautiful than the mask covering them. ( Émile 237)
This connection between the mask and vice is an idea repeated from the Second Discourse.
There, Rousseau states that from the distinction between appearance and reality ―arose insolent
ostentation, deceitful cunning and all the vices that follow in their train‖ ( Origins 119). The
ultimate result of this incongruity, Rousseau says, is this:
Finally, a devouring ambition, the burning passion to enlarge one‘s relative fortune, not
so much from a real need as to put oneself ahead of others, inspires in all men a dark
propensity to injure one another, a secret jealousy which is all the more dangerous in that
it often assumes the mask of benevolence in order to do its deeds in greater safety; in a
word, there is competition and rivalry on the one hand, conflicts of interest on the other,
and always the hidden desire to gain an advantage at the expense of other people.
( Origins 119)
In contrast, the natural man, happy and satisfied with both who he is and what he has, and living
in solitude, reflects simplicity and genuineness of character. In addition, he is innocent of the
vices that afflict the civilized man.
Summarizing the underlying reason for this pride, competition, greed and affinity for
luxury, and masks, Rousseau makes this statement in the Second Discourse:
He [a ―Carib‖; i.e., natural man] would have to know that there is a class of men who
attach importance to the gaze of the rest of the world . . . Such is, in fact, the true cause of
all these differences: the savage lives within himself; social man lives always outside
himself; he knows how to live only in the opinion of others, it is, so to speak, from their
judgment alone that he derives the sense of his own existence . . . It is not my subject here
to . . . show how, as a result of always asking others what we are and never daring to put
the question to ourselves in the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, civility and so
many sublime maxims, we have only façades, deceptive and frivolous, honour without
virtue, reasons without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. It is enough for me to
have proved that this is not at all the original state of man, and that it is only the spirit of
society together with the inequality that society engenders which changes and corrupts in
this way all our natural inclinations. ( Origins 136-137)
Interestingly, Rousseau writes mostly about these characteristics of the civilized man,
saying relatively little about the traits of the natural man. As stated earlier, we know that he
lived in solitude away from others, that he was satisfied with himself, that he was satisfied with
necessities of life, that he was genuine. There is, however, one other characteristic that Rousseau
specifically mentions: compassion. Whereas the civilized man sees others as creatures to be
used and abused for his own advancement, the natural man has ―an innate repugnance against
seeing a fellow creature suffer‖ ( Origins 99). Rousseau continues:
. . . all the social virtues . . . flow from this quality alone. In fact, what are generosity,
mercy and humanity but compassion applied to the weak, to the guilty or to the human
race in general? Benevolence, and even friendship, correctly understood, is only the
outcome of constant compassion directed towards a particular object; for is desiring that a
person should not suffer other than desiring that he should be happy? ( Origins 100)
He goes on to say:
It is pity which carries us without reflection to the aid of those we see suffering; it is pity
which in the state of nature takes the place of laws, morals and virtues, with the added
advantage that no one there is tempted to disobey its gentle voice; it will always dissuade
a robust savage from robbing a weak child or a sick old man of his hard-won sustenance
if he has hope of finding his own elsewhere; it is pity which, in place of that noble maxim
of rational justice ‗Do unto others as you would have them do unto you‘, inspires all men
with this other maxim of natural goodness, much less perfect but perhaps more useful:
‗Do good to yourself with as little possible harm to others.‘ ( Origins 101)
Rousseau maintains that this quality is ―strong in savage man, and developed but weak in
civilized man‖ ( Origins 100). Because of civilized man‘s highly developed use of reason and
philosophy, he can
say in secret at the sight of another suffering: ‗Perish if you will; I am safe.‘ No longer
can anything but dangers to society in general disturb the tranquil sleep of the
philosopher or drag him from his bed. A fellow-man may with impunity be murdered
under his window, for the philosopher has only to put his hands over his ears and argue a
little with himself to prevent nature, which rebels inside him, from making him identify
himself with the victim of the murder. ( Origins 101)
This lack of active compassion is in keeping with civilized man‘s self-absorption and
competitive spirit.
Compassion and benevolence are qualities that Rousseau also propounds to his student in
Émile. Again, he says that pity is ―the first relative sentiment which touches the human heart
according to the order of nature‖ ( Émile 222). He instructs the teacher to
lavish the influence of your pupil‘s parents in favor of the weak man to whom justice is
denied and who is crushed by the powerful man. Loudly proclaim yourself the protector
of the unfortunate. Be just, humane, and beneficent. Give not only alms; give charity.
Works of mercy relieve more ills than does money. Love others, and they will love you.
( Émile 95)
The objective of such teaching is to bring ―the love of humanity to the depths of one‘s heart. It is
in doing good that one becomes good . . . Busy your pupil with all the good actions within his
reach. Let the interest of the indigents always be his. Let him assist them not only with his purse
but with his care‖ ( Émile 250). Having referred in the Second Discourse to the assumption by
civilized men of a mask of benevolence, easily worn when it is only a matter of giving alms or
tossing coins at a beggar, he clarifies here what he means by true benevolence and compassion in
a civilized society.
Obviously there are many more components to Rousseau‘s philosophy than have been
discussed here, and many more factors involved in the development of the natural man into the
civilized man. However, how man theoretically evolved from being natural to being civilized,
while interesting as a philosophical concept, is not relevant to our purposes in this study. Based
on our examination of several of Rousseau‘s works, we can conclude that the following elements
are pertinent to our present study of the novels of Dickens:
A belief in the natural goodness of humanity
A belief in the corruption of humanity by society and its institutions
A belief in redemptive possibilities for corrupted humanity
The superiority of the country (natural) over the city (civilized)
Natural man as a being displaying the following characteristics: solitary existence;
satisfaction with self ( amour de soi ); satisfaction with basic necessities; genuineness of
character; measurement of self worth based on inner feelings; innocence and freedom
from vice; and compassion
Civilized man as a being displaying the following characteristics: communal existence
within cities and in close proximity to others; pride ( amour propre ); lack of satisfaction
with basic necessities and a greedy desire for luxuries; masks worn to increase the esteem
of others or to disguise true motives; measurement of self worth based on the opinions of
others; participation in immoral or illegal conduct (vice); lack or denial of compassion
As the following chapters will show, the characteristics can also be found in the novels of
Charles Dickens; thus, we may say that there is a clear affinity between the philosophies, as well
as the characters, of Dickens and Rousseau.
That Dickens believed in the natural goodness of humankind is a rarely disputed fact.
Evidence not only in his novels but in his letters and speeches indicates his ―boundless hope in
the human heart‖ (Hardy, The Writer and His Work 74; The Later Novels 21-22), as well as his
appreciation for the characteristics that reveal this goodness. Defined in various ways by critics,
the real heroes of Dickens‘s novels are sometimes but not always the protagonists—they are, to
use Rousseau‘s terminology, the natural men (and women).
Critics through the decades have studied Dickens‘s characters and attempted to define,
through various means, the thematic objectives of his characterization. G. K. Chesterton, for
instance, says that Dickens was ―the living expression‖ of the tenets of democracy, even with its
―exaggerations—failure to understand original sin, notions that education would make all men
good, the childlike yet pedantic philosophies of human perfectibility. But the whole was full of a
faith in the infinity of human souls . . .‖ ( Critical Study 13-14). Humphry House posits that
instead of joining or initiating a political party, Dickens tried in his novels to portray ―a kind of
human being which might become a focus of reformist sentiment. If everybody were like this,
he seemed to say, the complex evils of the world would automatically be cured . . .‖ (50). House
His problem was to construct a general ideal of character and action which should neither
make prominent those traits of human nature emphasized by any doctrinaire party, nor
advocate the practical policy of any labeled group . . . The only other course open to him
was to take the commonest and simplest sorts of human kindness and show them
intensified. (51)
Donald Stone writes of Dickens‘s yearning for ―an uncomplicated form of existence in which
man‘s innately benign disposition will be allowed to flourish without hindrance from higher
authorities‖ (250), the same longing expressed by Rousseau. Steven Marcus expresses Dickens‘s
objective in Christian terms, saying that his good characters display ―a kind of primitive
Christianity whose foremost article of faith is that the meek shall inherit the earth‖ (73). In The
City of Dickens , Alexander Welsh employs the allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress to delineate
Dickens‘s extraordinarily good characters as those who reject the Earthly City and aspire to the
Heavenly City. Similarly, Roselee Robison borrows terminology from the eighteenth century,
dubbing the character type under discussion the ―Man of Feeling,‖ who was, she says, ―a
composite of readily definable virtues, which included an unlimited capacity for immediate and
instinctive compassion; an ability to share joys as well as the sorrows of others . . .‖ and whose
―innocence and goodness‖ Dickens ―inseparately linked with self-sacrifice‖ (262-63).
Concurring with Marcus‘s opinion that Dickens‘s characterization is based on his religious
beliefs, Dennis Walder qualifies Dickens‘s ideal as ―innocent good nature rather than a subtle
moral intelligence‖ (40). Spilka, pointing back to the eighteenth century for Dickens‘s source, as
do Palmer and Robison, calls this character type ―the Benevolent Man‖ (170). Finally, Josephine
Guy uses half of her own dichotomy to describe Dickens‘s good characters, the ―moral man‖ (as
opposed to the ―economic man‖). Comparing Dickens to Mrs. Gaskell, Guy goes on to say that
both authors use plot devices borrowed from melodrama and romance to ―[examine] the
resilience of moral integrity in extreme situations‖ (152). In Guy‘s assessment we see the
primary reason for critical rejection of these ―unnaturally‖ good characters: the alleged lack of
realism in their portrayal.
Contrary to this criticism, and to those critics who would charge that Dickens rejected the
idea of natural goodness (Magnet and Meckier, for example), there is evidence both that Dickens
did, indeed, believe in natural goodness, and that his characters merely display qualities that he
appreciated in the actual people with whom he came in contact. In a speech given in Edinburgh
on 25 June 1841, he speaks of ―that soul of goodness which the Creator has put in them‖
( Speeches 55), that is, the poor. He continues this theme in a dinner speech given in Boston the
following January:
These creatures have the same elements and capacities of goodness as yourselves, they
are moulded in the same form, and made of the same clay; and though ten times worse
than you, may, in having retained anything of their original nature amidst the trials and
distresses of their condition, be really ten times better. ( Speeches 65-66)
Letters reveal that Dickens admired many of the qualities by which Rousseau defined his
natural man. Writing to John Overs in October 1840, Dickens defends his choice of Samuel
Rogers as the dedicatee of Master Humphrey :
I do not know and have never known a man on whom riches and honors have had less
corrupting influence [measurement of self based on inner feelings] than the venerable old
gentleman who is the subject of our discussion. I do not know and have never known a
more amiable, charitable [compassion], or just man in all he says and does. A kinder-
hearted or more gentle creature [compassion] I have never seen. And that he does, every
day, a thousand worthy and generous acts [again, compassion]. ( Letters II.140)
In mid 1841, Dickens wrote to John Forster, again on the defensive, this time of his portrayal of
Lord George Gordon in Barnaby Rudge :
Say what you please of Gordon, he must have been at heart a kind man, and a lover of the
despised and rejected, after his own fashion [compassion]. He lived upon a small
income, and always within it [satisfaction with basic necessities]; was known to relieve
the necessities of many people . . . and did great charities in Newgate [compassion].
( Letters II.294-295)
Before and during his first trip to America, Dickens‘s letters depict an initially positive
impression of the Americans. Letters he had received from readers of The Old Curiosity Shop
reveal ―simple and honest hearts‖ [genuineness of character and innocence] that leave Dickens
―inexpressibly moved‖ (Letter to Lewis Gaylord Clark, 28 September 1841, Letters II.394).
After actually arriving in America, he writes numerous letters extolling the virtues of the
Americans he has encountered. To Albany Fonblanque he praises the ―warmth of heart
[compassion]‖ and the ―earnestness‖ [genuineness of character], and says that Americans are
―generous, hospitable, affectionate, and kind‖ [compassion] (March 1842, Letters III.119-120).
In similar letters to Forster and to George Macready, he again describes the Americans as
―affectionate and generous,‖ ―kind,‖ ―warm-hearted,‖ ―open-hearted‖ [compassionate], ―earnest‖
and ―frank‖ [genuineness of character] (15 and 22 March 1842, Letters III.132-134, 158). He
even goes so far as to tell Macready, ―I have seen none of that greediness [lack of which
indicates satisfaction with basic necessities] and indecorum on which travelers have laid so much
emphasis‖ ( Letters III.158).
Of course, Dickens‘s impressions of the Americans changed quickly. However, his
appreciation of ―natural‖ qualities did not. In a speech given at the Second Exhibition of the
Royal Academy on 2 May 1870, one month before he died, Dickens praises these qualities as
exhibited in his friend, the late Daniel Maclise: the ―gentlest [compassion] and most modest of
men‖ [ amour de soi , measurement of self worth by inner feelings], ―the frankest [genuineness]
and largest-hearted‖ [compassion], ―incapable of a sordid or ignoble thought‖ [innocence and
freedom from vice], ―without one grain of self-ambition‖ [ amour de soi ], in summary,
―wholesomely natural at the last as at the first . . .‖ ( Speeches 332).
How ever direct Dickens‘s description of real people in his letters and speeches, it is of
course in his novels that we see the clearest illustrations of the character traits that comprise his
ideal and that parallel those of Rousseau‘s natural man. First, Rousseau‘s man lived in solitude,
and only when he came into contact with others was he corrupted. While we rarely see
Dickens‘s characters in actual solitude, we may assert that they are solitary because they are
natural in a civilized world, that they are outside the mainstream of society by virtue of their very
naturalness. We may also assert that most of them ultimately repair to a suburb, the country, or
some other setting beyond the reach of urban corruption. But we also must admit that in order to
truly gauge their natural goodness, we must see them within the context of that corrupted setting,
interacting with those corrupted characters. Just as Milton‘s Eve argues in Paradise Lost , ―. . .
what is faith, love, virtue unassay‘d?/Alone, without exterior help sustained?‖ (IX.335-36), we
must observe the behavior that proves Guy‘s ―resilience of moral integrity in extreme situations‖
Some of these ―extreme situations‖ entail an introduction and temptation to vice, and it is
the resistance and resilience that delineate the truly natural man. From the simple innocence of
Pickwick and Oliver Twist through that of Noddy Boffin, we see characters who, according to
House, ―seem to act as they do because they cannot act otherwise. Not one of them has a moral
policy, or a considered opinion about why he does good. They seem to have no temptations,
difficulties, or struggles . . .‖ (39). At the same time, these characters often are so unaware of the
corruptive forces at work in their world that they are completely taken aback when faced with
them. They are not, however, caught off guard to the point that they are taken in by the
corruption, and they always retain their pure innocence, though they are perhaps a bit
While the civilized man exhibits inordinate greed and grasping for wealth, the natural
man is satisfied with life‘s basic necessities. In Dickens, the natural character values
relationships over wealth, love over money. While some admirable characters in the novels have
considerable wealth, they, according to House, ―have no style beyond kindness, no taste beyond
comfort . . .‖ (61). House goes on to say that they ―are great spenders: they pay good wages, lend
on generous terms, give large amounts away‖ (63). We see this vividly portrayed in Pickwick,
the Cheerybles, and the Fezziwigs. Perhaps, though, it is Paul Dombey who best expresses this
attitude: ―I mean. . . to put my money all together in one Bank, never try to get any more, go
away into the country with my darling Florence, have a beautiful garden, fields, and woods, and
live there with her all my life!‖ ( DS 214). Paul‘s valuing of love over money is Dickens‘s ideal.
If, on the other hand, the natural man and woman do not have money with which to be generous,
or even if they do, they liberally give love to those who need it. The poor members of Sleary‘s
Circus in Hard Times believe without doubt that ―there ith a love in the world, not all Thelf-
interetht after all‖ ( HT 222), and it is this love that sustains them.
The remaining characteristics of Rousseau‘s natural man are all connected by a common
denominator: the way the character sees himself and other people, and the relationship between
the two. Rousseau‘s amour de soi (satisfaction with self) is best defined in Dickens‘s characters
as the absence of a need to prove himself or herself better than others. Its converse in the
civilized man is amour propre , or pride, discussed in Chapter Four. With the existing English
class system, as well as the rise of the middle class, Dickens often portrays the ambitious efforts
of his characters to rise above their current station, or if they cannot, to at least prove themselves
better than and higher on the social ladder than someone else. The natural characters, on the
other hand, exhibit no need to be better than others; they are satisfied with who they are and
accept their place on the social scale. They act according to an internal value system, a natural
integrity that does not rely on the opinions of others for validation. Kate (and to a degree
Nicholas) Nickleby, Mark Tapley, Tom Pinch, Joe Gargery, and Noddy Boffin exhibit these
characteristics in primarily positive ways. Again, this stepping outside of the mainstream may be
seen as a type of solitude.
Because the natural characters measure their self worth by internal standards and have no
need to compare themselves to or compete with others, they are not afraid to reveal themselves
genuinely to those with whom they come in contact. Unlike their civilized counterparts, they
eschew the donning of masks to make themselves appear more genteel, more wealthy, more
intelligent. While we might see Joe Gargery pathetically attempting to avoid embarrassing Pip
by assuming ―civilized‖ manners, or Noddy Boffin carrying out an extensive ―pious fraud,‖
these characters are generally who they really are, with no masks and no apologies. It was the
desire to fit into reigning society by becoming a unit identical to all others (wearing masks if
necessary) that Rousseau so vehemently rejects in Julie , and we see the same rejection in
But the trait of the natural man that truly distinguishes him from the civilized man,
according to Rousseau, is compassion. As he says in the Second Discourse, ―generosity, mercy,
and humanity . . . benevolence, and even friendship‖ are forms of compassion. And compassion,
most often termed ―benevolence,‖ is the natural quality most frequently emphasized in the novels
of Dickens. House posits that
the goodness of the leading Dickens moral characters, from Pickwick to Boffin, depends
on . . . personal affection and general philanthropy. . . The key to these characters is
‗benevolence‘ . . . It seems, in fact, as if this peculiar quality were certain to be
hereditary, so much was it a part of the nature of those who possessed it. (39-40)
House even goes so far as to delineate the ―main symptoms of Dickens benevolence‖ as
―generosity, in money, and in kindness that costs nothing‖; ―an acute feeling for suffering in all
forms, whether caused by poverty, sickness, cruelty (mental or physical) or injustice‖;
―righteous, if ineffectual, indignation against all anomalies, abuses, and inefficiency in social
organizations or government which cause suffering of any kind‖; and ―an equable and benign
temper in the benevolent person . . .‖ (46). According to House‘s definition, Dickens‘s
benevolence has as many facets as Rousseau‘s compassion. Palmer makes the point, too, that
benevolence is not only the province of Dickens‘s rich: ―. . . in the Dickens world the poor as
benevolists far outnumber the rich . . .‖ (19). He goes on to say, ―. . . the poor in the Dickens
world—Sam Weller, Newman Noggs in Nicholas Nickleby , a succession of ‗road‘ characters in
The Old Curiosity Shop , Mark Tapley in Martin Chuzzlewit , the Wooden Midshipman‘s family
in Dombey and Son —. . . best embody the Shaftsburian philosophy of natural benevolence‖ (31).
We often see in Dickens the association of compassion/benevolence with generosity,
often portrayed as charity. But just as Rousseau instructs Émile to help others not only ―with his
purse but with his care‖ ( Émile 250), Dickens‘s concept of charity goes beyond giving alms to
the poor, and certainly beyond institutionalized charity. According to Dennis Walder,
The term means more than the simple human virtue of benevolence, or giving alms to the
poor; it implies the more general motive of Christian love, expressed as a love of God
and one‘s nature . . . Dickens‘s charitable characters are not strictly Christian in their
performance of benevolent acts towards others, since these seem no more than
spontaneous expressions of their good nature, rather than reflections of a will dedicated to
God. But Dickens wishes to avoid the premeditativeness of doing good as a duty, as well
as any hint of excess—goodness which emerges as the natural expression of the
personality. (44-45)
Grahame Smith adds to Dickens‘s definition of charity, saying, ―In its finest form it was a
relationship, of however short a duration, which was as morally purifying to the giver as it was
practically beneficial to the receiver‖ (23). This is clearly displayed by Pickwick, the
Cheerybles, and even Scrooge after his redemptive experience.
A number of characters have been mentioned here as exhibiting one or more of these
traits. Having established previously that all the characters fall somewhere on a continuum, we
find that some fit the description more perfectly than others. In order to determine one‘s true
qualification as a ―natural man,‖ we must examine the evidence showing that particular
characters exhibit all of the characteristics set forth by Rousseau.
An examination of the novels in chronological order, as well as the previous discussion,
reveals, not surprisingly, Samuel Pickwick as the first natural man of Dickens‘s novels.
Pickwick is called by Marcus ―the incarnation of benevolence‖ (26); likewise, Palmer says that
―the natural benevolence of man [is] embodied in Pickwick‖ (21). Indeed, as the reader is told in
chapter II, ―Now general benevolence was one of the leading features of the Pickwickian theory‖
( PP 22). Several pages later we are told that ―Mr. Pickwick was the very personation of
kindness and humanity‖ ( PP 72). This characteristic in Pickwick, shown through his generosity,
compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and other qualities, is quite obviously his defining attribute.
At various times within the novel, Pickwick displays all of House‘s ―symptoms of
benevolence‖ (46). Perhaps the most common form is his generosity, both with his kindness and
his money. This is seen early on when he ―[pats] the rosy cheeks of the female servants‖ of
Manor Farm, and ―[slips] into the hands of each, some more substantial expressions of his
approval‖ ( PP 154). He gifts Isabella Wardle on her marriage to Mr. Trundle with ―a rich gold
watch and chain, which no mortal eyes but the jeweller‘s had ever beheld before‖ ( PP 418). The
most notable instances of Pickwick‘s generosity, however, come during his imprisonment in the
Fleet. Having requested a room by himself, he soon becomes aware that in attaining his desire,
he is displacing a Chancery prisoner whose term has already lasted twenty years. Seeing that the
man is ―tall, gaunt, cadaverous . . . with sunken cheeks‖ ( PP 652) indicative of starvation,
Pickwick pays him weekly rent for the room, also offering him use of the room when he needs to
escape the ―noisy crowded place‖ ( PP 653) to which he is now relegated.
Even more notable here, however, is the generosity that Pickwick shows toward his chief
antagonists—Alfred Jingle, Job Trotter, and Mrs. Bardell. Finding them all fellow inmates in the
Fleet, Pickwick responds in a way that is true to his benevolent nature, but far from the world‘s
expectations. He confronts Job:
―Come here, sir,‖ said Mr. Pickwick, trying to look stern, with four large tears
running down his waistcoat. ―Take that, Sir.‖
Take what? In the ordinary acceptation of such language, it should have been a
blow. As the world runs, it ought to have been a sound, hearty cuff; for Mr. Pickwick
had been duped, deceived, and wronged by the destitute outcast who was now wholly in
his power. Must we tell the truth? It was something from Mr. Pickwick‘s waistcoat
pocket, which chinked as it was given into Job‘s hand: and the giving which, somehow
or other imparted a sparkle to the eye, and a swelling to the heart of our excellent old
friend, as he hurried away. ( PP 659)
This is only the beginning of Pickwick‘s generous treatment of Jingle and Job. While they are in
prison, he provides for them food and a room (as opposed to a ―kennel‖), and gives them money
to recover their clothing from the pawnbroker. But going remarkably further, Pickwick pays the
amount necessary for their release from the Fleet, and secures, through Perker, positions for both
of them on an estate in Demerara.
Pickwick is not quite so eager and quick to relieve Mrs. Bardell when Dodson and Fogg
have her imprisoned for failure to pay their fees for her lawsuit. However, through Perker‘s
persistence, Pickwick‘s true nature wins out. It is actually Perker‘s appeal to another of House‘s
types of benevolence, the ―righteous indignation‖ against institutions causing suffering, that calls
forth Pickwick‘s forgiveness and monetary generosity. Perker refers to the prison as a ―den of
wretchedness‖ ( PP 724), and pleads,
―You have now an opportunity, on easy terms, of placing yourself in a much higher
position than you ever could by remaining here . . . Can you hesitate to avail yourself of it
. . . when it enables you to take the very magnanimous revenge—which I know, my dear
Sir, is one after your own heart—of releasing this woman from a scene of misery and
debauchery, to which no man should ever be consigned if I had my will, but the infliction
of which, on any female, is frightful and barbarous . . .‖ ( PP 725-26)
By paying the costs of the lawsuit, Pickwick, of course, frees both Mrs. Bardell and himself,
which he does largely due to his compassion toward another soul in need of assistance, Arabella
Allen Winkle. Arabella, newly married to Winkle, appeals to Pickwick, ―. . . I had hoped that
what no consideration for yourself would induce you to do, a regard to our happiness might‖ ( PP
731), that is, to break the news of the marriage to her brother Benjamin and his cohort, Bob
Sawyer. Never one to miss an opportunity of facilitating true love, Pickwick pays the court
costs, despite the fact that Dodson and Fogg are the recipients, thus freeing Mrs. Bardell and
himself so that he can follow through in fulfilling Arabella‘s request. We might safely
conjecture that did not Arabella arrive at the moment she does, Pickwick‘s natural compassion
and Perker‘s argument would still win out in favor of Mrs. Bardell.
Pickwick‘s benevolence in prison goes beyond these particular instances. As he leaves
the Fleet, ―In all the crowd of wan emaciated faces, he [sees] not one which [is] not the happier
for his sympathy and charity‖ ( PP 723). He is, we are told, ―far more sad and melancholy, for
the moment, than when he had first entered it. Alas! how many sad and unhappy beings had he
left behind!‖ ( PP 723). But his acts of benevolence continue unabated outside of the prison
From the early chapters in the novel to the very end, Pickwick displays the type of
benevolence that most closely matches compassion itself. He acutely feels the suffering of
others, as we have seen in his response to the Chancery prisoner, Jingle, Job, and Arabella.
Whether the pain is the result of Jingle‘s taunting of Tupman by stealing his money and his love
interest and calling him ―Tuppy‖ (Chapter IX), or if it is the more serious anguish of the almost-
disinherited Winkle and his wife, Pickwick certainly acutely feels their suffering. His ire is
aroused in the former instance, but we see the ascendancy of his ―equable and benign temper‖
(House‘s fourth symptom) as he ―[bottles] up his vengeance, and [corks] it down‖ ( PP 135). He
displays similar control in Eatanswill, when the unruly crowd casts aspersions on himself and
Mrs. Pott:
As these taunts were accompanied with invidious comparisons between Mr.
Pickwick and an aged ram, and several witticisms of the like nature; and as they
moreover rather tended to convey reflections upon the honour of an innocent lady, Mr.
Pickwick‘s indignation was excessive; but as silence was proclaimed at the moment, he
contented himself by scorching the mob with a look of pity for their misguided minds, at
which they laughed more boisterously than ever. ( PP 192)
Numerous other examples show Pickwick responding to the suffering of others with a violent
threat against the perpetrator, but he never carries it out.
Dickens‘s final presentation of Pickwick‘s benevolence and compassion is seen in his
efforts to reconcile Winkle and his father (and his willingness to support the couple if the efforts
are ineffectual), as well as the aid he gives to Sam and Mary to enable their eventual marriage.
As he says, ―The happiness of young people . . . has ever been the chief pleasure of my life‖ ( PP
871), in effect bringing the novel to a Shakespearean close, with multiple couples finding true
love and happiness, and Pickwick satisfied enough to retire. Of course, even in his retirement,
his benevolence continues; we are told, ―He is known by all the poor people about, who never
fail to take their hats off as he passes with great respect‖ ( PP 877).
If, as Sam Weller says, Pickwick is ―a reg‘lar thorough-bred angel‖ ( PP 704) showing
extraordinary capacity for benevolence, he also exhibits the other characteristics of the natural
man, two of which are outgrowths of this compassion. First, as Pickwick has been a social and
highly compassionate man throughout the story, culminating in his exceptional show of
generosity and benevolence while in prison, he develops what is known to mental health
professionals as ―compassion fatigue,‖ and thus seeks and maintains a solitary existence within
the Fleet. Upon arrival there he had made arrangements for private lodgings, but now he vows to
―be a prisoner in [his] own room‖ ( PP 707). He says, ―I have seen enough . . . My head aches
with these scenes, and my heart too‖ ( PP 707 ), so for the next three months he stays to himself,
locked in his room. Likewise, after his release from the Fleet and after settling the Winkles‘
marital matters, seeing the Snodgrasses happily wed, and tying up other loose ends, Pickwick
disbands the Pickwick Club and seeks relative solitude and quiet in his home in Dulwich, a
suburb of London. Having spent, as he says, ―the greater part of two years . . . mixing with
different varieties and shades of human character‖ ( PP 872), he now settles down to live out his
days with only those closest to him.
The second characteristic concomitant to Pickwick‘s benevolence is his satisfaction with
the basic necessities of life. Dressed in the outdated style of tights and gaiters, Pickwick has no
desire to keep up with society, and expresses his happiness, early on, simply with hearth and
home on Goswell Street: ―As well might I be content to gaze on Goswell-street for ever, without
one effort to penetrate to the hidden countries which on every side surround it‖ ( PP 8). His
generosity toward those he loves, as well as those he does not, also indicates that money is of no
interest to him for its own sake; the only good of the vast amount he has apparently amassed over
the years is the good it can do others. When Tony Weller tries, slyly, to give Pickwick his
money, ostensibly for safe keeping, Pickwick tells him, ―I assure you, my good friend, I have
more money than I can ever need; far more than a man at my age can ever live to spend‖ ( PP
861). In response to Tony‘s observation that no one ―knows how much he can spend till he
tries,‖ he goes on to say, ―Perhaps not . . . but as I have no intention of trying any such
experiments, I am not likely to come to want‖ ( PP 861). Despite his protests, he eventually takes
the money, telling Weller, ―I can do more good with it, perhaps, than you can‖ ( PP 862).
Obviously, money is not what drives Pickwick, and as the entire story presents, the love and
esteem of his friends is of most value to him. Upon Sam‘s declaration of his intent to marry
Mary, we are told, ―He [Pickwick] derived at that moment more pride and luxury of feeling from
the disinterested attachment of his humble friends, than ten thousand protestations from the
greatest men living could have awakened in his heart‖ ( PP 866). The friendship of Sam,
Wardle, Tupman, Snodgrass, Winkle, and a host of others is the basic necessity of life for
In addition to his being satisfied with these basics, Pickwick is also satisfied with himself,
that is, he displays amour de soi . One indicator of this virtue is the lack of competitive spirit,
due to the sense that one has no need to prove himself better than others. Pickwick‘s lack of this
spirit is signified during his stay in Bath when he plays cards with ―three thorough-paced female
card-players‖ who are ―so desperately sharp‖ and take the game so seriously that Pickwick is
stunned and frightened by their ferocious competition ( PP 550), and thus ineffectual as a player.
But despite the fact that Pickwick shows no need to compete, at other times his expressed
feelings come dangerously close to pride; still, we are always led to interpret them as simple
affection and appreciation for those who honor him, not so much for the honor itself. For
instance, at the meeting of the Pickwick Club in Chapter I, Pickwick is quoted as saying:
. . . if ever the fire of self-importance broke out in his bosom the desire to benefit the
human race in preference, effectually quenched it. . . He had felt some pride—he
acknowledged it freely; and let his enemies make the most of it—he had felt some pride
when he presented his Tittlebatian Theory to the world . . . but if the fame of that treatise
were to extend to the farthest confines of the known world, the pride with which he
should reflect on the authorship of that production, would be as nothing compared with
the pride with which he looked around him, on this, the proudest moment of his
existence. (Cheers.) He was a humble individual . . . ( PP 6)
In this instance, when Pickwick admits his pride in his accomplishments, he might seem to be
glorying in the accolades he is receiving; on the other hand, this praise is quickly disputed by Mr.
Blotton‘s charge that Pickwick is a ―humbug,‖ but only, he admits, in a ―Pickwickian sense‖
( PP 7). Pickwick‘s moment of glory ends with a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and the
question of Pickwick‘s pride forgotten.
In a later chapter, after discovering ―a strange and curious inscription of unquestionable
antiquity‖ ( PP 158), Pickwick ―[looks] around him. The attachment and fervour of his
followers, [lights] up a glow of enthusiasm within him. He [is] their leader, and he [feels] it‖
( PP 158). Exactly how he ―feels‖ his leadership is unclear, and he might certainly be feeling
pride of position; however, knowing what we know of his affection for his three friends, we can
easily interpret his enthusiasm as simple reciprocation of the ―attachment and fervour‖ they feel
for him. In addition, given the fact that Blotton is soon to discredit his discovery, we might
allow him this moment of pride. But when he responds to Blotton‘s criticism by ―[causing] a
portrait of himself to be painted, and hung up in the club-room‖ ( PP 168), we must wonder again
if this is true pride, or simply his own response to the love and support of his followers.
According to Rousseau, however, true pride ( amour propre ) involves a need for competition
between oneself and others, a need to prove oneself better than others; Pickwick, a non-
competitor, refuses to engage with Blotton, although the narrator declares Pickwick the winner
of the battle, noting ―Mr. Pickwick‘s greatness‖ as opposed to ―the littleness of his enemies‖ ( PP
In this incident Pickwick also demonstrates, along with amour de soi , his internal value
system, upon which his self concept is based. This characteristic of the natural man means that a
character relies on his own self evaluation rather than the opinions of others for his self worth.
While Pickwick obviously enjoys the esteem shown to him by his followers, we have no
indication that Pickwick needs that esteem to bolster his own self concept. In addition, whereas
the civilized man must compare himself to others to determine how he measures up, the natural
man does not. As a result, the natural man feels no need to recognize or enforce class
distinctions. In Chapter XXXV, again during the sojourn in Bath, Pickwick is unimpressed with
the members of high society to whom he is introduced; to him, the Dowager Lady
Snuphanuph is merely ―the fat old lady,‖ and Young Lord Mutanhed is ―the one with the long
hair, and the particularly small forehead‖ ( PP 548). Pickwick exhibits his disregard for class
boundaries most thoroughly in his relationship with Sam, but Dickens also gives us an overt
statement when the ―poor relations‖ arrive for the marriage of Emily Wardle and Augustus
Snodgrass: ―They were welcomed heartily though, for riches or poverty had no influence on Mr.
Pickwick‖ ( PP 873).
Because of his natural view of himself, Pickwick feels no need to wear a mask in order to
appear different than he is. In fact, his resistance to such pretension even goes so far that he will
not appear in costume at Mrs. Leo Hunter‘s fancy-dress breakfast. At her suggestion that he
dress as another great club founder such as Plato, Zeno, Epicurus, or Pythagoras, Pickwick
replies, ―. . . as I cannot put myself in competition with those great men, I cannot presume to
wear their dresses‖ ( PP 216), again demonstrating his desire to avoid competition as well as,
perhaps, his healthy (or humble?) self image. In everyday circumstances, Pickwick is most
transparent. His facial expressions usually belie his emotions: he ―beams‖ when he is happy, his
face ―[colours] up to the very tips of his spectacles‖ when he is angry ( PP 135), and ―the tears
roll down his cheeks, in the fullness of his joy‖ when he is moved beyond words ( PP 874).
Pickwick appears in stark contrast to almost everyone he meets, most of whom continually
attempt to appear to be someone or something they are not.
Finally, and in conjunction with his genuineness, we see Pickwick as a man who is
extremely innocent. Robison asserts, ―The profound innocence of . . . Mr. Pickwick is. . .
revealed by [his] endless enthusiasm for essentially childish amusements . . . [his] gleeful
participation in the Christmas festivities at Manor Farm stems from a similarly boyish nature‖
(267). But in addition to this childlike aspect of Pickwick‘s innocence, he is devoid of all vice,
and unable to fathom for a significant amount of the novel that some people in the world do not
exhibit the transparency, honesty, and integrity that are such significant parts of his personality.
Chesterton writes, ―Pickwick goes through life with that god-like gullibility which is the key to
all adventures‖ ( Critical Study 98). Because of his gullibility, naïveté, and innocence, Pickwick
is often duped, beginning with the fiasco with Mrs. Bardell and the law-sharks Dodson and Fogg.
Likewise, Pickwick is completely taken in by Job Trotter‘s tears when they first meet. ―You are
a very good fellow,‖ he tells Job, ―an honest fellow‖ ( PP 237), and he reproaches Sam for
showing ―so little respect for this young man‘s feelings‖ ( PP 237). But, Chesterton adds, ―The
greenhorn is the ultimate victor in everything; it is he that gets the most out of life . . .‖ ( Critical
Study 98). Walder believes that the ultimate test of Pickwick‘s innocence is his experience in the
Fleet: ―This experience does not entirely destroy his innocence, however; on the contrary, his
innocence miraculously includes and transcends what happens to him when he is sent to the
Fleet‖; although Pickwick, Walder says, ―‗[falls]‘ into a more mature or knowledgeable view of
things,‖ the reader comes to believe that ―there can be innocent happiness in this transitory
world‖ (22-23).
Were it not for the challenges and conflicts that Pickwick faces, the reader would not see
many of his natural qualities. Dickens needed, for instance, to contrast Pickwick‘s innocence
with the cunning of Jingle, his genuineness with the pretensions of Job (as well as of Pickwick‘s
own followers at times), his generous benevolence with the greed of Dodson and Fogg, in order
to fully prove Pickwick a natural man, outside society‘s norm.
In Oliver Twist , the contrasts are just as stark, except this time, we are not as surprised by
the innocence of the protagonist. At least at the beginning of the novel, Oliver has not had time
in his life to be anything but innocent, and he has not had opportunity or need to be anything but
genuine. However, growing up in a workhouse where he is cruelly treated, Oliver could easily
learn a need for others to determine his self worth, a desire for more than life‘s basic necessities
(even if he must start with more porridge), and indifference to the suffering of others, yet he does
not. Oliver is the true embodiment of Dickens‘s belief in natural goodness. Dickens himself
said that his idea for the novel was ―to show the principle of Good surviving through every
adverse circumstance‖ (qtd. in Lang vii), and thus Oliver represents ―ideal and incorruptible
innocence‖ (Marcus 79). Barbara Hardy has said, in Oliver Twist Dickens ―tells a truth about a
death struggle between nature and nurture, self and society‖ ( Writer and His Work 33). Since, as
Marcus says, ―there is nothing in his experience to account for what he is‖ (79-80), we must
assume that Oliver is good by virtue of his nature; he, although a child, meets the criteria for
Rousseau‘s ―natural man.‖
From the beginning, Oliver leads a solitary existence, forced upon him by the death of his
mother upon her giving birth to him. At her death he becomes ―a parish child—the orphan of a
workhouse . . . to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none‖
( OT 3), setting him for a childhood, at least, of loneliness and isolation in places ―where one kind
word or look . . . never lighted the gloom of his infant years‖ ( OT 8). After his egregious offense
of asking for more gruel, he becomes ―a close prisoner in the dark and solitary room to which he
had been consigned by the wisdom and mercy of the board‖ ( OT 12), at night ―drawing himself
closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the
gloom and loneliness which surrounded him‖ ( OT 13).
Oliver‘s removal from the workhouse takes him out of his solitude but places him in the
clutches of Fagin. After escaping one time and experiencing the first kind treatment of his life
from those in Mr. Brownlow‘s household, Oliver is re-snatched and returned to Fagin‘s den.
There, as punishment, Oliver suffers solitary confinement once again, being locked alone in the
den all day and into the night for a week in order to meet Fagin‘s purposes of ―[preparing] his
mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts
in such a dreary place‖ so that he could then ―[instill] into [Oliver‘s] soul the poison which he
hoped would blacken it‖ ( OT 120). Hardy comments, ―The child is being carefully brainwashed,
first cunningly cold-shouldered and isolated, then cunningly brought into the deadly warmth of
the thieves‘ family circle‖ ( Writer and His Work 33). Oliver takes refuge, however, in prayer,
and during the entire time Oliver is with Fagin, he prays that ―if any aid were to be raised up for
a poor outcast boy, who had never known the love of friends or kindred, it might come to him
now: when, desolate and deserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt‖ ( OT
130). These experiences of enforced solitude during his early years instill in him the desperate
desire to attain love and family appropriate for one who is so ideally good, thus allowing him to
escape his solitary existence for good. Fortunately for Oliver, his own natural virtue and his
recent experience of love and compassion from Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin fortify him for
the challenges he faces in the company of Fagin and his gang.
But, like Pickwick, Oliver is also solitary by virtue of his possessing the full array of
Rousseau‘s natural characteristics. We have mentioned previously his innocence, which Dickens
calls by name on a number of occasions; Toby Crackit even addresses him as ―innocence‖ ( OT
141) because of his ―inwalable mug‖ ( OT 141). We see this quality displayed most prominently
when Oliver is juxtaposed with Fagin and his gang members. Oliver interprets Fagin‘s cruel
punishment of the boys as his ―stern morality,‖ basing his interpretation on Fagin‘s own claims
of teaching them the precepts necessary for getting along in the (his) world. In conversations
with the Artful Dodger and Charley, Oliver demonstrates his lack of knowledge of criminal
terminology such as ―prig‖ ( OT 116) and ―scragging‖ ( OT 118). But more importantly than
these indicators is Oliver‘s utter horror when he confronts the reality of Fagin‘s expectations of
him. Finally allowed to venture out of the den with the Dodger and Charley, Oliver is
completely unprepared and appalled by what he sees:
What was Oliver‘s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with
his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand
into the old gentleman‘s pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand
the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both, running away round the
corner at full speed!
In an instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the
jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy‘s mind. He stood, for a moment, with the blood
so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire . . .
( OT 58)
Merely observing the criminal act of Dodger and Charley brings images of hell to the innocent
Oliver, as does his later reading of Fagin‘s book of criminal history. He falls to his knees and
―[prays] Heaven to spare him from such deeds‖ ( OT 130). And later, in Chapter XXII, when
Oliver accompanies Sikes and Toby on their night-time venture, he seems almost as stunned and
surprised by their purpose as he did with the Dodger and Charley, indicating that he is still as
innocent as the day he first arrived in London:
And now, for the first time, Oliver, well nigh mad with grief and terror, saw that
housebreaking and robbery, if not murder, were the objects of the expedition. He clasped
his hands together, and involuntarily uttered a subdued exclamation of horror. A mist
came before his eyes; the cold sweat stood upon his ashy face; his limbs failed him; and
he sunk upon his knees. ( OT 143)
Oliver‘s ―incorruptible innocence‖ (Marcus 79; Hardy, Writer and His Work 29 ) is demonstrated
in his ignorance of vice and criminal behavior, as well as his emotionally violent response when
he is exposed to it. Despite the efforts of Fagin and Monks to corrupt him, his innocence
remains intact throughout the novel.
Because Oliver is deprived of positive nurture for so much of his early childhood, his
staunch faith and unshakeable aversion to crime undoubtedly come from innate principles within
him. We are told in Chapter II that ―nobody had taught him‖ ( OT 9) how to pray, yet somewhere
and sometime Oliver develops proficiency in earnest prayer. Although he yearns so intently for
human love and companionship, he holds fast to his own standards in rejecting the relationships
offered to him by Fagin and his boys, preferring the solitary world of his prayers to the
contamination of the criminals. In the final chapters of the novel, we learn that Oliver‘s mother
had a ―gentle heart, and noble nature‖ ( OT 351), and by now we have seen the open-hearted
compassion of Rose Maylie, his aunt. Heredity and nature, therefore, are the explanation
Dickens gives for Oliver‘s exemplary behavior.
Apparently these forces account for others of Oliver‘s ―natural‖ characteristics. Oliver
longs for love, and a home, because he has never had either; however, beyond the basic
necessities, he expresses no desire for wealth or position, especially if achieving either means
sacrificing his values. The Dodger tell him that under Fagin, he can make his ―fortun‘ out of
hand‖ ( OT 117), and Charley follows, ―And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-
teel: as I mean to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever comes . . .‖ ( OT 117). But Oliver
responds, ―I don‘t like it . . . I wish they would let me go. I—I—would rather go‖ ( OT 117).
Seeing that Oliver is not tempted by money or position, the boys use other tactics. Dodger asks
him, ―Don‘t you take any pride out of yourself? Would you go and be dependent on your
friends?‖ ( OT 117). Once again Oliver, showing that he values his integrity more than the
opinions of others, turns the tables on the Dodger and asks, ―You can leave your friends, though,
. . . and let them be punished for what you did‖ ( OT 117), referring to his arrest after his first
seeing Charley and the Dodger pick a pocket. Oliver‘s retort has as little effect on Dodger as
Dodger‘s goading has on Oliver, and Dodger then appeals to Oliver‘s sense of competition:
―If you don‘t take pocket hankechers and watches . . . some other cove will; so
that the coves that lose ‘em will be all the worse, and you‘ll be all the worse too, and
nobody half a ha‘p‘orth the better, except the chaps wot gets them—and you‘ve just as
good a right to them as they have.‖ ( OT 118)
Oliver is spared having to make a response to this argument by the arrival of Fagin, but we may
rest assured that it would not have swayed him. In this particular interchange between the boys,
Oliver proves both his amour de soi and his satisfaction with basic necessities, like his
innocence, incorruptible. In the final chapter, Oliver again demonstrates his satisfaction with
basic necessities when he ―joyfully [accedes]‖ ( OT 365) to equally dividing the three thousand
pounds of his inheritance with his wicked stepbrother, Monks.
Evidence of Oliver‘s genuineness of character is seen throughout the novel in his
outpouring of heartfelt emotion and his honesty. When Mr. Losberne questions Oliver about the
housebreaking incident with Sikes, Dickens comments, ―. . . finding that Oliver‘s replies to his
questions, were still as straightforward and consistent, and still delivered with as much apparent
sincerity and truth, as they had ever been, he [Losberne] made up his mind to attach full credence
to them, from that time forth‖ ( OT 208). The reader is told of one incident in which Oliver
purposes to don a mask, the day of his departure from the ―baby farm‖:
Young as he was, however, he had sense enough to make a feint of feeling great regret at
going away. It was no very difficult matter for the boy to call the tears into his eyes.
Hunger and recent ill-usage are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very
naturally indeed. ( OT 8)
As Dickens indicates here, Oliver‘s tears are genuine, not a mask, but Mrs. Mann and Mr.
Bumble are free to interpret them as ―great regret‖ at leaving instead of the despondency that
they actually reveal.
Despite the dearth of compassion during his early years, Oliver displays an extraordinary
capacity for this emotion throughout the story. Oliver‘s one friend and playmate at the
workhouse is sickly Little Dick. The two commiserate with each other, and when Oliver runs
away from his apprenticeship with Sowerberry in Chapter VII, his one goodbye is to Dick. At
this juncture, Dick is the one showing compassion to Oliver, and Dick offers him the first
blessing he ―had ever heard invoked upon his head‖ ( OT 43). After Oliver‘s departure, Dick
requests that someone ―put a few words down‖ leaving his love to ―poor Oliver Twist‖ and
telling him ―that I was glad to die when I was very young . . .‖ ( OT 109). Later, in Chapter LI,
Oliver returns to his home town in the company of Rose, Mrs. Maylie, Mrs. Bedwin, and Mr.
Losberne, and his one concern is finding Dick. Remembering the blessing that Dick had given
him, Oliver proposes to Rose, ―. . . we‘ll—we‘ll take him away from here, and have him clothed
and taught, and send him to some quiet country place where he may grow strong and well . . .‖
( OT 348). However, Oliver‘s compassionate plans for Dick have come too late.
But if Oliver‘s compassion for Dick is rather unremarkable, that he shows to Fagin is
extraordinary. After Fagin is arrested, condemned, and imprisoned in Chapter LII, Mr.
Brownlow takes Oliver to visit him at Newgate. Oliver‘s desire is to say one prayer for Fagin,
and to assuage Fagin‘s fear by talking to him until the next morning, but Fagin only wants
Oliver‘s help to escape. In a final show of compassion, Oliver prays for him, ―God forgive this
wretched man!‖ (OT 364) and leaves. In praying for his former tormentor, Oliver is ―the vessel
of Grace‖ (Marcus 80), demonstrating not only his sympathy for Fagin‘s present fear, but also
his concern for the Jew‘s immortal soul.
As with Pickwick, Dickens is often criticized for his larger-than-life portrayal of Oliver.
Hardy posits, however, that with Oliver Twist Dickens was ―straddling fable and realism. It was
not his purpose to create a totally accurate portrait of a foundling, but to combine such a portrait
with an image of original virtue‖ ( Writer and His Work 32-33). And in so doing, Dickens
created a portrait of Rousseau‘s natural ―man.‖
One‘s first impulse in naming the natural man of Nicholas Nickleby most likely would be
to look to the Cheerybles, Ned and Charles. Indeed, critics such as Marcus and Cassotti point to
the charitable brothers as characters that fall into the too-good-to-be-credible category, but on
whom Dickens rests his theme of charity in the novel. On the other hand, we would also expect
Nicholas to be a likely candidate; after all, Dickens himself says in his ―Preface to the First
Cheap Edition, 1848‖ that he ―saw no reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature‖ ( NN
9), that is, why he should not have flaws, even though he is the hero of the novel. Yet even if we
disagree with Magnet‘s view that Nicholas displays innate Hobbesian aggressiveness, he does
behave more impetuously (and often more violently) than either Oliver, who displays little
impetuosity and even less tendency to violence, or Pickwick, who threatens violence but never
acts on his threats. Nevertheless, Nicholas exhibits all of the characteristics Rousseau
catalogued, and discussion here could turn now to an examination of that evidence. However,
one more character in the novel can be considered a natural man, and that character is a
woman—Kate Nickleby.
In the novels being examined in this study, few women demonstrate all of the ―natural‖
traits. Most who might come to mind are the stereotypical ―angels of the house,‖ epitomes of
compassion and patience, but few have enough opportunity outside the house to provide us with
evidence of the other characteristics. Kate, to the contrary, does.
Referred to more than once in the beginning of the novel as ―the timid country girl‖ ( NN
128), Kate has been wrenched out of her life in the country by the death of her father and placed
in the middle of London society. If she did not live in perfect solitude before coming to London,
she lived primarily in the bosom of her happy family, with no apparent need or desire to
intermingle with anyone else. In London, however, she is deprived of the presence of her
beloved brother and forced into society where she faces extreme humiliation as a seamstress with
Madame Mantalini, a companion to the ambitious Mrs. Wititterly, and a sexual pawn for her
uncle. In these situations she experiences loneliness even when surrounded by others, yet she
yearns not for companionship, but solitude. When Kate begins working at Madame Mantalini‘s,
Miss Knag tells her that
she would never do for the business, but that she need not give herself the slightest
uneasiness on this account, for that she (Miss Knag) by increased exertions on her own
part, would keep her as much as possible in the background, and that all she would have
to do would be to remain perfectly quiet before company, and to shrink from attracting
notice by every means in her power. This last suggestion was so much in accordance
with the timid girl‘s own feelings and wishes, that she readily promised implicit reliance
on the excellent spinster‘s advice . . . ( NN 215)
Not until Nicholas returns to the family in Chapter 38 does Kate
[begin] to enjoy a settled feeling of tranquility and happiness, to which, even in
occasional and transitory glimpses, she had long been a stranger. . . Her former
cheerfulness was restored, her step regained its elasticity and lightness, the colour which
had forsaken her cheek visited it once again . . . ( NN 462)
Given the choice between London and not-so-polite society, Kate clearly chooses solitude; but
with her family in virtual solitude is her obvious optimal choice.
Love of her mother and brother Nicholas, and memory of the love of her late father are
the basic necessities of Kate‘s life. As we can assume from the change in her behavior when
Nicholas returns from Dotheboys Hall, Kate is satisfied and contented as long as the remaining
members of her family are left alone and together. But because her father‘s death has left the
family destitute, Kate is forced during Nicholas‘s exile to be satisfied with even less materially,
and she rises to the challenge admirably. She proclaims, ―I will try to do anything that will gain
me a home and bread‖ ( NN 39). Her only stipulation is that she be allowed to return home at
night after her day‘s work: ―I cannot leave her [Mrs. Nickleby], uncle. I must have some place
that I can call a home; it will be wherever she is, you know, and may be a very humble one‖
(128). With Nicholas miles away, Kate is determined to preserve the one loving family
relationship she has, even though the disparity between her character and her mother‘s is
significant. Ambitious and materialistic, Mrs. Nickleby chastises Kate for regarding the loss of
the family‘s more valuable possessions ―with such provoking calmness‖ and ―talking about
[them] in that cold and unfeeling way!‖ ( NN 532). Kate responds:
―You and Nicholas are left to me, we are together once again, and what regard can I have
for a few trifling things of which we never feel the want? When I have seen all the
misery and desolation that death can bring, and known the lonesome feeling of being
solitary and alone in crowds, and all the agony of separation in grief and poverty when
we most needed comfort and support from each other, can you wonder that I look upon
this as a place of such delicious quiet and rest, that with you beside me I have nothing to
wish for or regret?‖ ( NN 532)
Kate‘s statement here perhaps indicates that her understanding of life‘s most important aspects
does not come naturally to her but is a result of her experience; however, Dickens does not allow
the reader to see any behavior in Kate that would reveal a former difference in her character, and
the fact that she has this satisfaction with life‘s basics despite her mother‘s influence signifies
that it is a quality natural to her.
Not surprisingly for one so attached to her family and so loving, Kate also exhibits
compassion toward the vulnerable people she encounters. Nicholas has no apprehension
regarding Kate‘s treatment of Smike, even though he does have misgivings concerning his
mother‘s. Kate lives up to his expectations:
. . . Kate advanced towards him [Smike] so kindly, and said in such a sweet voice, how
anxious she had been to see him after all her brother had told her, and how much she had
to thank him for having comforted Nicholas so greatly in their very trying reverses, that
he began to be very doubtful whether he should shed tears or not, and became still more
flurried. . . Kate, although she was so kind and considerate, seemed to be so wholly
unconscious of his distress and embarrassment, that he recovered almost immediately and
felt quite at home. ( NN 423-24)
Kate‘s compassion is likewise evoked by the family‘s mentally challenged neighbor, a ―poor
creature,‖ according to Kate, suffering from ―the infirmities of nature‖ ( NN 512). Earlier in the
novel, Kate even dispenses compassion toward Ralph before, that is, she gets to know him. She
tells Miss La Creevy, who calls Ralph ―a cross-grained old savage,‖ ―It is only his manner, I
believe . . . he was disappointed early in life I think I have heard, or has had his temper soured by
some calamity. I should be sorry to think ill of him until I knew he deserved it‖ ( NN 22).
Although we find these instances, neither compassion nor any of its concomitant virtues is a
ruling characteristic for Kate as it is for Pickwick and Oliver.
On a number of occasions Dickens uses the word ―innocent‖ to describe Kate. In fact,
this entire branch of the Nickleby family is described as being ―wholly unacquainted with what
is called the world—a conventional phrase which, being interpreted, signifieth all the rascals in
it‖ ( NN 41). But as Nicholas is becoming acquainted with the world at Dotheboys Hall, and as
Mrs. Nickleby remains blissfully ignorant, Kate is portrayed as the picture of innocence. Seen in
contrast to her wicked Uncle Ralph, she is ―gentle innocence‖ juxtaposed with his ―rugged
villainy,‖ thinking ―guileless thoughts‖ while he contemplates ―wily plots and calculations,‖ with
a ―warm young heart [palpitating] with a thousand anxieties and apprehensions,‖ as his ―lay
rusting in its cell, beating only as a piece of cunning mechanism‖ ( NN 128). This innocence
hinders Kate‘s understanding of the motivation of Miss Knag‘s instructions to stay ―as much as
possible in the background‖ ( NN 215) (or perhaps she is simply too relieved to think of anything
else); later, in Chapter 28, it causes her to speak out in a manner considered inappropriate by
Mrs. Wititterly: ―If poor Kate had possessed the slightest knowledge of the world, she certainly
would not have ventured, even in the excitement into which she had been lashed, upon such an
injudicious speech as this‖ ( NN 353). Even though Kate‘s knowledge of the world and its
expectations is limited and in many ways she truly is innocent, evidence elsewhere suggests that
her outspokenness is not due to her innocence.
In a society where the majority of the inhabitants wear masks to hide their true feelings
and intentions, Kate is remarkably genuine. Whether or not her innocence is to blame, she is
plainspoken, even blunt at times. One of the first instances of this candor is her first
conversation with the pretentious Miss Knag:
―Charming creature, isn‘t she [Madame Mantalini], Miss Nickleby?‖ said Miss
Knag, rubbing her hands together.
―I have seen very little of her,‖ said Kate. ―I hardly know yet.‖
―Have you seen Mr. Mantalini?‖ inquired Miss Knag.
―Yes; I have seen him twice.‖
―Isn‘t he a charming creature?‖
―Indeed, he does not strike me as being so, by any means,‖ replied Kate. ( NN 209-
Refusing to follow the lead of Miss Knag in praising their employers, Kate answers her questions
honestly, avoiding the mask of politeness, or the one of ambition that Miss Knag wears. The
outburst with Mrs. Wititterly described previously also gives evidence of Kate‘s refusal to
pretend a respect she does not feel, especially when her honor is being questioned.
On her first encounter with Sir Mulberry Hawk, Kate remarks, ―I wish you to understand,
sir . . . that your behaviour offends and disgusts me‖ ( NN 237). She follows this with a retort to
her uncle: ―. . . beneath the roof where I, a helpless girl, your dead brother‘s child, should most
have found protection, I have been exposed to insult which should make you shrink to look upon
me. Let me pass you‖ ( NN 237). At a later meeting with Hawk she is even more blunt:
―You had best not seek to detain me, sir!‖ said Kate, angrily.
―And why not?‖ retorted Sir Mulberry. ―My dear creature, now why do you keep
up this show of displeasure?‖
Show !‖ repeated Kate, indignantly. ―How dare you presume to speak to me,
sir—to address me—to come into my presence?‖
―You look prettier in a passion, Miss Nickleby,‖ said Sir Mulberry Hawk,
stooping down, the better to see her face.
―I hold you in the bitterest detestation and contempt, sir,‖ said Kate. ―If you find
any attraction in looks of disgust and aversion, you—let me rejoin my friends, sir,
instantly.‖ ( NN 341)
Kate can be as violent with her words as Nicholas is with his fists, but she is equally forthright in
expressing her less vehement thoughts and feelings.
This forthrightness, as well as the passion itself, arises from Kate‘s most significant
natural characteristic, her amour de soi . Kate has an innate awareness of her own personal
integrity that she will not allow to be violated. Nor is she proud in the sense of having amour
propre , by her mother‘s admission. Mrs. Nickleby belies her own pride in saying, ―It is a great
blessing to me in my misfortunes to have a child who knows neither pride or vanity, and whose
bringing-up might very well have excused a little of both at first‖ ( NN 216). Certainly Kate takes
pains to avoid appearing proud, but when her personal virtue and integrity are threatened, she
takes a strong stand. She is not flattered by the attentions of Mr. Mantalini or of Sir Mulberry;
despite her natural innocence, she sees them for what they are. She demands that her uncle
―release [her] from such vile and degrading companionship as [she is] exposed to‖ in the person
of Hawk ( NN 355), but it is just this amour de soi that justifies the treachery in Ralph‘s mind.
He asks himself, ―If [Kate] is as true to herself as she should be from what I have seen, what
harm ensues?‖ ( NN 329).
In one instance, Kate indicates a concern for how she appears in the eyes of others, an
instance that demonstrates more her desperation in the moment than a dominant characteristic.
After much pleading with her uncle to release her from the situation in which she finds herself,
she says to him,
―In the mean time . . . I am to be the scorn of my own sex, and the toy of the other; justly
condemned by all women of right feeling, and despised by all honest and honourable
men; sunken in my own esteem, and degraded in every eye that looks upon me. No, not
if I work my fingers to the bone, not if I am driven to the roughest and hardest labour.
Do not mistake me. I will not disgrace your recommendation. I will remain in the house
in which it placed me, until I am entitled to leave it by the terms of my engagement;—
though, mind, I see these men no more. When I quit it, I will hide myself from them and
you, and, striving to support my mother by hard service, I will live at least, in peace, and
trust in God to help me.‖ ( NN 356-57)
Kate has exhibited on many occasions that she lives according to her own standards and that she
is determined not to wear masks in order to please others. If she expresses fear here of what
others may think of her, we may interpret it as a revelation that she actually is affected by
external standards of evaluation, or perhaps this is simply a new argument she is trying in order
to convince her uncle to call off his dogs. On the other hand, Kate is not likely to wear a mask to
achieve her purpose.
Seen in contrast to the wiles of Miss Knag, the histrionics of Mrs. Wititterly, the jealousy
of both, and the ambition and materialism of her mother, Kate stands out as a natural anomaly.
Because she is in the constant society of such women, the reader would not be surprised were she
to take on some of these characteristics. However, in these situations and in the most threatening
ones with Sir Mulberry, Kate remains, as Ralph has said, ―true to herself‖ ( NN 329). As Robin
Gilmour contends, ―. . . she emerges not only with her virtue intact but having demonstrated ‗that
native grace and true gentility of manner‘ (ch. 28) that render her superior to her aristocratic
pursuer‖ (115), as well as to most members of the civilized society that surrounds her.
In Martin Chuzzlewit Dickens presents little question as to who qualifies as the natural
man. Tom Pinch is variously described as ―a good angel‖ ( MC 488), ―so amiable and so good‖
( MC 761), ―so faithful and so good . . . so true and self-denying . . . so gentle, and so kind, and
even tempered‖ ( MC 762). He describes himself as ―punctual and vigilant, and anxious to do
what is right‖ ( MC 610), and ―a poor, shy, awkward creature: not at all a man of the world‖ ( MC
487-88). To be sure, despite all the praises heaped upon him by his friends, the first impression
the reader gets of Tom is not extremely appealing:
An ungainly, awkward-looking man, extremely short-sighted and prematurely
bald, availed himself of this permission [to enter Seth Pecksniff‘s room] . . . He was far
from handsome certainly; and was drest in a snuff-coloured suit, of an uncouth make at
best, which, being shrunk with long wear, was twisted and tortured into all kinds of odd
shapes; but notwithstanding his attire, and his clumsy figure, which a great stoop in his
shoulders and a ludicrous habit he had of thrusting his head forward, by no means re-
deemed, one would not have been disposed (unless Mr. Pecksniff said so) to consider him
a bad fellow by any means. ( MC 16)
Regardless of this first impression, however, by the end of the novel, the reader is convinced that
Tom Pinch, without question, is a natural man.
Tom is much like Pickwick in that he appears, in the beginning, to be a simple dupe; he is
much like Oliver in his inability to recognize vice when he sees it. At the beginning of the novel,
Tom is innocent, like Pickwick and Oliver, to a fault and to his own detriment. He believes his
employer Seth Pecksniff to be one of the finest men alive, all the while Pecksniff and his
daughters disparage him behind his back and exploit him as an employee. John Westlock,
however, and later, Martin Chuzzlewit, Jr., see through Pecksniff‘s mask of Christian
respectability and his kindness toward Tom. Westlock attempts to disabuse Tom before leaving
Pecksniff behind in Chapter 2:
―. . . He doesn‘t keep you as his assistant because you are of any use to him; because your
wonderful faith in his pretensions is of inestimable service in all his mean disputes;
because your honesty reflects honesty on him; because your wandering about this little
place all your spare hours, reading in ancient books and foreign tongues, gets noised
abroad, even as far as Salisbury, making of him, Pecksniff the master, a man of learning
and of vast importance. He gets no credit from you, Tom, not he.‖ ( MC 23)
Westlock‘s irony—he catalogues exactly the ways Pecksniff exploits Tom—is missed by Tom
who takes his friend‘s words at face value and continues to believe in the worthiness of Pecksniff
for a major part of the novel.
Tom demonstrates his innocence and inexperience in less detrimental ways as well. His
visit to Salisbury provides him with numerous moments of childlike enchantment. We are told,
―Mr. Pinch regarded everything exposed for sale with great delight . . .‖ ( MC 69). Tom notices
every detail of what he sees:
First of all, there were the jewellers‘ shops, with all the treasures of the earth displayed
therein, and such large silver watches hanging up in every pane of glass . . . But what
were even gold and silver, precious stones and clockwork, to the bookshops, whence a
pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed came issuing forth, awakening instant
recollections of some new grammar had at school, long time ago . . . ( MC 70)
Tom‘s foray into Salisbury also underscores his solitary existence. Even though he
makes friends—with John in the beginning and Martin later—he continues to find himself left
behind, as these men realize the treachery of Pecksniff and move away. Tom, of course, is
virtually alone in his veneration of Pecksniff. He also has reconciled himself to the fact that he
will never win the hand of Mary Graham, yet his love for her precludes his looking for another
marriage partner. Despite these circumstances that leave Tom alone for much of the novel, he
seems to view all of life as a market day, and finds great joy in his existence. In fact, even after
he is in London, he ―[leads] a happy, quiet, studious kind of life, after his own heart‖ ( MC 619),
working alone day after day for a ―strange employer‖ ( MC 619) he does not know.
If Tom‘s response to market day in Salisbury is innocent delight, his later response to
London is ―guileless distrust‖ ( MC 577) due to stories he had heard circulated in the country
from whence he came. With John Westlock‘s help, however, he quickly conquers his fears of
pickpockets and cannibalistic Sweeney Todds. Tom‘s innocence has been shattered, of course,
before he comes to London, when he learns the true nature of Pecksniff: ―The star of his whole
life from boyhood had become, in a moment, putrid vapour. It was not that Pecksniff, Tom‘s
Pecksniff, had ceased to exist, but that he never had existed . . . as Tom‘s blindness in this matter
had been total and not partial, so was his restored sight . . .‖ ( MC 491). His loss of innocence in
this moment leads to his truer happiness in London among friends and family, where he is loved
for his natural qualities, not exploited for them.
Tom‘s childlike response to the wonders of the Salisbury market indicates yet another of
his natural qualities, his satisfaction with simple, basic necessities. Working for Pecksniff, he
has had little choice, being extremely poor, as the following passage reveals: ―Blessings on thy
simple heart, Tom Pinch, how proudly dost thou button up that scanty coat, called by a sad
misnomer, for these many years, a ‗great‘ one . . . Who could repress a smile—of love for thee,
Tom Pinch, and not in jest at thy expense, for thou art poor enough already, Heaven knows . . .‖
( MC 63). Nevertheless, his poverty is of no apparent concern to Tom. As he tells Mary Graham,
―I am easily made happy . . .‖ ( MC 487). Indeed, one of Tom‘s great pleasures in life is playing
the church organ, which he does without remuneration for the simple joy it gives him. This joy
blinds him to Pecksniff‘s abuse: ―So whenever it was impossible to devise any other means of
taking the value of Tom‘s wages out of him, Mr. Pecksniff gave him leave to cultivate this
instrument. For which mark of his consideration, Tom was very grateful‖ ( MC 485).
As is true for Kate Nickleby, Tom‘s friends and his only remaining family member are
another of Tom‘s most valuable and basic necessities. The importance Tom places on his
friendship with John Westlock, and later with Martin, is demonstrated by his complete loyalty,
even when that loyalty to Martin means giving up any hope he ever had of winning the love of
Mary Graham. But more significant is his relationship with Ruth, his sister. When Tom and
Ruth set up housekeeping together in London, Tom becomes a different man. He is no longer
described as ―ungainly,‖ ―awkward,‖ and ―stooped,‖ but is seen with Ruth ―trotting‖ around
. . . to the baker‘s and the butcher‘s, and the grocer‘s, with a kind of dreadful delight in
the unaccustomed cares of housekeeping; taking secret counsel together as they gave
their small orders, and distracted by the least suggestion on the part of the shopkeeper!
When they got back to the triangular parlour, and Tom‘s sister, bustling to and fro, busy
about a thousand pleasant nothings, stopped every now and then to give old Tom a kiss,
or smile upon him, Tom rubbed his hands as if all Islington were his. ( MC 576)
He later tells Ruth, ―We are not rich . . . certainly; and we may be much poorer. But we will not
part if we can help it . . . I am certain we shall be happier if we can battle it out together‖ ( MC
600). Dickens summarizes Tom‘s appreciation of life‘s basics, ―Let the record stand! Thy
quality of soul was simple, simple. . .‖ ( MC 618), and makes clear that he commends this
Tom‘s amour de soi becomes apparent as the story develops. As the underling of
Pecksniff, he cannot help but be humbled by the disparagement and maltreatment he receives
from Pecksniff and his daughters. On the other hand, he is gratified by the warm treatment he
receives from Martin, even if Martin‘s words reflect mere fantasies of how he will ―build Tom‘s
fortune‖ if he ―[turns] out a great architect‖ ( MC 192). We are told:
To say that Tom had no idea of playing first fiddle in any social orchestra, but
was always quite satisfied to be set down for the hundred and fiftieth violin in the band,
or thereabouts, is to express his modesty in very inadequate terms. He was much de-
lighted, therefore, by these observations. ( MC 193)
If Tom seems in these instances to be too affected by the opinions of others and too humble to be
natural, his later encounter with Jonas Chuzzlewit demonstrates otherwise:
―Good gracious me!‖ cried Tom, ―who would have thought of its being you! You
followed us, then?‖
―What‘s that to you?‖ said Jonas. ―Go to the devil!‖
―You are not very civil, I think,‖ remarked Tom.
―Civil enough for you ,‖ retorted Jonas. ―Who are you?‖
―One who has as good a right to common consideration as another,‖ said Tom,
mildly. ( MC 389)
Tom continues, ―I am not afraid of many things, I hope . . . and certainly not of anything that you
will do. I am not a tale-bearer, and I despise all meanness. You quite mistake me. Ah! . . . Is
this mainly from one in your position to one in mine? Please make room for me to pass . . .‖
( MC 390). Here Tom acknowledges his inferiority to Jonas according to class standards, but
asserts his equality with him by the simple standards of human worth; Tom gains the upper hand
in this encounter, even before he knocks Jonas to the ground with his own stick.
Tom exhibits his amour de soi once again on behalf of Ruth, in defending her against her
employers. He tells them:
―When you tell me . . . that my sister has no innate power of commanding the
respect of your children, I must tell you that it is not so; and that she has. She is as well
bred, as well taught, as well qualified by nature to command respect, as any hirer of a
governess you know. . .‖ ( MC 573)
Tom may be meek and unassuming as befitting his social position, but when his human value, or
the value of someone he loves, is under attack, Tom rises to the occasion and responds out of his
basic satisfaction with who he is as a natural man, his amour de soi .
Tom‘s genuineness of character is revealed throughout the novel. Dickens himself calls
Tom ―the Spirit of Truth, in a homely dress‖ ( MC 759); except for one great secret in his life, his
love for Mary, he is an open book for all to read. For most of the novel, Tom keeps his feelings
for Mary hidden. If we see Tom‘s hiding of his feelings as his wearing a mask, we must also
look at his motives; he does not reveal his love because to do so, he feels, would be a selfish act.
While the masks worn by civilized men are worn to aggrandize themselves in the eyes of the
world, Tom‘s mask is worn as a result of his compassion for the other people involved. Seeing
beyond this mask, however, Ruth summarizes his behavior:
―In spite of that [his secret pain], . . . you have been so faithful and so good, dear;
in spite of that, you have been so true and self-denying, and have struggled with yourself;
in spite of that, you have been so gentle, and so kind, and even-tempered, that I have
never seen you give a hasty look, or heard you say one irritable word. . .‖ ( MC 762)
Tom admits the truth of his love to his perceptive sister, but he also expresses his gratitude for
the relationships he has, which are his ―basic necessities‖:
―Remembering all my means of happiness, I hardly dare to call this lurking something a
sorrow; but whatever name it may justly bear, I thank Heaven that it renders me more
sensible of affection and attachment, and softens me in fifty ways. Not less happy. Not
less happy, Ruth!‖ ( MC 764)
Wearing a mask as an act of compassion is one of many examples of this trait in the
character of Tom Pinch. We learn early in the novel that his ―heart was very tender, and he
could not bear to see the most indifferent person in distress‖ ( MC 98). Later we are told, ―To
hesitate in the performance of a good-natured or compassionate office was not in Tom‘s way‖
( MC 628). This compassion is not surprising to the reader when Tom shows it to those he
loves—Martin, John, Ruth, and Mary—as he does on several occasions, for example when Mary
tells him of Pecksniff‘s villainous plot to marry her: ―Any sight of distress was sure to move the
tenderness of Tom, but this especially. Tears and sobs from her were arrows in his heart‖ ( MC
490). When Martin appears to him after his disappointing encounter with his grandfather in
Chapter 48, Tom‘s response is described as follows: ―High-hearted, noble Tom! Sorry to find
the pride of his old companion humbled, and to hear him speaking in this altered strain, at once,
he drove from his breast the inability to contend with its deep emotions, and spoke out bravely‖
( MC 730), even though Martin is talking about his future with Mary.
The most notable instances of Tom‘s compassion, however, occur when he extends it to
those who have wronged him. As he parts with Pecksniff, ―strangers from this time‖ ( MC 497),
Something without a name; compassion, sorrow, old tenderness, mistaken
gratitude, habit: none of these, and yet all of them; smote upon Tom‘s gentle heart at
parting. There was no such soul as Pecksniff‘s in that carcase; and yet, though his
speaking out had not involved the compromise of one he loved, he couldn‘t have
denounced the very shape and figure of the man. Not even then. ( MC 497)
Similarly, after Mercy Pecksniff has parted from the abusive Jonas, and Tom has parted from her
father, the two meet in London. Although at first she responds to Tom in the ―old manner‖ ( MC
581), we are privy to Tom‘s inner thoughts:
If she had always been his kindest friend; if she had treated him through all his
servitude with such consideration as was never yet received by struggling man; if she had
lightened every moment of those many years, and had ever spared and never wounded
him; his honest heart could not have swelled before her with a deeper pity, or a purer
freedom from all base remembrance than it did then. ( MC 580-81)
In the final revelation and resolution scene in Chapter 52, Old Martin attributes his
change of heart at least in part to Tom. He tells
how, beneath [Mary‘s] gentleness and patience, he had softened more and more; still
more and more beneath the goodness and simplicity, the honour and the manly faith of
Tom. And when he spoke of Tom, he said God bless him; and the tears were in his eyes;
for he said that Tom, mistrusted and dislike by him at first, had come like summer rain
upon his heart; and had disposed it to believe in better things. ( MC 804-805)
To be certain, Tom Pinch is an agent of redemption in the novel, not only for Old Martin, but for
young Martin as well, and the presence of his natural characteristics makes his agency possible.
Some critics claim that Martin Chuzzlewit signals the beginning of Dickens‘s dark
pessimism, due to his disappointment and disillusionment with America and Americans,
portrayed satirically in the novel. Yet following closely on the heels of Martin Chuzzlewit in
Dickens‘s literary chronology comes A Christmas Carol , which is anything but pessimistic,
depicting the reclamation, albeit by a supernatural vehicle, of a wholly corrupted man.
Several characters in the novel exhibit natural traits. The Fezziwigs exhibit generosity,
benevolence, and a mode of existence ruled by inner values rather than society‘s opinions, not
only by giving a Christmas party for their employees, but by joining in the party without any
trace of condescending superiority. Belle demonstrates amour de soi in her refusal to continue
her relationship with a corrupted Scrooge, a relationship that now violates her personal principles
with his emphasis on ―the master-passion, Gain‖ ( CC 65). The members of the Cratchit family
portray, if not complete satisfaction with basic necessities, the ability to find happiness in the
little they do have because they share it with each other. Fred shows a genuineness in his
determined attempts to convince his uncle of the merits of the Christmas season. And of course,
Tiny Tim is the picture of innocence. But because A Christmas Carol is only five chapters long,
and is the story of one man‘s redemption, no one other character in the story is developed fully
enough to qualify as a natural man.
Accepting the often-expressed view that David Copperfield is Dickens‘s most
autobiographical novel, we can perhaps understand why few characters stand out as unbelievably
good. There are a number of good characters in the novel, but their portrayal, for the most part,
is realistic rather than idealistic and romantic. We find no Pickwicks or Cheerybles, whose
benevolence defines them, no Oliver Twist, whose innocence, although incredible, endears him
to the reader. The proverbial ―angel in the house,‖ Agnes Wickfield, remains in the background
until virtually the end of the novel, and Tommy Traddles, a seemingly faultless young man, is
only a minor character. Instead of being filled with caricatures (although some appear), the
novel is peopled with characters who are good but flawed, and thus credible. Among these
characters is one who exhibits all the traits of the natural man—Daniel Peggotty.
Mr. Peggotty demonstrates his amour de soi and the concomitant traits of genuineness
and satisfaction with life‘s basics on several occasions in the novel. Upon his introduction to
David in Chapter III, he says, ―Glad to see you, sir . . . You‘ll find us rough, sir, but you‘ll find
us ready‖ ( DC 27), a phrase he repeats when he first meets James Steerforth: ―I‘m rough, sir, but
I‘m ready‖ ( DC 90). Mr. Peggotty does not seem self-conscious or apologize for who he is; nor
does he make any real apology for his accommodations when offering hospitality to Steerforth:
―My house ain‘t much for to see, sir, but it‘s hearty at your service if ever you should come
along with Mas‘r Davy to see it‖ ( DC 90).
The ―hearty‖ home of Mr. Peggotty is so because of the value he has placed on the
relationships within it. To him, these are the necessities of life, and his genuineness of feeling
shines through as David describes his response to Little Em‘ly:
It was perfectly delightful to behold with what enthusiasm Mr. Peggotty became
inspired when he thought of his little favorite. He stands before me again, his bluff hairy
face irradiating with a joyful love and pride, for which I can find no description. His
honest eyes fire up, and sparkle, as if their depths were stirred by something bright. His
broad chest heaves with pleasure. His strong loose hands clench themselves, in his
earnestness; and he emphasises what he says, with a right arm that shows, in my pigmy
view, like a sledge-hammer. ( DC 89)
After Emily is betrothed to Ham, Mr. Peggotty‘s devotion to her continues. He declares:
I know wery well that arter she‘s married and gone, I shall put that candle theer, just the
same as now. I know very well that when I‘m here o‘ nights (and where else should I
live, bless your arts, whatever fortun‘ I come into!) and she ain‘t here, or I ain‘t theer, I
shall put the candle in the winder, and sit afore the fire, pretending I‘m expecting of her,
like I‘m a doin‘ now.‖ ( DC 384)
In the end, Mr. Peggotty is willing to give up his home and his profession in order to make a
better life for this one necessity, ―his little favorite.‖
Mr. Peggotty also demonstrates his innocence in regard to Emily, explaining that his
feelings for her are a result of his having raised her from a child and, in effect, being a child
along with her. He says,
―. . . this is along of my havin‘ played with her so much, and made believe as we was
Turks, and French, and sharks, and every wariety of forinners—bless you, yes; and lions
and whales, and I doen‘t know what all!—when she warn‘t no higher than my knee. . .
There’s a babby for you, in the form of a Sea Porkypine!‖ ( DC 384)
But this innocence, of course, obstructs his vision and keeps him from seeing the treachery
behind the smiles of James Steerforth; he is not alone, however, in his failure to perceive the
The most notable example of Mr. Peggotty‘s amour de soi and his natural dignity comes
when he meets Mrs. Steerforth (Chapter XXXII) after Emily‘s elopement with James. He is not
cowed by her class superiority: ―She looked very stedfastly at Mr. Peggotty when he stood
before her; and he looked, quite as stedfastly at her‖ ( DC 399). He recognizes the difference in
their status, but while he accepts this social reality, he also realizes that it should not be. He
speaks to her of ―[biding] the time when all of us shall be alike in quality afore our God!‖ ( DC
400). And finally, he expresses his disdain for her offer of money ―for [his] child‘s blight and
ruin‖ ( DC 400). While Mr. Peggotty receives nothing satisfactory from his visit with Mrs.
Steerforth, he departs with his dignity intact, a true sign of amour de soi .
In this instance and throughout the novel, Mr. Peggotty reveals his reliance on inner
standards of personal judgment as opposed to the standards imposed by society. Mrs. Steerforth
makes obvious her view of Emily as ―far below him [Steerforth],‖ ―uneducated and ignorant,‖
and having ―humble connexions‖ ( DC 400). Yet, Mr. Peggotty sees these criticisms as part of a
superficial, worldly evaluative measure, one that has no bearings on his feelings for Emily or on
his views of other people. In the eyes of society, Emily is now forever fallen, but in the eyes of
Mr. Peggotty, she is and always will be his precious ―Little Em‘ly,‖ the victim of a handsome
face and the desire for life as a lady. It takes Emily‘s fallenness to soften his judgment of
Martha, whose aid in locating Emily, along with Mr. Peggotty‘s forgiveness and acceptance of
her, help to bring about Martha‘s redemption. In fact, the compassion that he extends to both
Martha and Emily is redemptive for all three of them.
If there is one natural trait in Mr. Peggotty that is obvious throughout the novel it is his
compassion. From the beginning when we learn that he not only adopted Ham, the son of his
brother, and Emily, the daughter of his brother-in-law, both of whom were ―drowndead‖ ( DC
28), but that he also took in Mrs. Gummidge, the widow of his business partner, we are aware of
his tender feelings toward the downtrodden. According to Dennis Walder, ―He has already
fulfilled the requirements of merciful fatherhood, having brought together into his ‗ark‘ the
orphaned and neglected, the outcast and dispossessed . . .‖ (151-52). Yet he wants no thanks for
his radical hospitality. Clara Peggotty tells David that
the only subject . . . on which he ever showed a violent temper or swore an oath, was this
generosity of his; and if it were ever referred to, by any one of them, he struck the table a
heavy blow with his right hand (had split it on one such occasion), and swore a dreadful
oath that he would be ―Gormed‖ if he didn‘t cut and run for good, if it was ever
mentioned again. ( DC 29)
Mr. Peggotty exhibits extreme patience with the often-contrary Mrs. Gummidge, explaining and
excusing her behavior by the phrase, ―She‘s been thinking of the old ‘un!‖ ( DC 35), and
addressing her, ―Cheer up, my pretty mawther!‖ ( DC 383). David, too, is the recipient of his
compassion when Mr. Peggotty and Ham visit him at Salem House after he has been sent away
from his mother by the Murdstones.
But the ultimate show of Mr. Peggotty‘s compassion is seen when Emily disappears with
Steerforth. He first expresses the desire for violent revenge on Steerforth, but these feelings
quickly give way to the concern and sympathy he feels for Emily. The night before he embarks
on his solitary journey to find her, he tells David:
―My wishes is, sir, as it [the boat/home] shall look, day and night, winter and
summer, as it has always looked, since she fust know‘d it. If ever she should come a
wandering back, I wouldn‘t have the old place seem to cast her off, you understand, but
seem to tempt her to draw nigher to ‘t, and to peep in, maybe, like a ghost, out of the
wind and rain, through the old winder, at the old seat by the fire. Then, maybe, Mas‘r
Davy, seein‘ none but Missis Gummidge there, she might take heart to creep in,
trembling; and might come to be laid down in her old bed, and rest her weary head
where it was once so gay.‖ ( DC 389-90)
His recurring dream, which he relates to David when they are together once again in London,
involves telling Emily, ―Em‘ly, my dear, I am come fur to bring forgiveness, and to take you
home!‖ ( DC 500). After being reunited with her, for a brief moment he feels ―a wownd go to
[his] ‘art‖ ( DC 619) as he contemplates the Biblical story of the woman caught in the act of
adultery, but once again his joy at finding her and his compassion for her suffering replace any
feeling of judgment he feels.
Of course, the most significant of Mr. Peggotty‘s compassionate actions comes in the last
chapters when he takes Emily to Australia, beyond the reach of societal scorn, to begin life anew.
But most notable is his inclusion of Martha and Mrs. Gummidge in both his traveling party and
his new life. And finally, upon his return to England to visit David and his new bride, we see
him for the last time at the grave of Ham, taking a tuft of grass back to Emily as a final deed of
compassion for both of his adoptive children.
Even though Mr. Peggotty, by his own admission, is ―rough,‖ even though he would like
to see physical harm done to James Steerforth, even though he judges Martha harshly to begin
with and feels a moment of that same judgment for Emily, he is a true natural man by
Rousseau‘s standards. Some critics would claim that the absence of a Pickwick, a Brownlow, or
a Cheeryble in the novel indicates a more pessimistic outlook for Dickens. The presence of a
Dan Peggotty, however, perhaps indicates instead a more mature viewpoint in which in spite of a
man‘s flaws, he may still qualify as natural and admirable.
Interestingly, while certain critics maintain that Dickens became less optimistic as he
aged, and that this darkening world view is reflected in his last novels, Great Expectations
contains one of the most purely natural characters of his whole literary corpus—Joe Gargery. It
is Joe who provides the poignancy in the story, as Pip‘s desire to seek out his life of great
expectations involves a rejection of the plain and simple Joe. Yet the reader sees throughout the
novel Joe‘s constancy and the natural qualities that define him as a foil to the ambitious Pip.
Pip‘s early physical description of Joe establishes him as the angel in the Gargery house:
Joe was a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with
eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed with
their own whites. He was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish,
dear fellow—a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness. ( GE 8)
Later in the novel as Pip prepares to leave Joe for London, he apostrophizes, ―O dear good
faithful tender Joe, I feel the loving tremble of your hand upon my arm, as solemnly this day as if
it had been the rustle of an angel‘s wing!‖ ( GE 140).
The innocence of Joe is obvious from the beginning of the novel, being revealed in
several ways. First, Joe is Pip‘s ―fellow-sufferer‖ under the stern hand of his wife and Pip‘s
sister, Mrs. Joe. He rarely if ever does anything to incite her wrath, yet he receives physically
and verbally abusive blows almost as often as Pip does. Early on she is pictured ―taking him by
the two whiskers‖ and ―[knocking] his head for a little while against the wall behind him‖ ( GE
12). Yet Joe never responds to this abuse and continues to think the best of his wife, just as he
gives his abusive father the same benefit. He tells Pip, ―. . . my mother and me we ran away
from my father, several times . . . But my father were that good in his hart that he couldn‘t abear
to be without us . . . And then he took us home and hammered us‖ ( GE 47). Remarkably, Joe has
survived this negative nurture and remained natural.
Secondly, Joe behaves on occasion more like the child Pip than the man he is. In fact,
even Pip regards him as a child: ―I always treated him as a larger species of child, and as no
more than my equal‖ ( GE 9). The two play games involving the bites taken of their bread and
butter, and Joe always takes Pip‘s side when Mrs. Joe applies the Tickler. The main attraction
for Joe of having Pip as his apprentice is his dream of the ―Larks‖ the two will have together.
When Biddy writes Pip a letter announcing Joe‘s impending visit to London, the only message
Joe sends is ― what larks ‖ ( GE 218), a message he knows Pip will understand.
Joe also exhibits a childlike gullibility on occasion. For instance, after his first visit with
Miss Havisham, Pip returns telling tales of Miss Havisham sitting ―in a black velvet coach‖ ( GE
68), having ―cake and wine on gold plates‖ ( GE 68), four ―immense‖ dogs fighting for ―veal-
cutlets out of a silver basket‖ ( GE 68). Not only does Joe believe Pip‘s stories, but Mrs. Joe and
Pumblechook swallow them as well; they both see these reports as an indication of the riches Pip
stands to gain from Miss Havisham. On the other hand, Joe‘s sole interest is the dogs and the
veal cutlets, and his only hope is that Pip will be given one of the dogs, just as a child might
hope. Later in London, Joe reports on Wopsle‘s stage performance as if it were real:
―. . . there certainly were a peck of orangepeel. Partickler, when he see the ghost.
Though I put it to yourself, sir, whether it were calc‘lated to keep a man up to his work
with a good hart, to be continiwally cutting in betwixt him and the Ghost with ‗Amen!‘
A man may have had a misfortun‘ and been in the Church . . . but that is no reason why
you should put him out at such a time. Which I meantersay, if the ghost of a man‘s own
father cannot be allowed to claim his attention, what can, Sir?‖ ( GE 220-21)
Finally, Joe‘s innocence is revealed in his refusal to condone or accept any behavior that
might be construed as dishonest. When ―the strange man‖ gives Pip a shilling wrapped in two
pound notes, Joe thinks the notes were given by mistake, and he runs immediately with them
back to the Jolly Bargemen ―to restore them to their owner‖ ( GE 79). He also shows this quality
in his disapproval of Pip‘s lying about the riches at Satis House. He tells Pip, ―There‘s one thing
you may be sure of, Pip . . . namely, that lies is lies. Howsever they come, they didn‘t ought to
come, and they come from the father of lies, and work round to the same. Don‘t you tell no
more of ‘em, Pip‖ ( GE 71). He goes on to say, ―If you can‘t get to be oncommon through going
straight, you‘ll never get to do it through going crooked. So don‘t tell no more on ‘em, Pip, and
live well and die happy‖ ( GE 72). Joe has already proven that he himself lives by these words.
Like his predecessors, the natural men of earlier novels, Joe is notably compassionate.
He shows this trait as early as Chapter V, when in answer to the convict‘s apology for eating
Mrs. Joe‘s pie, Joe says, ―God knows you‘re welcome to it—so far as it was ever mine . . . We
don‘t know what you have done, but we wouldn‘t have you starved to death for it, poor
miserable fellow-creatur.—Would us, Pip?‖ ( GE 41). But of course the compassion Joe shows
to Pip most particularly emphasizes the difference between the two characters. From the
beginning of Joe‘s marriage to Mrs. Joe, he includes Pip in his household:
―When I offered to your sister to keep company, and to be asked in church at such times
as she was willing and ready to come to the forge, I said to her, ‗And bring the poor little
child. God bless the poor little child,‘ I said to your sister, ‗there‘s room for him at the
forge!‘‖ ( GE 49)
However, Joe realizes that his marriage and the consequent bringing of Pip into their home has
provoked Pip‘s abuse by Mrs. Joe. Joe speaks these words of apology and self-sacrifice: ―I wish
it was only me that got put out, Pip; I wish there warn‘t no Tickler for you, old chap; I wish I
could take it all on myself . . .‖ ( GE 51).
Even more significant is Joe‘s show of compassion after Pip has treated him so
unfeelingly. It is Joe who nurses Pip back to health in London during and after his fever. Pip
perceives his gentle presence even before he is coherent enough to know what is going on around
After I had turned the worst point of my illness, I began to notice that while all its
other features changed, this one consistent feature did not change. Whoever came about
me, still settled down into Joe. I opened my eyes in the night, and I saw in the great chair
at the bedside, Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and sitting on the window-seat,
smoking his pipe in the shaded open window, still I saw Joe. I asked for cooling drink,
and the dear hand that gave it me was Joe‘s. I sank back on my pillow after drinking, and
the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe. ( GE 459)
For a brief period, Joe and Pip enjoy the relationship they once had. Pip explains, ―He would sit
and talk to me in the old confidence, and with the old simplicity, and in the old unassertive
protecting way, so that I would half believe that all my life since the days of the old kitchen was
one of mental troubles of the fever that was gone‖ ( GE 462). As Pip regains his strength, Joe‘s
compassion takes the form of removing himself again from Pip‘s life, expecting to be out of
place once more, now that Pip no longer needs him. Only after Joe leaves does Pip realize that
he has paid the debts and other charges which had been the cause of Pip‘s arrest. Joe‘s tender
care, both physical and financial, his emotional response to Pip‘s recovery, and his subsequent
departure from London indicate a gracious and forgiving heart that could only belong to a natural
man whose compassion is a ruling characteristic.
The most notable of Joe‘s natural traits, however, are those which involve his views of
himself and his life at the forge. Joe‘s character is one of few in literature that do not change
from beginning to end of the novel. At the end when Pip, recovering from his fever, is realizing
his grave mistakes in seeking his expectations, he comments, ―There was no change whatever in
Joe. Exactly what he had been in my eyes then, he was in my eyes still; just as simply faithful,
and as simply right‖ ( GE 463). Joe exhibits a type of amour de soi by which he acknowledges
his shortcomings yet accepts himself for who he is. He tells Pip at one point, ―I‘m so awful dull.
I‘m only master of my own trade. It were always a pity as I was so awful dull; but it‘s no more
of a pity now, than it was—this day twelvemonth—don‘t you see!‖ ( GE 146). Earlier Pip has
tried to teach Joe to read and write, but Pip interprets Joe‘s lack of success as his having ―plumed
himself on being ‗most awful dull‘ . . .‖ ( GE 109). Perhaps Joe is somewhat dull; however, he
has not an ambitious bone in his body, so he sees dullness as acceptable for one of his station.
For Joe, the greatest benefit of these instructional interludes is simply the time he gets to spend
with Pip.
Biddy also tries to explain to Pip the reasons that Joe might not want to move ―into a
higher sphere‖ ( GE 147) of society. Critical of Joe‘s ―backwardness,‖ his lack of learning and
his unpolished manners, Pip responds to Biddy‘s suggestion that Joe might be proud ―with
disdainful emphasis‖ ( GE 147). She explains, ―Oh! there are many kinds of pride . . .; pride is
not all of one kind—. . . Not all of one kind . . . He may be too proud to let any one take him out
of a place that he is competent to fill, and fills well and with respect‖ ( GE 147). Biddy admits
that pride is only a possibility with Joe, and evidence suggests that not pride, but true
contentedness would prevent Joe‘s removal ―to a higher sphere.‖ Even Pip realizes this, having
described Joe earlier as ―plain contented Joe‖ ( GE 107).
Because Joe has no desires to enter society beyond that which he finds at the Jolly
Bargemen, he displays a genuineness that is rarely seen in the pages of Dickens. Joe expresses
the premium he places on honesty in the previously discussed sermonette given to Pip regarding
the importance of telling the truth. He genuinely expresses his thoughts and emotions
throughout the novel, except, perhaps, to Mrs. Joe. But the clearest sense we get of who Joe is
comes through the clothing that he sometimes feels compelled to wear. We see the contrast
between his comfort in his forge clothes and the discomfort in the clothes he feels he must wear
in church, in Miss Havisham‘s house, and in London the first time with Pip. The first instance
we see of this is in Chapter IV. Pip remarks,
In his working clothes, Joe was a well-knit characteristic-looking blacksmith; in his
holiday clothes, he was more like a scarecrow in good circumstances, than anything else.
Nothing that he wore then, fitted him or seemed to belong to him; and everything that he
wore then, grazed him. On the present festive occasion he emerged from his room, when
the blithe bells were going, the picture of misery, in a full suit of Sunday penitentials.
( GE 23)
The next occasion we see him in these clothes is the day he and Pip are to visit Miss Havisham.
Again Pip comments, ―. . . as he thought his courtsuit necessary to the occasion, it was not for me
to tell him that he looked far better in his working dress; the rather, because I knew he made
himself so dreadfully uncomfortable, entirely on my account . . .‖ ( GE 99).
The final occasion on which Pip describes Joe‘s clothes is when Joe comes to Pip‘s
lodgings in London for the first time. Describing Joe‘s shirt and coat collars as ―insoluble
mysteries‖ ( GE 222) and his cravat as ―utterly preposterous‖ ( GE 223), Pip asks, ―Why should a
man scrape himself to that extent, before he could consider himself full dressed? Why should he
suppose it necessary to be purified by suffering for his holiday clothes?‖ ( GE 222). The answer
is found in what Joe thinks is his final goodbye to Pip, at the end of this London visit:
―You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but
what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain‘t that I am proud, but
that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I‘m wrong in
these clothes. I‘m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th‘ meshes. You won‘t find
half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my
hand, or even my pipe. You won‘t find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you
should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge winder and see
Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work.
I‘m awful dull, but I hope I‘ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last . . .‖ ( GE
Pip‘s response is equally notable: ―I had not been mistaken in my fancy that there was a simple
dignity in him. The fashion of his dress could no more come in its way when he spoke these
words, than it could come in its way in Heaven‖ ( GE 225). Joe has expressed several times in
the novel his desire to ―be right‖; his dressing in his ―best‖ clothes reveals this desire concretely,
and his speech negates the possibility that he is dressing differently in order to impress others. In
other words, clothes for Joe are not a mask worn to hide his true self, and Pip‘s response
confirms the dignity to be found in Joe‘s genuineness.
The final remark on Joe‘s clothing as a sign of his genuineness comes after the funeral of
Mrs. Joe. Pip notes, ―I noticed that after the funeral Joe changed his clothes so far, as to make a
compromise between his Sunday dress and working dress: in which the dear fellow looked
natural, and like the Man he was‖ ( GE 281). Dickens‘s use of the word natural and the
capitalization of the word Man may be coincidental; however, even if they are, the point is made
that Joe is now back to his genuine self once more.
Another aspect of Joe‘s genuineness, and of his naturalness, is the inner rule he follows.
His desire to ―be right‖ determines his actions throughout the novel. By this he does not mean
that he wants to be right as opposed to someone else‘s being wrong. He wants to do the right
thing, to treat others well, to live honestly and forthrightly. With regard to his meekness in the
presence of his wife, he tells Pip,
I see so much in my poor mother, of a woman drudging and slaving and breaking her
honest hart and never getting no peace in her mortal days, that I‘m dead afeerd of going
wrong in the way of not doing what‘s right by a woman, and I‘d fur rather of the two go
wrong the t‘other way, and be a little ill-conwenienced myself.‖ ( GE 50-51)
Most readers, and of course Pip, would not blame Joe for rebelling against the abusive treatment
both he and Pip receive from Mrs. Joe; however, once Pip hears ―the up-and-down-and-straight
on it‖ from Joe, he ―[dates] a new admiration of Joe from that night‖ ( GE 51). In spite of this
admiration, Joe makes clear that he follows his inner rule, not seeking the approval or the
admiration of others, at least not for his choice of wife. He says, ―Whatever family opinions, or
whatever the world‘s opinions, on that subject may be, Pip, your sister is . . . a—fine—figure—
of—a—woman!‖ ( GE 48).
Finally, Joe demonstrates a satisfaction with life‘s basic necessities, seen already in his
simplicity and his satisfaction with his life as a blacksmith. He tells the boy Pip, ―Give me . . . a
good book, or a good newspaper, and sit me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better‖ ( GE
47). Of course, Joe cannot read at this point, but he takes pleasure in finding the J‘s and the O‘s
in the printed word. Unlike Pip, Mrs. Joe, Pumblechook, and countless others, Joe has no ―great
expectations‖ of money, reward, or payment for his actions. Upon receiving twenty five guineas
from Miss Havisham he says (to Pip instead of the donor), ―This is wery liberal on your part,
Pip, . . . and it is as such received and grateful welcome, though never looked for, far nor near
nor nowheres ( GE 101). Later he tells Jaggers, ―Pip is that hearty welcome . . . to go free with
his services, to honour and fortun‘, as no words can tell him. But if you think as Money—can
make compensation to me—for the loss of the little child—what come to the forge—and ever the
best of friends!—‖ ( GE 140). Joe also finds the fact that Pip has ―always wanted to be a
gentleman‖ ―Astonishing!‖ ( GE 146). Joe clearly values love and friendship over money and
Joe spends much of the novel in solitude, even if not actually alone. He lives with a first
wife who shows him neither love nor companionship, and he loses his one friend when that
friend is still a boy. As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, Joe is also solitary as a
natural man in this novel. He is found mostly in the forge, away from the village and town, and
certainly away from London society, and this is as it should be. Joe lacks the deadly social
ambition, the pretense, and the greed that almost every other character displays—with one other
exception. The only other natural character in the novel is Biddy, who becomes Joe‘s second
wife and who provides the fitting remedy for Joe‘s solitude without endangering his pure
In Dickens‘s final completed novel, Our Mutual Friend , the choice of the natural man is
not so cut and dried. A small handful of possibilities appear—Reginald Wilfer, Lizzie Hexam,
and even John Harmon, for instance—but the nearest match is Nicodemus ―Noddy‖ Boffin, the
Golden Dustman. Some critics would disagree as to Boffin‘s suitability for this designation due
to the extensive ―pious fraud‖ in which he plays the starring role. And to be sure, he plays his
part convincingly. He dons the mask of a miser, thus portraying two characteristics of
Rousseau‘s civilized man, pretense and greed, in one guise. Yet it is only a guise, and his fraud
is a pious one in which the character of a young impressionable girl is rescued from corruption
by wealth. According to Newsom, ―It is Boffin‘s pretended miserliness and concomitant
wretched treatment of Harmon that finally elicits Bella‘s love for Harmon and proves that her
love for him is far stronger than her love of money‖ (158-59). Other critics level the complaint
that Boffin cannot be as good as he seems to be if he is able to present such a believable façade.
But Barnard explains, ―Even in this, one of his most pessimistic novels, Dickens goes out of his
way to point to the incorruptibility of certain individuals, and to the enduring strength of natural
goodness‖ (124-25). Boffin, of course, is one of these individuals, learning from the stories of
famous misers how to behave as one himself. From the beginning through the end of Book II,
Boffin displays natural traits, at which time he assumes his role as a cruel, money-driven man.
Not until five chapters from the end does he confess his fraud and resume his natural character.
Whether or not the plot line and characterization are believable here, Dickens gives convincing
evidence through these parts of the novel that Noddy Boffin qualifies as a natural man.
Our Mutual Friend is replete with characters who are greedy and who will resort to any
measures to increase their worldly wealth, who, in Rousseauean terms, are ―civilized.‖ Noddy
Boffin, the wealthiest character in the novel, having inherited the Harmon fortune, is also the
least greedy. He is satisfied with the bare necessities, as we see the first time Silas Wegg visits
Boffin‘s Bower. Noddy says, ―Mrs. Boffin, as I‘ve mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at
present I‘m not. I don‘t go higher than comfort, and comfort of the sort that I‘m equal to the
enjoyment of‖ ( OMF 63). He, who hopes that ―good may be coming of [their fortune] in the
future time‖ in order to redeem it from the ill usage of Old Harmon, sees no need to change their
lifestyle to match their new station. Although Mrs. Boffin is described as ―simple of nature‖
( OMF 104), she does believe that they should ―act up to‖ their fortune ( OMF 104). The differing
views are seen in this interchange:
I say, a good house in a good neighbourhood, good things about us, good living,
and good society. I say, live like our means, without extravagance, and be happy.‖
―Yes. I say be happy, too,‖ assented the still pensive Mr. Boffin. ( OMF 104)
Mr. Boffin, on the other hand, simply wants to be happy. While Mrs. Boffin dreams of ―a light
yellow chariot and pair, with silver boxes to the wheels‖ ( OMF 104), we are told that their actual
equipage is
a long hammer-headed old horse, formerly used in the business, attached to a four-
wheeled chaise of the same period, which had long been exclusively used by the
Harmony Jail poultry as the favourite laying-place of several discreet hens. An unwonted
application of corn to the horse, and of paint and varnish to the carriage, when both fell in
as a part of the Boffin legacy, had made what Mr. Boffin considered a neat turn-out of the
whole; and a driver being added, in the person of a long hammer-headed young man who
was a very good match for the horse, left nothing to be desired. ( OMF 106)
Although we are told that when the Boffins are seated in this vehicle ―Fashion [is] withdrawn to
an immeasurable distance‖ ( OMF 106), Noddy is quite satisfied with it.
In fact, it seems that Noddy would have been satisfied and happy without any of the
advantages his inheritance brings. When John Rokesmith offers to become his secretary, he
replies, ―I no more know that I may ever want a Secretary, or what not, than I do that I shall ever
be in want of the man in the moon‖ ( OMF 102). After hiring Rokesmith, he shows him the one
dust mound that he would have inherited before the entire state became his, and confides, ―It
would have been enough for us . . . in case it had pleased God to spare the last of those two
young lives and sorrowful deaths. We didn‘t want the rest‖ ( OMF 185). But at the request of
Mrs. Boffin, the couple move to an ―eminently aristocratic family mansion‖ ( OMF 303), where
he could not but feel that, like an eminently aristocratic family cheese, it was much too
large for his wants, and bred an infinite amount of parasites; but he was content to regard
this drawback on his propertyas a sort of perpetual Legacy Duty. He felt the more
resigned to it, forasmuch as Mrs. Boffin enjoyed herself completely, and Miss Bella was
delighted. ( OMF 303-304)
Even in their new abode, Boffin has his own room much like the one he had at Boffin‘s Bower:
Far less grand than the rest of the house, it was far more comfortable, being pervaded by
a certain air of homely snugness, which upholstering despotism had banished to that spot
when it inexorably set its face against Mr. Boffin‘s appeals for any other chamber. Thus,
although a room of modest situation . . . and of no pretensions to velvet, satin, or gilding,
it had got itself established in a domestic position analogous to that of an easy dressing-
gown or pair of slippers; and whenever the family wanted to enjoy a particularly pleasant
fireside evening, they enjoyed it, as an institution that must be, in Mr. Boffin‘s room.
( OMF 456)
The final proof of Mr. Boffin‘s satisfaction with life‘s necessities comes in the final
pages, after he has returned to his natural character. We learn that according to the last will of
old Harmon, Boffin truly is the heir of the Harmon fortune, but that he has given it all, except for
his single mound, to the rightful heir, John Harmon, who had been disowned by his father.
Harmon explains to the villain Wegg, ―I owe everything I possess solely to the disinterestedness,
uprightness, tenderness, goodness (there are no words to satisfy me) of Mr. and Mrs. Boffin‖
( OMF 768). Boffin, dubbed by Harmon a ―noble soul‖ ( OMF 768), is now free to return to the
life with which he is comfortable, openly treasuring his wife above all else, as he indicates earlier
in the novel: ―. . . It‘s pleasant to know that you are Mrs. Boffin . . . and it‘s been a pleasant thing
to know this many and many a year!‖ ( OMF 105).
Just as Boffin may be contrasted with the greedy multitudes around him, he is also
different, for most of the novel, from the numbers of people who wear masks to disguise their
true identities or their true intentions. Ironically for one who plays his pious fraud so credibly,
Boffin is recognized by most who know him for his genuineness of character. Rokesmith tells
him early in their acquaintance, ―I have been strongly assured that you are a man of rectitude and
plain dealing, with the soundest of sound hearts . . .‖ ( OMF 100). He continues, ―When I add, I
can discern for myself what the general tongue says of you—that you are quite unspoiled by
Fortune, and not uplifted—I trust you will not, as a man of an open nature, suspect that I mean to
flatter you . . .‖ ( OMF 101). Even old Harmon had recognized that the Boffins are ―honest and
true‖ ( OMF 106).
Boffin often declares himself to be exactly what others usually perceive him to be. In
their first meeting with the Wilfers, he tells Mrs. Wilfer, ―Mrs. Boffin and me, ma‘am, are plain
people, and we don‘t want to pretend to anything, nor yet to go round and round at anything:
because there‘s always a straight way to everything‖ ( OMF 112). Seen in contrast to the
pretentious Mrs. Wilfer, as well as so many of the other characters, Mr. Boffin‘s honesty and
genuineness are even more pronounced.
Boffin often reveals his true nature with regard to his lack of education and ignorance of
the finer aspects of fashionable society. He admits to Silas Wegg, ―. . . all print is shut to me‖
( OMF 57), thus opening the door for Wegg to become his personal reader, at first of ―Decline-
and- Fall-Off-The-Rooshan Empire‖ ( OMF 59) and other works. In discussing the possibility of
hiring Rokesmith as his Secretary, Boffin tells him,
―It rather puzzled me at the time . . . and it rather puzzled me and Mrs. Boffin
when we spoke of it afterwards, because (not to make a mystery of our belief) we have
always believed a Secretary to be a piece of furniture, mostly of mahogany, lined with
green baize or leather, with a lot of little drawers in it. Now you won‘t think I take a
liberty when I mention that you certainly ain‘t that .‖ ( OMF 180)
Boffin makes no apology for his ignorance in either case; he simply states forthrightly what he
does and does not know. He also tells Rokesmith, ―I ain‘t a scholar in much, Rokesmith, but I‘m
a pretty fair scholar in dust. I can price the Mounds to a fraction, and I know how they can be
best disposed of, and likewise that they take no harm by standing where they do‖ ( OMF 186).
As indicated previously, for a significant part of the novel, Boffin is not genuine. Even
during this time of the pious fraud, however, we catch glimpses of his real character. We are
The breakfast table at Mr. Boffin‘s was usually a very pleasant one, and was
always presided over by Bella. As though he began each new day in his healthy natural
character, and some waking hours were necessary to his relapse into the corrupting
influences of his wealth, the face and the demeanour of the Golden Dustman were
generally unclouded at that meal. It would have been easy to believe then, that there was
no change in him. ( OMF 574-75)
No explanation is given for this lapse in the fraud; the reader might conjecture that he usually
does not remember the role he is playing until he has had his morning caffeine, or that as a
natural man he needs brief relief from the pressure of being other than he naturally is.
Nevertheless, the lack of explanation is a moot point on the morning on which this is noted; he is
quite clearly masked and acting his part as the cruel miser from the moment he enters the room.
Concomitant with genuineness, Boffin also reveals his innocence and simplicity. As his
discussions regarding secretaries and his tastes in home furnishings show, Boffin is set apart
from his fellows in society by his lack of worldly wisdom. When Rokesmith goes to work as his
secretary, we are told, ―One part of the Secretary‘s conduct, underlying all the rest, might have
been mistrusted by a man with a better knowledge of men than the Golden Dustman had‖ ( OMF
193), and in the next paragraph, ―This might—let it be repeated—have awakened some little
vague mistrust in a man more worldly-wise than the Golden Dustman‖ ( OMF 193). Yet in
Boffin it does not. His need for Rokesmith‘s services, however, has become apparent when the
Boffins are pictured as ―prey to prosperity,‖ due to his ineptitude at handling business matters:
―Many disordered papers were before him, and he looked at them about as hopefully as an
innocent civilian might look at a crowd of troops whom he was required at five minutes‘ notice
to manœuvre and review‖ ( OMF 179).
Boffin‘s innocence also takes a form that puts him at risk for predators like Silas Wegg.
Much like Pickwick, Boffin in the beginning of the novel is oblivious to the possibility that
anyone might want to take advantage of him. He takes great pains to avoid offending Wegg by
hiring Rokesmith, and this plays right into Wegg‘s hands:
The man of low cunning had, of course, acquired a mastery over the man of high
simplicity. The mean man had, of course, got the better of the generous man. How long
such conquests last is another matter; that they are achieved is every-day experience, not
even to be flourished away by Podsnappery itself. The undesigning Boffin had become
so far immeshed by the wily Wegg that his mind misgave him he was a very designing
man indeed in purposing to do more for Wegg. It seemed to him (so skilful was Wegg)
that he was plotting darkly, when he was contriving to do the very thing that Wegg was
plotting to get him to do. ( OMF 186-87)
Mr. Venus reveals to Boffin Wegg‘s villainous plan to take control of his fortune, thus denting
Boffin‘s innocence to some extent; Boffin proves himself capable of design as he successfully
carries out his pious fraud. For the most part, however, Boffin‘s innocence is preserved to the
end, as shown in the scene in which he, Mrs. Boffin, and John admit their fraud. Here he is
described as having a ―shining countenance,‖ ―a perfectly beneficent air . . . like some jovial
good spirit,‖ and Bella asks along with the reader, ―What had become of all those crooked lines
of suspicion, avarice, and distrust, that twisted his visage‖ ( OMF 749) the last time she saw him?
In true Pickwickian style, Boffin is ―beaming at every one and everything he could see‖ ( OMF
749). To him the fraud was merely a game the end of which he already knew—that Bella would
pass the test, and renounce wealth for true love—and his enjoyment of the game and its happy
ending signals his still-present childlike innocence.
The ending of the fraud also gives opportunity for the reader to see Boffin‘s amour de
soi . Earlier we saw his realistic and appreciative opinion of his own knowledge of dust and the
dust business. In addition, his satisfaction with the things that make him comfortable and his
freedom from the need to impress others with his possessions show his similar satisfaction with
himself. But we see him most pleased with himself at the end of the novel when he reveals his
innocent pride in his performance as ―a reg-lar brown bear‖ ( OMF 755). We are told, ―. . . It
then appeared, not only that in that burst of sarcastic eloquence [referring to his ―grandest
demonstration‖ before Bella of his cruelty and miserliness] Mr. Boffin was considered by his
two fellow-conspirators to have outdone himself, but that in his own opinion it was a remarkable
achievement‖ ( OMF 756). In fact, he says, ―. . . to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the
truth, I‘m rather proud of it. My dear, the old lady thinks so high of me that she couldn‘t abear to
see and hear me coming out as a reg‘lar brown one. Couldn‘t abear to make-believe as I meant
it!‖ ( OMF 756). Boffin is proud of his performance, but his pride comes not from the praise he
receives from his co-conspirators, or from Bella. His pride comes only from the ingenuous
amusement the whole experience has given him; his pride, like his innocence, is pure and
childlike—that is, simply amour de soi.
Compassion in Boffin often takes the form of generosity, as it does with Pickwick, shown
even to those who least deserve it. On the first night of Wegg‘s employment, Boffin shows this
generosity toward him, allowing him to dine on a meat pie visible in Boffin‘s exposed larder
before beginning reading. And in the final meeting the two have, after Wegg‘s plot has been
exposed, Boffin tells him, ―. . . I shouldn‘t like to leave you, after all said and done, worse off in
life than I found you. Therefore say in a word before we part, what it‘ll cost to set you up in
another stall‖ ( OMF 768). Wegg, instead of showing gratitude and humility and taking Boffin‘s
offer of a reasonable amount, tries to shake Boffin down for as much as he can get. Here
Boffin‘s generosity ends, at least where Wegg is concerned, and the final offer is only two
In a similar relationship with the Lammles, Boffin exhibits much more generosity than is
warranted by their actions. In order to curtail their manipulative posturing with him and Mrs.
Boffin, he gives them one hundred pounds and expects an end to their relationship. The
Lammles, of course, are not happy with this settlement, being in dire financial straits, but realize
that Boffin‘s generosity will go no further where they are concerned. When Georgiana Podsnap
appears and offers the Lammles her only cash, an heirloom necklace, and part of her imminent
inheritance, Boffin takes possession of the money and the necklace in order to return them to
their rightful owner, showing compassion for the naïve girl who gave them to the parasitic
Boffin also exhibits his compassion in other ways, as in his concern that Wegg will be
hurt by his hiring of Rokesmith as his secretary. He says, ―. . .I am bound to bear in mind that I
took Wegg on, at a time when I had no thought of being fashionable or of leaving the Bower. To
let him feel himself anyways slighted now, would be to be guilty of a meanness, and to act like
having one‘s head turned by the halls of dazzling light‖ ( OMF 183-84). In order to avoid
slighting Wegg, Boffin allows him to make the Bower his place of residence, again displaying
his generosity.
It almost goes without saying that Boffin shows compassion toward John Harmon, both
toward his memory when he thinks he is deceased, and toward the man himself when his identity
is revealed. But Boffin‘s compassion, while present, pales in comparison to that shown by Mrs.
The final natural quality of Noddy Boffin is his reliance on inner standards to guide his
behavior. A passage in the ninth chapter of the novel sets up the reader‘s expectations for this
These two ignorant and unpolished people had guided themselves so far on their
journey of life, by a religious sense of duty and desire to do right. Ten thousand weak-
nesses and absurdities might have been detected in the breasts of both; ten thousand
vanities additional, possibly, in the breast of the woman. But the hard wrathful and
sordid nature that had wrung as much work out of them as could be got in their best days,
for as little money as could be paid to hurry on their worst, had never been so warped but
that it knew their moral straightness and respected it. In its own despite, in a constant
conflict with itself and them, it had done so. And this is the eternal law. For Evil often
stops short at itself and dies with the doer of it! But Good, never. ( OMF 105)
Despite the questions of some critics, the characters of the novel never question Boffin‘s moral
rectitude, because he lives the part of his life to which we are privy following his inner standards
of goodness, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.
Along with his behavioral standard of ―straightness‖ is Boffin‘s disregard for Society. As
has been established previously, he has no concern for living according to the expectations of the
class of which he is now a part. Boffin is absolutely his own man, and a natural one by
Rousseau‘s definition.
Similarities among the characters of Dickens‘s novels become obvious and
unquestionable when these characters are measured by the traits of Rousseau‘s natural man.
More importantly, however, we can see through this analysis that from the beginning to the end
of Dickens‘s career, he propounds his belief in the presence of natural goodness in the world.
While a number of critics embrace the view that the second half of his novels, roughly speaking,
are philosophically pessimistic, the natural characters not only exist, but they also survive their
challenges and find a greater happiness than they had previously enjoyed. And more often than
not, intentionally or not, they act as agents of redemption for other characters with which they
are associated. Despite the presence and significance of these natural characters, Rousseau‘s
―civilized‖ characters also appear in abundance, and a similar analysis is necessary in order to
determine their importance in the novels of Dickens.
Brother Charles Cheeryble in Nicholas Nickleby , stating a view that might be Dickens‘s
own, declares:
―Natural affections and instincts, my dear sir, are the most beautiful of the Almighty‘s
works, but like other beautiful works of His, they must be reared and fostered, or it is as
natural that they should be wholly obscured, and that new feelings should usurp their
place, as it is that the sweetest productions of the earth, left untended, should be choked
with weeds and briars.‖ ( NN 564)
While Dickens rarely spoke directly in such terms about the corruption of humanity by the
―weeds and briars‖ of society, or ―civilization‖ as Rousseau termed it, he portrays it over and
over in his fiction. Unfortunately, the evidence all around him was entirely too clear; he presents
not his personal opinions, but the facts of the nineteenth-century English world.
As Chapter 3 shows, Dickens believed in the natural goodness of humankind, but, as
Valerie Kennedy says, ―‗natural humanity‘ is a rare commodity‖ (217) in his literary corpus. To
be sure, the ratio of natural characters to civilized characters is greatly imbalanced; civilized
men, when measured by Rousseau‘s standards, overwhelmingly outnumber the natural ones. In
fact, almost every character has some traits of the civilized man; the majority of characters fall
onto the negative, civilized, end of the aforementioned continuum. A number of critics point to
this fact as evidence that Dickens either espoused Hobbes‘s philosophy of humankind‘s natural
aggression, as does Magnet, or that he became more and more pessimistic as his career
progressed. For instance, Grahame Smith claims that ―Dickens came more and more to view his
society as a muddle of greed, selfishness, snobbery, and bungling inefficiency‖ (147). However,
other evidence suggests that civilization itself creates human aggression, and that Dickens
presents the same flaws in this corrupted society throughout his career, from Pickwick Papers
onward. Also little change develops in the natural-to-civilized ratio over his career span.
According to Palmer, Dickens was a believer in William Godwin‘s Theory of Necessity,
which asserted that ―The ultimate act resulted completely from the determination that was its
precursor . . . All the acts, except the first, were necessary, and followed each other, as inevitably
as the links of a chain do, when the first link is drawn forward‖ (qtd. in Palmer 32). We might
expand Godwin‘s meaning to suggest that, therefore, a person‘s behavior is to a degree a result
of the nurture that he or she has received, although there are definite exceptions to this rule, for
instance, Oliver, Kate Nickleby, and Joe Gargery. The natural goodness with which a person is
born may be ―obscured‖ and ―choked‖ by the various forces around him, as Brother Charles
suggests, and as a number of Dickens‘s ―civilized‖ characters indicate, those to whose early
influences we are privy. The presence of evil, malicious people in the Dickens world, therefore,
does not suggest that he believed humans are naturally depraved. Instead it shows the opposite,
as James E. Marlow implies: ―To Dickens, when men behaved like cannibals, the cause was
neither fate nor the nature that was in them, but rather the nature that had been taken out of
them‖ (qtd. in Kennedy 217).
Like Rousseau, Dickens advocates preservation of the natural traits that are present in
children (again, with exceptions), as we see in his scathing criticism of English educational
practices in Nicholas Nickleby and Hard Times . Unfortunately, however, much in his society,
and therefore much in his fiction, makes this preservation impossible. Also like Rousseau,
Dickens detested the institutions created by the process of civilization that compounded the
problems they were supposed to correct. Marcus notes that Dickens shows ―early animosity to
the idea of institutions themselves, and to the idea that society needed them for its survival‖ (89),
pointing to Dickens‘s presentation of the Poor Law and its components in Oliver Twist . As
quoted previously, Stone refers to the ―hindrance from higher authorities‖ (250) that Dickens
often decries. And in discussing the ―obsession with thwarted or threatened innocence in
nineteenth-century England,‖ Peter Ackroyd points to ―the number of child prostitutes in the
streets, and of child labourers in the mines and factories‖ as ―a terrible indictment of Victorian
‗civilization,‘ which seemed to have been built upon the shuddering backs of oppressed
innocents‖ ( Life and Times 64), an indictment with which Dickens ardently agreed. In a letter to
Forster dated 31 July 1841, he writes of buying copies of A Narrative of the Experience and
Sufferings of William Dodd, a Factory Cripple, written by Himself , and of being ―much affected‖
by this biography of a man who had worked in factories from the age of five and was crippled
when he was fifteen ( Letters II.346). Dickens writes to Forster, ―I wish we were all in Eden
again—for the sake of these toiling creatures‖ ( Letters II.346). His statement indicates a belief
that there was, once upon a time, an ―Eden‖ without institutions that corrupted and often ruined
the lives of men and women. It does not, however, suggest that he believed that this Eden could
actually be recovered, at least not on a societal level.
Rousseau and Dickens, then, both believe that institutions of civilization, whether the
formal ones like the Poor Laws or Chancery or the education system, or the informal ones such
as the emphasis on success and status, are corruptive not only of society itself but also of the
majority of human beings who live within it. If a person is not resilient like the natural
characters we have discussed, or if he does not live beyond the reaches of ―civilized‖ society, he
will most likely be negatively affected by that society. As Rousseau posits and Dickens
illustrates, the negative effects result in the individual‘s development of a number of identifiable
traits in the ―civilized man,‖ traits the converse of those of the natural man.
As we saw in Chapter 2, Rousseau‘s civilized man only becomes so when he joins with
other men (and women) in tribes, clans, or communities. As long as the natural man stays alone,
or with his own mate, no impetus for pride, competition, masks, or any other of the
characteristics develops. That being the case, the civilized man is only found in society,
ultimately in the city, according to Rousseau‘s theory. Dickens believed similarly. Each
example of the civilized man within his novels lives in close proximity to others, even though
some of them (e.g., Ralph Nickleby and Scrooge) do their best to remain sequestered from the
rest of humankind. We also see the effects of this propinquity in Dickens‘s mob scenes in
Pickwick Papers , Barnaby Rudge , and A Tale of Two Cities . Magnet claims that the mobs
behave as they do because of their innate Hobbesian aggression; however, a member of a mob
will usually only display violent, uncontrolled, barbaric behavior as part of the mob, rarely if
ever when he is alone. Mobs can only exist within society, and what many would term ―savage‖
and thus ―natural‖ is actually, according to Rousseau, civilized.
Instead of natural amour de soi, Rousseau‘s civilized man exhibits amour propre , or base
pride. In Rousseau, pride is a natural result of human proximity, as it arises from one‘s
comparing oneself to others; from this comparison arises the desire, the determination, to be or at
least appear to be better than others. This determination then gives rise to competition, whether
that is economic, social, or individual. Dickens observed and condemned this characteristic on
his first trip to America. He wrote to Forster on 3 May 1842, ―I‘ll tell you what the two
obstacles to the passing of an international copyright law with England, are: firstly, the national
love of ‗doing‘ a man in any bargain or matter of business; secondly the national vanity‖ ( Letters
II.231). While Dickens was angered over the copyright issue and pointed his finger here at the
Americans, he portrays these characteristics over and over. Amour propre appears in the novels
in much the same form that he actually witnessed, as resolve to best an enemy or a competitor, as
we see with Ralph Nickleby‘s dogged efforts to ruin Nicholas, Monks‘ attempts to corrupt
Oliver, and Uriah Heep‘s determination to get revenge on David and all who keep him ―umble.‖
It also appears in endeavors to prove oneself higher on the social ladder than someone else, as
with Miss Knag, the Pecksniff daughters, and Mrs. Wilfer, or to use one‘s social position to
abuse or take advantage of someone else, as do the Wititterleys, Sir Mulberry Hawk, Scrooge,
Mrs. Steerforth and her son, Miss Havisham and Estella.
Contrary to the natural man‘s reliance on inner evaluative standards, civilized men and
women must have the validation of others to feel their own self worth; their self image is often
determined by the response they receive from others. For instance, David Copperfield feels
young and immature when he begins his association with Spenlow and Jorkins, ―on account of
the clerks poking one another with their pens to point [him] out‖ ( DC 301). Likewise, young Pip
feels unpolished and inferior because of the response he receives from Estella. As a result of one
or both of these aspects of pride, inordinate ambition and drive to better oneself, at least in the
eyes of society, also appear.
As a reaction to feelings of inferiority or general unworthiness arising from any number
of sources, the civilized man often wears masks to prove himself better than he perceives himself
to be, or better than he thinks others consider him. Rousseau found this pretension rampant in
Parisian society, and Dickens obviously found the same phenomenon in England. His characters
wear masks for a variety of reasons. While they might wear them for the same reason
Rousseau‘s acquaintances did, they also wear them in order to achieve other goals, such as Job
Trotter bursting into tears as a mask of shame and regret about his connection with Jingle, when
in reality he is a part of the scheme, Uriah Heep‘s wearing the mask of humility as a part of his
plot to gain ascendancy over his superiors, and Silas Wegg‘s pretending loyalty to Boffin to hide
his conspiracy for revenge. Barnard indicates that this use of masks occurs predominantly in
―upper-class life,‖ which naturally involves ―pretences and suppressions of self,‖ but that it also
can be found ―in connection with such false aspirants to gentility as Fanny Squeers and Miss
Knag, and later the Lammles and the Veneerings‖ (15). Of course, masks are also worn in
Dickens‘s ―pious frauds,‖ but as stated previously, because these are carried out for honorable
reasons, they do not condemn the wearer to the label of ―civilized.‖
Civilized men and women often wear masks or display amour propre because they stand
to gain material wealth by doing so. While the natural man is satisfied with life‘s necessities, his
civilized counterpart is never satisfied; money and ―portable property‖ (as Wemmick calls them
in Great Expectations ) are the ultimate, insatiable, all-important goal of life. Again, this is one
of the criticisms Dickens had of Americans; in the same letter to Forster he writes, ―As to telling
them, they will have no literature of their own, the universal answer (out of Boston) is, ‗We don‘t
want one. Why should we pay for one when we can get it for nothing? Our people don‘t think
of poetry, sir. Dollars, banks, and cotton are our books, sir‘‖ ( Letters II.233). Ralph Nickleby
and Scrooge are the most obvious fictional examples of this voracious greed, but countless others
live within the pages of Dickens. House notes that ―there is hardly a story without at least one
character in whom the love of money is a master humour‖ (60). In discussing Our Mutual
Friend , Ackroyd might have been talking about any of the novels: ―. . . money, and the pursuit of
money, are the only imperatives. All the appurtenances of ‗society‘ are designed only to
camouflage greed and desire‖ ( Life and Times 193-94).
In the civilized man‘s efforts to amass material wealth, to appear better than others,
and/or to climb the social ladder, compassion finds no place. The civilized life is marked by, at
best, a lack of compassion, and, at worst and more often, overt cruelty. From Dodson and Fogg
in Pickwick Papers to Fascination Fledgeby in Our Mutual Friend , the civilized characters in
Dickens‘s novels often step carelessly on and over those who stand in the way of their goals.
Dodson and Fogg exhibit no compassion toward Pickwick, nor even Mrs. Bardell, as the two are
sentenced to the Fleet, not that they can be expected to do so. The pre-ghostly-visitation Scrooge
could not care any less for Bob Cratchit‘s desire to be with his family on Christmas, or for Bob‘s
disabled son. Ralph Nickleby seems almost absolutely heartless in his treatment of innocent
Kate, and Steerforth‘s betrayal of David, Mr. Peggotty, and Ham, and his subsequent cavalier
disposal of Little Emily are downright cruel. In all of these cases, as well as others, the
importance of the pursuit of wealth or the determination to assert one‘s own will and control over
others outweighs any care or compassion that might arise within the breast of the civilized man.
Finally, whereas the natural man is innocent—naïve about the world, and especially
about vice of any kind—the civilized man is worldly wise and willing to go to any lengths—even
criminal ones—to reach his goals. In Dickens, this again is found in varying degrees. Some can
and will play political and social games to gain status or wealth, such as Bumble the Beadle in
Oliver Twist and Uncle Pumblechook in Great Expectations , but they commit no real crimes.
Some, like Steerforth, Pecksniff, and Estella, prey on the naiveté of others to make a transitory
conquest, or assert their power and position to gain control over others, such as Mulberry Hawk.
And then there are actual criminals, outside the bounds of law, including Fagin, Bill Sikes, and
Monks, Ralph Nickleby and Arthur Gride, Tigg Montague, Uriah Heep, and Fascination
Fledgeby. Regardless of the degree of ―vice‖ to which these characters go, they share a common
factor: their behavior always involves at least one victim.
In most cases, identifying the natural character or characters in each novel is rather
simple. As stated previously, relatively few of them grace the pages of Dickens. However,
choosing one civilized character out of a plethora is more difficult. Some of these characters are
so obviously bad that an examination of them seems almost trite. Nevertheless, the objective
here is not to prove these people wicked or evil, because some civilized people are not
necessarily so, but to show how they are civilized by showing their congruence with Rousseau‘s
catalog of characteristics.
In Pickwick Papers , Pickwick encounters a number of characters who introduce him to
the civilized world. Even the members of his own club, as well as Sam Weller, exhibit civilized
traits at times. But as the degree of civilization of these characters is fairly innocuous, we look
beyond them to find the characters who display the full array of civilized characteristics. We
might at first think of Dodson and Fogg, the shyster lawyers who represent Mrs. Bardell and who
send Pickwick to the Fleet. According to Ackroyd, however, Dickens often emphasizes ―one
particular trait: Pecksniff is remarkable for his hypocrisy, for example, and Scrooge for his
miserliness‖ ( Life and Times 57). Dodson and Fogg are ―remarkable‖ for their greed, their
willingness to twist the truth in order to make money, but Dickens does not present them in light
of the other characteristics. The character who provides a running thread throughout the novel
and who exhibits all of the civilized traits is Alfred Jingle.
Jingle displays two of the characteristics very prominently—his greed and his use of
masks to further his avaricious purposes. We see our first hints of his greed in the first encounter
Pickwick has with him in Chapter II. Wearing a mask of benevolence, he rescues Pickwick from
an angry mob, invites the club members for drinks, and then rushes off to catch his coach, saying
―. . . leave you to pay for the brandy and water,—‖ ( PP 14). When Pickwick and his friends join
Jingle on the coach, he presents himself as a well-to-do man of the world. Carrying only a
brown paper package with ―most suspicious indications of containing one shirt and a
handkerchief,‖ he claims, ―—other luggage gone by water, —packing cases, nailed up—big as
houses—heavy, heavy, damned heavy‖ ( PP 14). In the course of conversation he makes several
dubious claims: that he has written a ten-thousand-line epic poem, that he fought in the French
Revolution of 1830 (though, as Dickens himself notes, it is only 1827 when he makes this
claim), that he was once married to a Spanish beauty who died after having her stomach
pumped—all to illustrate, as he says, ―strange life mine—rather curious history—not
extraordinary, but singular‖ ( PP 18). While this statement is probably true, the strangeness,
curiousness, and singularness of his life is most likely not due to the reasons he cites.
The next instance of Jingle‘s combining pretension with his desire for money, or to be
more exact in this case, to receive benefits without paying for them, comes immediately after the
dinner, and extremely abundant wine, shared with the Pickwickians after the coach ride. Joining
Tracy Tupman in his desire to attend the charity ball being held in the hotel but not having
appropriate clothing, Jingle borrows Winkle‘s dress suit with Tupman‘s help and without
Winkle‘s knowledge. The two attend the ball together, with a flip of Jingle‘s coin determining
that Tupman will pay for tickets, but Jingle advises Tupman not to give his name to the door
man: ―No names at all . . . Names won‘t do—not known—very good names in their way, but not
great ones—capital names for a small party, but won‘t make an impression in public
assemblies— incog. the thing—Gentlemen from London—distinguished foreigners—anything‖
( PP 24). It is only later that the reader learns why Jingle wants to remain incognito. His
behavior at the ball—that is, wooing an elderly widow with ―lots of money‖ away from the
―pompous Doctor‖ Slammer ( PP 26)—is subsequently blamed on Winkle, whose suit he is
wearing. Jingle disappears long enough to miss the consequences of his actions, not
surprisingly, since to be present would mean his exposure. When he finally is confronted, he is
identified as a ―strolling actor‖ ( PP 51) against whom the doctor is advised not to take action.
Neither the doctor, his military regiment, nor the Pickwickians yet know how true this
description is.
Jingle‘s next performance is at the Dingley Dell vs. All-Muggleton cricket match. His
claims of having played cricket ―thousands of times‖ in the West Indies ( PP 105), in addition to
his friendship with Pickwick, gains him an invitation into the Wardle home. Whereas his earlier
exploits turn out to be relatively harmless, here we begin to see his true character. Seeing a
spinster aunt, Rachael Wardle, who stands to inherit significant money, Jingle dons a mask to
win her hand, even though he knows that she and Tupman have a budding relationship. As part
of his spurious role, he discredits Tupman before her, telling her that he is guilty of ―heartless
avarice‖ ( PP 122) and says outright, ―Tupman only wants your money‖ ( PP 122). He tells her
this with regret, he says, because Tupman is his friend (another false statement). Jingle also
plants a seed of jealousy in her mind, telling her that Tupman actually has his eye on her niece
Emily. Of course, none of this is true, but Rachael believes him, accepts his offer of marriage,
and elopes with him, oblivious to the fact that it is he who ―only wants [her] money‖ ( PP 122).
We see a clear indication of his greed when he demands one hundred twenty pounds from
Wardle in return for deserting her.
After his jilting of Rachael Wardle in Chapter X, Jingle appears in his next guise in
Chapter XV at the fancy-dress breakfast of Mrs. Leo Hunter in Eatanswill. Among prolific
―ingenious posturing‖ ( PP 222) by the costumed guests, Jingle takes his place as Mr. Charles
Fitz-Marshall, in the dress of a naval officer and dubbed ―a gentleman of fortune‖ ( PP 228) by
Mrs. Hunter. His attendance is short-lived, however, when she introduces him to Mr. Pickwick.
Nevertheless, this role continues in the location where he is now staying, Bury St. Edmunds.
Pickwick and Sam Weller follow him but do not find him there, though Sam does meet his
cohort, Job Trotter, for the first time. Job is quite the strolling actor himself, and even in the
absence of his ―master‖ but assuredly with his concurrence, he draws Pickwick into a situation
involving an ―immense rich heiress, from boarding-school‖ ( PP 235) to which Jingle is
supposedly to be married. Again, this is a ruse, and Pickwick finds himself on the losing end of
Jingle and Job Trotter‘s ―artful dodge‖ ( PP 250).
The final mask that Jingle wears is again that of Captain Fitz-Marshall, this time in the
town of Ipswich, to which Pickwick and Sam follow him after leaving Bury St. Edmunds. Here
he has endeared himself to the daughter and wife of the town magistrate:
Charmed with his long list of aristocratic acquaintance, his extensive travel, and his
fashionable demeanour, Mrs. Nupkins and Miss Nupkins had exhibited Captain Fitz-
Marshall, and quoted Captain Fitz-Marshall, and hurled Captain Fitz-Marshall at the
devoted heads of their select circle of acquaintance, until their bosom friends, Mrs.
Porkenham and the Miss Porkenhams, and Mr. Sidney Porkenham, were ready to burst
with jealousy and despair. ( PP 377-78)
This all ends quickly for the Nupkinses when Pickwick tells them that Jingle is ―An unprincipled
adventurer—a dishonourable character—a man who preys upon society, and makes easily-
deceived people his dupes, Sir; his absurd, his foolish, his wretched dupes, Sir‖ ( PP 377). Upon
their composite confrontation of Jingle and Trotter, Jingle once again exhibits his arrogant, cool
demeanour, with no hint of contrition. Richard Russo posits that the Nupkins women are even
partly to blame because of their ―social jockeying,‖ which ―makes possible the kind of villainy
perpetrated by Alfred Jingle, whose understanding that his victims would rather let him get away
with his villainy than admit to having been duped grants him a kind of impunity‖ (xiv). Jingle
leaves Ipswich, prophetically telling Pickwick, ―See you again some day—keep up your spirits—
now, Job—trot!‖ ( PP 389). Knowing what we now know about Jingle, we can surmise that he
expects to continue to torment Pickwick, but that is not to be. From here we lose sight of these
―rogues and imposters‖ ( PP 387) until Chapter XLII, when Pickwick finds them in the Fleet.
If Jingle ―wears identities like changes of (other people‘s) clothes‖ (Russo xviii), and if
he often does this for monetary gain, these are not his only civilized characteristics. Involved in
almost all of the scams that he runs is a marked lack of compassion for his victims. Most notable
are the cases involving the women he purposes to marry. First, his desertion of Rachael Wardle
in exchange for ―pecuniary consideration‖ ( PP 377) causes ―lamentations‖ and a ―heart-rending
scene‖ of such proportions that the narrator decides ―not [to] wring the public bosom, with the
delineation of such suffering!‖ ( PP 151). Prior to this scene, Jingle has shown not only a lack of
compassion toward Tupman, but a derisive scorn for the victim of his betrayal by shouting,
―Love to Tuppy ‖ ( PP 135) as his chaise drives away. The duplicity he plays upon the Nupkinses
is similarly without compassion or remorse; however, the reader is hard-pressed to feel sympathy
for Mrs. And Miss Nupkins who worry most about what their friends will think of them.
Nevertheless, Jingle‘s behavior certainly lacks the slightest tinge of sympathy. He enters the
room wherein are the Nupkinses and Pickwick with ―a smile on his face, wholly unmoved by his
very unpleasant situation‖ ( PP 387). He knows that pride will keep the magistrate from holding
him: ―Wouldn‘t do—no go—caught a captain, eh?—ha! ha! Very good—husband for
daughter—biter bit—make it public—not for worlds—look stupid—very!‖ ( PP 388). He and
Job share a laugh over the discomfiture of the Nupkinses and another over Pickwick‘s anger,
then depart smiling.
As a true civilized man, Jingle commits actions that, were they not foiled, would be
considered criminal. His plan to marry Rachael Wardle is obviously a plot to steal her
inheritance; his commission of identity theft in the case of Winkle and his assumption of a false
identity as a naval officer would certainly be punishable by law. However, Jingle is too cunning
to get caught; he always leaves himself a path of escape. Knowing that Wardle will pay him to
leave Rachael, and knowing that the Nupkinses are too proud to expose him, he is able to slip
through the fingers of the criminal justice system, until, that is, he is imprisoned for debt.
Finally, Jingle‘s amour propre is evident in his pervasive desire to dupe, deceive, and
defraud numerous people during the course of the novel. He moves from target to target,
attempting and often succeeding in gaining the upper hand by wearing various masks. While he
does often stand to gain money from his schemes, we must wonder whether his primary goal is
to make fools out of other people, to prove himself smarter and slyer than everyone else. The
evidence supports this theory, because while he does sometimes receive money for his trouble,
sometimes he does not, as in the case of the boarding-house heiress and his deception of
Pickwick and Sam.
One civilized characteristic is questionable regarding Jingle: dependence on the opinions
of others for one‘s self image. Even this may be connected to his duplicity. Jingle seems to be
most satisfied when he has convinced his victims of his status, his vast experience, or, most
importantly, his sincerity. While the opinions of others in regard to Jingle are based on a
specious façade, he measures his own self worth by his ability to convince them of its truth. He
is always successful. Not until he is a prisoner in the Fleet is he forced to dispense with the
façade and present—as well as face—his true self.
If when analyzing Dickens‘s novels for civilized men and women we automatically look
to the most wicked character, in Oliver Twist, we would face a dilemma. This novel contains
three such characters, men who are unquestionably evil—Fagin, Bill Sikes, and Edward Leeford,
otherwise known as Monks. Marcus equates Fagin with the devil, saying that he ―flourishes in
darkness and dissimulation,‖ that he is described as ―the serpent, the tempter, and the corruptor,‖
and that ―his principal commission in the novel is to attempt to demoralize and corrupt Oliver‖
(75-76). Sikes seems to have no human emotion at all, with the exception of the anger upon
which he so often acts; his uncontrolled anger leads him first to beat, then murder, Nancy.
Monks‘ face is marked with a red scar; he chews his lips until they are disfigured; and he has
violent fits that cause him to bite his own hands—all, according to Marcus, ―unfailing signs of
inner corruption‖ (85). Surely we would find that one, if not all three of these, would qualify as
civilized men, and they all do. Interestingly enough, however, there is another character who by
the end of the novel‘s second chapter has displayed all but one of the civilized characteristics,
and by the end of the third, has exhibited the full array—Bumble the Beadle. Given the fact that
Bumble so prominently and so quickly appears as a civilized man, we could easily come to the
conclusion that Dickens created him as a satirical prototype, or perhaps an allegorical figure who
represents not one, but all of the civilized characteristics.
In the reader‘s first glimpse of Bumble, his amour propre is quite evident. He arrives to
tell Mrs. Mann that Oliver, now nine years old, is to go back to the workhouse from the baby
farm. He exerts the strength of his position over Mrs. Mann: ―Do you think this respectful or
proper conduct, Mrs. Mann . . . to keep the parish officers a-waiting at your garden-gate, when
they come here upon porochial business connected with the porochial orphans? Are you aweer,
Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and a stipendiary?‖ ( OT 5).
Asserting his superiority over Mrs. Mann in a declamatory manner, he is satisfied. According to
the narrator, ―Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance. He had
displayed the one, and vindicated the other. He relaxed‖ ( OT 6). When Mrs. Mann compliments
him upon his ingenious method of naming the orphans by calling him ―quite a literary character‖
( OT 7), he, ―evidently gratified,‖ proudly responds, ―Well, well . . . perhaps I may be. Perhaps I
may be, Mrs. Mann‖ ( OT 7). Mrs. Mann has obviously learned that the best way to conduct
business with Bumble is to pander to his ego.
Bumble portrays amour propre in several instances by the same assertion, or celebration,
of his authority or his superior social standing. For instance, he sternly rebukes Noah Claypole
for kissing Charlotte, when he has just been doing the same with Mrs. Corney. He says, ―The sin
and wickedness of the lower orders in this porochial district is frightful! If parliament don‘t take
their abominable courses under consideration, this country‘s ruined, and the character of the
peasantry gone for ever!‖ ( OT 178). Further along, he attempts to regain position and authority
in a public-house after his wife has humiliated him before the workhouse women; a stranger to
him at this point, Monks, fails to return his greeting: ―Mr. Bumble had quite dignity enough for
two. . . so he drank his gin-and-water in silence, and read the paper with great show of pomp and
circumstance‖ ( OT 244). When the two men do start a conversation, the stranger asks him about
his current position: ―‗Master of the workhouse,‘ rejoined Mr. Bumble, slowly and impressively,
to check any undue familiarity the stranger might otherwise assume. ‗Master of the workhouse,
young man!‘‖ ( OT 245). In a subsequent conversation, Bumble declares that he ―only [wants] a
little rousing‖ ( OT 252) to physically protect Mrs. Bumble from Monks, and the narrator
As Mr. Bumble spoke, he made a melancholy feint of grasping his lantern with
fierce determination; and plainly showed, by the alarmed expression of every feature, that
he did want a little rousing, and not a little, prior to making any warlike demonstration;
unless, indeed, against paupers, or other person or persons trained down for the purpose.
( OT 252)
As prideful as Mr. Bumble is, he realizes that his position is dependent on those beneath him on
the social scale, and that they are the only ones to whom he is superior. For these reasons he
feels empowered to assert his authority over them, not however over the higher-ups or the
stronger members of society.
Bumble also displays his amour propre in his ambition. Telling Mrs. Corney that the
former master of the workhouse is at the point of death, he says, ―He is the master of this
establishment; his death will cause a wacancy; that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney,
what a prospect this opens!‖ ( OT 175). On his way home from this visit, he ―[pauses], for a few
minutes, in the male paupers‘ ward, to abuse them a little, with the view of satisfying himself
that he could fill the office of workhouse-master with needful acerbity. Assured of his
qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with a light heart, and bright visions of his future
promotion . . .‖ ( OT 176-77).
Finally, Bumble shows amour propre by his very demeanour. Escorting Oliver to his
apprenticeship at Sowerberry‘s, he ―carried his head very erect, as a beadle always should‖ ( OT
23). Later walking to the baby farm to see Mrs. Mann, he is pictured thus:
Mr. Bumble emerged at early morning from the workhouse-gate, and walked with
portly carriage and commanding steps, up the High-street. He was in the full bloom and
pride of beadlehood; his cocked hat and coat were dazzling in the morning sun; he
clutched his cane with the vigorous tenacity of health and power. Mr. Bumble always
carried his head high; but this morning it was higher than usual. There was an abstraction
in his eye, an elevation in his air, which might have warned an observant stranger that
thoughts were passing in the beadle‘s mind too great for utterance. ( OT 106-107)
Even in the love scene with Mrs. Corney he displays ―a kind of amorous dignity which [makes]
him doubly impressive‖ ( OT 149); he slips his arm around her ―in a slow and dignified manner‖
( OT 150), and in her absence, cases her house for valuables ―with a stately walk‖ ( OT 173). In
only one instance (before Mrs. Corney humiliates him, that is) does his behavior deviate from
this dignity. When Noah arrives at Bumble‘s lodging to tell him that Oliver has ―turned
wicious‖ ( OT 39), Bumble is so
alarmed . . . that he [rushes] into the yard without his cocked hat,—which is a very
curious and remarkable circumstance: as showing that even a beadle, acted upon by a
sudden and powerful impulse, may be afflicted with a momentary visitation of loss of
self-possession, and forgetfulness of personal dignity. ( OT 39)
This lapse, however, is only fleeting, and with his hat firmly in its proper place, Bumble regains
and exhibits his heartfelt amour propre .
As shown by the importance of his hat, Bumble‘s clothing is a concomitant part of his
demeanor, and an indication of his love for luxurious material things. His ―gold-laced cuff[s]‖
( OT 8), the gilt-edged lappel [ sic ] of his official coat‖ with the ―large brass buttons‖ ironically
cut with a ―die . . . the same as the porochial seal—the Good Samaritan healing the sick and
bruised man‖ ( OT 21), hats both cocked and round, and ―a blue great-coat with a cape to it‖ ( OT
110) all portray a very important characteristic of this man who works with the poor and
destitute. Again ironically, when he is promoted to be master of the workhouse, he loses the fine
clothes of beadledom and learns, ―Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions
of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine‖ ( OT 239). Not only do his clothes reveal his
desire for luxury, but also his actual physical appearance. Described as ―fat‖ ( OT 5) and
―corpulent‖ ( OT 29), we need little proof that Bumble enjoys eating, but we see him at one
particular time enjoying a fine meal of ―steaks, oyster-sauce, and porter,‖ followed by a dessert
of ―sundry moral reflections on the too-prevalent sin of discontent and complaining‖ ( OT 110)
directed at the two paupers he has just transported to London.
Bumble also shows actual greed in addition to his love of luxuries. In reporting to Mr.
Brownlow about his knowledge of Oliver, he earns five guineas, but when Mr. Brownlow tells
him that he would have given him ―treble the money, if it had been favourable to the boy‖ ( OT
112), we learn that Bumble would have presented a different account had he known he had more
to gain by doing so. His reasons for marrying Mrs. Corney are strictly mercenary; in her absence
from home, he counts her teaspoons, weighs and evaluates the silver items, and inventories her
furniture. He searches through her belongings until he finds ―a small padlocked box, which,
being shaken, gave forth a pleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin‖ ( OT 173); this is the
deciding factor, and he plans from this moment to propose to her, strictly in order to gain her
material goods. Later when he runs into the stranger who is Monks, he sees ―that an opportunity
[is] opened, for the lucrative disposal of some secret in the possession of his better half‖ ( OT
247), the secret disclosed to Mrs. Corney by old Sally on her deathbed. This chance meeting
with Monks leads to a dangerous encounter between him, Bumble, and Mrs. Bumble, but the
Bumbles come away from the encounter with twenty-five pounds for their trouble and her secret.
Both of them are willing to put themselves in danger for monetary gain, but Bumble himself is
the more fearful of the two.
Bumble‘s fearfulness in these circumstances reveals the man behind the mask that he
usually wears. The reader has been told that Bumble has
a decided propensity for bullying; [derives] no inconsiderable pleasure from the exercise
of petty cruelty; and, consequently, [is] (it is needless to say) a coward. This is by no
means a disparagement to his character; for many official personages, who are held in
high respect and admiration, are the victims of similar infirmities. ( OT 242)
As previously mentioned, Bumble finds no difficulty in exerting his power over those who are
weak already. However, when he is faced with a stronger opponent, any bravado he shows is
merely pretense, as we see in his last encounter with Monks. We also see a clear example of the
mask and the reality when, after his marriage, he visits the part of the workhouse where his wife
is matron. Feeling the weight of reality—that is, his wife‘s dominance over him—he
―[summons] up all his native dignity‖ and demands of the women, ―What do you mean by this
noise, you hussies?‖ ( OT 243). We see the contrast in the narrator‘s description of what happens
next: ―With these words, Mr. Bumble opened the door, and walked in with a very fierce and
angry manner: which was at once exchanged for a most humiliated and cowering air, as his eyes
unexpectedly rested on the form of his lady wife‖ ( OT 243). Only when faced with an opponent
weaker than he is does Bumble wear the mask of boldness and bluster.
Bumble wears a mask on any occasion where he stands to benefit from doing so. For
instance, when he takes Oliver before the magistrate to be apprenticed, he wears a mask of
kindness, calling Oliver ―my dear,‖ while at the same time he ―[puts] on a grim and threatening
look, and [adds], in a low voice, ‗Mind what I told you, you young rascal!‘‖ ( OT 17). He wears
a mask of amorous feeling in his courting of Mrs. Corney, behind which is a pecuniary desire to
obtain her material goods. And he wears a mask of righteous indignation at finding Noah and
Charlotte kissing, immediately after he has been doing the same with Mrs. Corney. As a beadle,
Bumble wears a mask of dignity and distinction, when the man behind it is, to use his own
words, ―a ass‖ ( OT 149).
Another indicator that Bumble is not as self-assured as he would have others believe is
the extent to which he is affected by the response of others to him. As long as others defer to
him and fear him, his delusion of grandeur is intact; if, however, they respond otherwise, he is
completely undone. The following conversation with Oliver, locked in a closet at Sowerberry‘s,
illustrates this point:
―Come; you let me out!‖ replied Oliver, from the inside.
―Do you know this here voice, Oliver?‖ said Mr. Bumble.
―Yes,‖ replied Oliver.
―Ain‘t you afraid of it, sir? Ain‘t you a-trembling while I speak, sir?‖ said Mr.
―No!‖ replied Oliver, boldly.
An answer so different from the one he had expected to elicit, and was in the habit
of receiving, staggered Mr. Bumble not a little. He stepped back from the keyhole; drew
himself up to his full height; and looked from one to another of the three by-standers, in
mute astonishment. ( OT 40)
The other prominent example of Bumble‘s reliance on the response of others for his own self
image is found in the workhouse scene mentioned previously. When he visits the women‘s
section of which his wife is matron, her threatening treatment of him and his cowed response
result in ―excruciating feelings‖ for Bumble, not so much because of her treatment, but because
of ―the two old paupers, who were tittering together most rapturously‖ ( OT 243). His further
response continues:
What could Mr. Bumble do? He looked dejectedly round, and slunk away; and,
as he reached the door, the tittering of the paupers broke into a shrill chuckle of
irrepressible delight. It wanted but this. He was degraded in their eyes; he had lost caste
and station before the very paupers; he had fallen from all the height and pomp of
beadleship, to the lowest depth of the most snubbed hen-peckery. ( OT 243)
Bumble is made so miserable by these events that he must box the ears of a boy who opens the
gate for him, in order to re-assert his sense of power and authority; this, however, has little effect
on his deflated ego.
Even if Bumble is not the evil criminal that Bill Sikes, Monks, or Fagin is, he does
display behavior indicative of moral corruption. He is persuaded, early on, to set aside his
dignity and join Mrs. Mann in a ―leetle drop‖ of ―Daffy‖ (otherwise gin and water) ( OT 6) during
working hours. Similarly, he gives Mrs. Corney a bottle of the port ―that the board ordered for
the infirmary,‖ cautioning her, ―These are official secrets, ma‘am; not to be spoken of; except, as
I may say, among the porochial officers, such as ourselves‖ ( OT 148). But the port is not the
only secret Bumble is responsible for sharing; by his arrangement, Mrs. Bumble tells Monks old
Sally‘s account of Oliver‘s mother‘s dying words and actions—a revelation that would never go
unpunished in today‘s world of privacy laws. Nor does it go unpunished in the novel; although
the Bumbles deny any association with Monks, two witnesses are provided who can give
evidence against them. With ineffective attempts to put all the blame on his wife, Bumble must
face the loss of his ―porochial office‖ ( OT 354) for his injudicious actions.
Perhaps the most deplorable sign of Bumble‘s moral corruption is his lack of compassion.
Bumble‘s self concern leaves no room for humane feeling toward the paupers for whom he is
responsible. He responds to Oliver‘s tears by tapping him on the head with his cane and
charging him with naughtiness and ungratefulness. He reacts to little Dick‘s failure to get well
by saying, ―He‘s a ill-conditioned, wicious, bad-disposed porochial child that‖ ( OT 108), and by
ignoring Dick‘s wasted and feeble physical condition. In taking the two paupers to London, he
grumbles about ―the perverse behaviour of the two paupers, who [persist] in shivering, and
complaining of the cold, in a manner which, Mr. Bumble [declares], [causes] his teeth to chatter
in his head, and [makes] him feel quite uncomfortable; although he [has] a great-coat on‖ ( OT
110). He calls another pauper ―obstinate‖ ( OT 148) for actually dying in the streets after
receiving food he has no way of preparing from the workhouse overseer; his ―great principle of
out-of-door relief‖ such as this is ―to give the paupers exactly what they don‘t want; and then
they get tired of coming‖ ( OT 148). And though he feigns and claims natural compassion when
he sees Oliver for the last time, the reader knows he is simply wearing a mask: ―Isn‘t natur,
natur, Mrs. Bumble!. . . Can‘t I be supposed to feel— I as brought him up porochially—when I
see him a-setting here among ladies and gentlemen of the very affablest description! I always
loved that boy as if he‘d been my—my—my own grandfather‖ ( OT 353). The only person who
actually brings out Bumble‘s compassion is himself.
In a novel in which the primary social issues under attack are the Poor Law, the
workhouse system, and the associated abuses of justice, we cannot be surprised that a character
such as Bumble receives Dickens‘s greatest satirical thrust. He so clearly displays all of the
characteristics of Rousseau‘s civilized man that he is almost a caricature. But in this type of
hyperbolic characterization, we get the most vivid illustration of the reasons both Dickens and
Rousseau objected so strongly to the institutions of their day.
The same might be said of Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby . As headmaster of
Dotheboys School, Squeers represents the Yorkshire boarding schools of Dickens‘s day, the
target here of his satire. Indeed, Squeers is a civilized man, wearing masks, valuing material
wealth over human relationships, and lacking any form of compassion, as well as displaying all
the other characteristics. However, while Squeers is a highly-qualified candidate, another
character in the novel is even more fully civilized than he—Ralph Nickleby. Ralph is a usurer, a
person whose love of, desire for, and illegal dealings with money make impossible any feelings
of compassion. But Ralph is also an uncle and a brother-in-law, positions that should invoke his
better spirit. Instead they incite his pride ( amour propre ) and his desire to evoke fear and to
humiliate and subjugate his relatives. Because Ralph‘s qualities are illustrated over and over
within the novel, we can have no doubt of his location on the natural/civilized continuum.
According to Trevor Blount, ―Avarice effectively shrinks the [personality] of Ralph
Nickleby‖ (19). Certainly it is one of his defining characteristics. Early in the novel, we are told
of the main difference between Ralph and his brother, the father of Nicholas and Kate:
These two brothers . . . had often heard, from their mother‘s lips, long accounts of
their father‘s sufferings in his days of poverty, and of their deceased uncle‘s importance
in his days of affluence, which recitals produced a very different impression on the two:
for while the younger, who was of a timid and retiring disposition, gleaned from thence
nothing but forewarnings to shun the great world and attach himself to the quiet routine
of country life; Ralph, the elder, deduced from the often-repeated tale the two great
morals that riches are the only true source of happiness and power, and that it is lawful
and just to compass their acquisition by all means short of felony. ( NN 18-19)
Ralph begins the practice of usury while still a schoolboy and developed his skill and his
business throughout his youth. In his young adulthood, he becomes so absorbed in the ―pursuit
of money-getting‖ ( NN 20) that he loses contact with his brother, Nicholas, to a large degree by
choice, because he fears ―that if they were intimate he would want to borrow money of him‖ ( NN
20). This is the beginning of Ralph‘s total self-absorption; while he must be in community in
order to lend money and make money, he has no interests beyond himself and remains, as much
as possible, separated from the rest of humankind.
Ralph‘s sister-in-law, nephew, and niece learn quickly that Ralph is not going to be
helpful to them when old Nicholas dies and leaves them destitute. Mrs. Nickleby and Kate cling
to hope that he will lend them aid, but other characters know him too well to expect such
generosity. Newman Noggs, for instance, says, ―I don‘t believe he ever had an appetite . . .
except for pounds, shillings, and pence, and with them he‘s as greedy as a wolf‖ ( NN 576). But
the extent to which he is willing to go to satisfy his greed is the most deplorable aspect of it. Sir
Mulberry Hawk charges, ―You would sell your flesh and blood for money; yourself, if you have
not already made a bargain with the devil‖ ( NN 238), referring to Ralph‘s plot to make money
off of placing Kate in the clutches of Lord Verisopht and Hawk. Later, we are told, he
reconsiders his actions:
―‗I wish,‘ thought Ralph, ‗I had never done this. And yet it will keep this boy to
me, while there is money to be made. Selling a girl—throwing her in the way of
temptation, and insult, and coarse speech. Nearly two thousand pounds profit from him
already though. Pshaw! Match-making mothers do the same thing every day.‘‖ ( NN
As usual, his avaricious intention wins out over his better nature.
In Chapter 44 another of Ralph‘s guiding passions is named, though the reader has seen
evidence of it long before this point: ―Stern, unyielding, dogged, and impenetrable, Ralph cared
for nothing in life, or beyond it, save the gratification of two passions: avarice, the first and
predominant appetite of his nature, and hatred, the second‖ ( NN 536). His avarice is clear from
the opening chapters, but the reason for his hatred is not revealed until Chapter 60. Here we
learn that Ralph, once married, had refused to make his marriage public; to do so would have
meant that his wife would lose her inheritance. For seven years ―he [lives] in London and
[clings] to his business‖ while ―she [remains] alone in a dull country house‖ ( NN 738), awaiting
the death of her brother who controls the property she is to inherit. Before this death occurs,
however, she gives up on Ralph and runs away with another man. Even more unfortunate, the
son of Ralph and his wife, hidden from birth and unacknowledged by Ralph to avoid arousing
suspicion, later ends up at Dotheboys School to be abused and neglected when Ralph has been
told he died. As the informant Brooker tells the Cheerybles, ―He might have been disappointed
in some intention he had formed, or he might have had some natural affection, but he was
grieved at that . . .‖ ( NN 739). It seems that this grief at the supposed death of his son is the last
vestige of positive human feeling Ralph has, and afterwards, hatred takes over.
When hatred is a predominant passion, compassion is impossible. Upon Mrs. Nickleby‘s
assertion that the death of her husband ―was no common loss‖ ( NN 36), Ralph responds, ―It was
no un common loss, ma‘am . . . Husbands die every day, ma‘am, and wives too‖ ( NN 36).
Escorting a gratefully emotional Kate to her first job, he tells her, ―Don‘t begin to cry . . . I hate
crying‖ ( NN 128), and the narrator tells us that Ralph‘s heart ―lay rusting in its cell, beating only
as a piece of cunning mechanism, and yielding no one throb of hope, or fear, or love, or care, for
any living thing‖ ( NN 128). On occasion we may catch glimpses of a kinder, gentler man, but he
never allows these emotions to win out over his general misanthropy. For instance, on the night
he brings Kate to his house to entertain Hawk and Verisopht, the narrator reveals:
Ralph would have walked into any poverty-stricken debtor‘s house, and pointed
him out to a bailiff, though in attendance upon a young child‘s deathbed, without the
smallest concern, because it would have been a matter quite in the ordinary course of
business, and the man would have been an offender against his only code of morality.
But here was a young girl, who had done no wrong but that of coming into the world
alive; who had patiently yielded to all his wishes; who had tried so hard to please him—
above all, who didn‘t owe him money—and he felt awkward and nervous. ( NN 239)
At the conclusion of this episode, we are allowed to see that Ralph once was natural, and that
civilization has ―warped, hardened, drained, chilled‖ him (Hardy, Writer and His Work 39):
As the door of the vehicle was roughly closed, a comb fell from Kate‘s hair, close
at her uncle‘s feet; and as he picked it up and returned it into her hand, the light from a
neighbouring lamp shone upon her face. The lock of hair that had escaped and curled
loosely over her brow, the traces of tears yet scarcely dry, the flushed cheek, the look of
sorrow, all fired some dormant train of recollection in the old man‘s breast; and the face
of his dead brother seemed present before him, with the very look it wore on some
occasion of boyish grief, of which every minute circumstance flashed upon his mind,
with the distinctness of a scene of yesterday.
Ralph Nickleby, who was proof against all appeals of blood and kindred—who
was steeled against every tale of sorrow and distress—staggered while he looked, and
reeled back into his house, as a man who had seen a spirit from some world beyond the
grave. ( NN 240)
Despite these glimmers of hope that Ralph will let compassion triumph, he never does. He
continues to allow his rakish business associates to torment Kate, and he himself continues to
torment Nicholas.
Ralph‘s persecution of Nicholas is a result of his own amour propre . Hardy attributes his
immediate dislike of Nicholas to ―reawakened sexual jealousy‖ ( Writer and His Work 40), but
whatever the reason, Ralph engages in a competitive struggle with his nephew, determined to
―break [his] haughty spirit‖ ( NN 562). He derides Nicholas‘s ―pride, obstinacy, reputation for
fine feeling‖ and says, ―These must be brought down, sir, lowered, crushed . . .‖ ( NN 562). The
defeat of Nicholas becomes a near-obsession for Ralph; he is willing to use any means necessary,
even enlisting the help of Squeers to gain the upper hand and reaffirm his own pride. He
conspires with Squeers to ―wound him through his own affections or fancies,‖ to ―strike him
through this boy‖ ( NN 420), that is, through Smike. This attempt being a failure, he again works
with the schoolmaster, this time to foil Nicholas‘s plan to marry Madeline Bray. After their
plans are made, Ralph‘s thoughts are revealed:
―Now!‖ he muttered, doggedly. ―Come what come may, for the present I am firm
and unshaken. Let me but retrieve this one small portion of my loss and disgrace. Let
me but defeat him in this one hope, dear to his heart as I know it must be. Let me but do
this, and it shall be the first link in such a chain, which I will find about him, as never
man forged yet.‖ ( NN 700)
Along with his thoughts, Ralph reveals, once again, his pride, his amour propre .
As a man who constantly looks out for his own interests, Ralph on occasion wears a mask
to further his cause, although the mask is rarely an effective disguise. We are told:
He wore a sprinkling of powder upon his head, as if to make himself look benevolent; but
if that were his purpose, he would perhaps have done better to powder his countenance
also, for there was something in its very wrinkles, and in his cold restless eye, which
seemed to tell of cunning that would announce itself in spite of him. ( NN 23)
Although his acquaintances know Ralph well enough to see past the mask, they are all witnesses
to his pretentious façade at one time or another. For instance, he wears ―feigned reluctance‖ ( NN
324) when he reveals the location of Kate‘s residence to Lord Verisopht; he ―hastily [puts] away
a padlocked cash-box that [is] on the table, and [substitutes] in its stead an empty purse‖ ( NN
354) when Kate visits him in his office; he exhibits ―profound humility and respect‖ when
visiting Hawk after Nicholas has injured him, covering up ―the impress of a sarcastic smile,‖
―making as though he were irresistibly impelled to express astonishment, but was determined not
to do so,‖ and displaying ―well-acted confusion‖ ( NN 466). In making calls on his clients, he
wears an assortment of masks:
His face was a talisman to the porters and servants of his more dashing clients, and
procured him ready admission, though he trudged on foot, and others, who were denied,
rattled to the door in carriages. Here he was all softness and cringing civility; his step so
light, that it scarcely produced a sound upon the thick carpets; his voice so soft, that it
was not audible beyond the person to whom it was addressed. But in the poorer
habitations Ralph was another man; his boots creaked upon the passage floor as he
walked boldly in, his voice was harsh and loud as he demanded the money that was
overdue; his threats were coarse and angry. With another class of customers, Ralph was
again another man. These were attorneys of more than doubtful reputation, who helped
him to new business, or raised fresh profits upon old. With them Ralph was familiar and
jocose—humorous upon the topics of the day, and especially pleasant upon bankruptcies
and pecuniary difficulties that made good for trade. In short, it would have been difficult
to have recognised the same man under these various aspects, but for the bulky leather
case full of bills and notes which he drew from his pocket at every house, and the
constant repetition of the same complaint, . . . that the world thought him rich, and that
perhaps he might be if he had his own; but there was no getting money in when it was
once out, either principal or interest, and it was a hard matter to live—even to live from
day to day. ( NN 538-39)
Ralph‘s mask of an impoverished existence is merely another sign of his lack of compassion.
As his association with the ―attorneys of more than doubtful reputation‖ ( NN 539)
indicates, Ralph‘s business often, if not always, borders on the illegal, even if his early intention
was to amass riches ―by all means short of felony‖ ( NN 18-19). He is involved by Chapter 2 in
the manipulation of market shares in the ―United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and
Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company‖ ( NN 25), and by the end of the novel his
shady dealings on many fronts—his conspiracy with Gride and Bray, the plot hatched with
Squeers regarding Smike, including kidnap, and his self-admitted ―dissimulation and treachery‖
practiced on a daily basis—come crashing down around him.
The final characteristic of the civilized man is the development of self image based on the
opinions of others. According to Magnet, ―Ralph perceives that allowing the opinions of others
to affect his sense of his own being would greatly qualify his authenticity, and thus his choosing
to be a villain . . . explicitly signals his rejection of the judgments and interests of others‖ (25-
26). This may be true; Ralph says,
―I know the world, and the world knows me. . . You could tell it nothing that would
surprise it—unless, indeed, it redounded to my credit or honour, and then it would scout
you for a liar. And yet I don‘t find business slack, or clients scrupulous. Quite the
contrary. I am reviled or threatened every day by one man or another . . . but things roll
on just the same, and I don‘t grow poorer either.‖ ( NN 543)
Even as he denies the effect of others‘ opinions on himself, there is evidence that this is not
wholly true. Earlier, he reveals ―unprofitable reflections‖ that demonstrate another side of his
―‗When my brother was such as he,‘ said Ralph, ‗the first comparisons were
drawn between us—always in my disfavour. He was open, liberal, gallant, gay; I a crafty
hunk of cold and stagnant blood, with no passion but the love of saving, and no spirit
beyond a thirst for gain. I recollected it well when I first saw this whipster; but I
remember it better now . . .
‗Recollections like these,‘ pursued Ralph, with a bitter smile, ‗flock upon me—
when I resign myself to them—in crowds, and from countless quarters. As a portion of
the world affect to despise the power of money, I must try and show them what it is.‘‖
( NN 421)
This revelation of Ralph‘s thoughts perhaps divulges more insecurity, more resentment of the
comparisons that were made between him and his brother, and more dependence on the world‘s
opinion than Ralph would admit to. Like many civilized characters, Ralph depends on his ability
to force his will on others and to evoke fear and deference to provide him with a sense of his own
self worth, though he denies this dependence.
With Martin Chuzzlewit , we encounter the same issue as with Oliver Twist —an
abundance of civilized characters, some of whom display behavior so monstrous that we cannot
merely label them civilized, but must also condemn them as criminals. In this case, a choice
from among Seth Pecksniff, Jonas Chuzzlewit, and Tigg Montague/Montague Tigg would
merely be arbitrary. A selection from among three equally heinous characters, however, is
unnecessary if we focus our attention on the chapters of the novel that take place in the United
States. Contrary to some critics who claim that the American chapters contain Dickens‘s
presentation of natural man in a less than flattering light and, therefore, reveal his rejection of
Rousseau‘s philosophy, analysis of the Americans according to actual natural/civilized
characteristics proves that they are clearly corrupted and thus civilized. This fact refutes the
theory that Dickens‘s criticism and satire in these chapters at least in part target Rousseau and
direct it wholly where he intended—toward the Americans.
We must first note that, contrary to claims that United States is a ―new‖ country at the
time of the novel‘s action, it has had a recognized identity for nearly two hundred years. Young
though it is in comparison to England and other European countries, it has developed cities and
numerous ―institutions,‖ a sure sign in Rousseau‘s works of civilization. Critics who point to the
naming of the ―Eden‖ settlement as a sign of its primeval nature are missing several points: First,
the entire premise and promise of the Eden Land Corporation is a sham; the name is merely a
sales tactic. Secondly, in the first description of the settlement, we are told that ―the waters of
the Deluge might have left it but a week before: so choked with slime and matted growth was the
hideous swamp which bore that name‖ ( MC 375). Schwarzbach notes this as another sign of the
―prehistoric nature‖ of the settlement (90); however, the allusion is to the biblical flood, an event
occurring because of the effects of civilization on the people of Noah‘s day, undoubtedly after
the fall of humankind. Finally, Barnard points to imagery used in the description of Pecksniff‘s
village to show that it, too, is a ―corrupted [Eden], with the sin of selfishness the cause of the
Fall‖ (43); he explains, ―The word ‗serpent‘ clings to Pecksniff . . . The Eden imagery is frequent
enough to establish in our minds the idea of a stealthy insidious corruption: Eden implies the
serpent, and the Fall implies the sin of Cain; the idyllic village includes Pecksniff, and Pecksniff
shelters and encourages Jonas . . .‖ (43-44). The fallacy, then, is that the United States is actually
natural, and that natural is not desirable. Dickens actually presents the truth that the United
States is as civilized and as corrupted as England, and that the ―American vices of self-approval,
windbag oratory, mob idolatry, corruption and boot-licking‖ (Barnard 45) are found in England
as well, even if tobacco-spitting is not.
Schwarzbach observes a ―curious abstract uniformity that pervades the American
character and American culture . . . the people seem to have the same opinions, the same ideas,
or for that matter are perfectly interchangeable in almost every respect‖ (86-87). This
assessment is accurate. Thus, analysis will combine certain illustrious civilized American
characters, several of whom claim to be ―natural‖—but are not.
Whereas masks usually take the form of hypocrisy or pretense, the American version is
different. On first consideration, the reader might think that behavior such as that displayed by
Mrs. Hominy, or the Norrises discussing slavery, is surely posturing, but these characters and
others like them act as they believe themselves to be. Generally, Americans are unable to see
themselves other than as others see them; they have no authentic self knowledge, nor any real,
authentic self. According to Schwarzbach, ―Americans believe their own cant. For there is no
inner life for Americans to mask, and though this is in one sense more honest, as they are hiding
nothing, in another it is far more frightening, in that there is nothing to hide‖ (86). Thus, we
cannot accept Hannibal Chollop‘s claim that he, along with his fellow Americans, is ―the cream
Of human natur‘‖ ( MC 523). He wears this mask to fool himself, just as Mrs. Hominy‘s mask of
self-deception is the belief that she is the ―mother of the modern Gracchi‖ ( MC 540). For all
these mask-wearing Americans, ignorance of self really is bliss. Only Mr. Bevan seems to see
objectively; he says, ―I do not find and cannot believe, and therefore will not allow, that we are a
model of wisdom, and an example to the world, and the perfection of human reason, and a great
deal more to the same purpose, which you may hear any hour in the day‖ ( MC 279).
In the aforementioned letter of Dickens to Forster, he points up ―national vanity‖ as one
of the most striking of American characteristics. Certainly Martin Chuzzlewit documents this
claim. Virtually every character displays inordinate pride in the United States— amour propre
focused on country. Such pride will not allow the bearer to acknowledge his or her own flaws;
to do so might place him or her lower than another on the social scale. Americans believe that
they are what they say they are. Thus, in order to convince others, they must continually
disparage England and praise the United States. Upon Martin‘s arrival, for instance, Colonel
Diver addresses him, ―You have brought, I see, sir . . . the usual amount of misery and poverty
and ignorance and crime, to be located in the bosom of the Great Republic. Well, sir! let ‘em
come on in ship-loads from the old country: when vessels are about to founder, the rats are said
to leave ‘em‖ ( MC 257). Similarly, General Choke asks Martin, ―How‘s the unnat‘ral old parent
by this time?‖ and follows with, ―How‘s she! Progressing back‘ards, I expect, as usual?‖ ( MC
345). General Fladdock also pontificates about the faults of England: ―The ex-clusiveness, the
pride, the form, the ceremony . . . The artificial barriers set up between man and man; the
division of the human race into court cards and plain cards, of every denomination—into clubs,
diamonds, spades, everything but hearts!‖ ( MC 290-91). Ironically, this speech comes
immediately before the general is stunned by the news that he is in company with a man, Martin,
who traveled in steerage on the voyage to America—a man obviously below the general‘s social
station and thus unfit for his company. Martin quickly learns, after several people have asked
him how he likes the United States, that he cannot give an honest answer: ―I have learned by
experience, that you take an unfair advantage of a stranger, when you ask that question. You
don‘t mean it to be answered, except in one way. Now, I don‘t choose to answer it in that way,
for I cannot honestly answer it in that way. And therefore, I would rather not answer it at all‖
( MC 532). Any time Martin does try to give a truthful answer, the answer is one such as General
Choke gives him when he declares that the Queen does not live in the Tower of London: ―. . . the
knowledge of Britishers themselves on such points is not to be compared with that possessed by
our intelligent and locomotive citizens‖ ( MC 346-47). In fact, according to the Americans, the
British, with respect to any detail, are inferior to them.
In addition to Americans being unreasonably proud of their country, individual amour
propre abounds. Our first glimpse of Colonel Diver signals his personal pride: ―This gentleman
wore a rather broad-brimmed hat for the greater wisdom of his appearance; and had his arms
folded for the greater impressiveness of his attitude‖ ( MC 256). This description might suggest a
mask but for the fact that Diver believes he is wise and impressive. We are further told that he
looks ―like a man who [is] oppressed to inconvenience by a sense of his own greatness‖ ( MC
260). Members of the Norris family revel in their associations with all the great ―dukes, lords,
viscounts, marquesses, duchesses, knights, and baronets‖ of England ( MC 287), and then, while
claiming to be abolitionists, they agree that ―negroes [are] such a funny people, so excessively
ludicrous in their manners and appearance, that it [is] wholly impossible for those who [know]
them well, to associate any serious ideas with such a very absurd part of the creation‖ ( MC 288).
Mrs. Hominy enters the hall where Elijah Pogram is appearing, and
A lane [is] made; and Mrs. Hominy, with the aristocratic stalk, the pocket
handkerchief, the clasped hands, and the classical cap, came slowly up it, in a procession
of one. Mr. Pogram testified emotions of delight on seeing her . . .
Their first salutations were exchanged in a voice too low to reach the impatient
ears of the throng; but they soon became audible, for Mrs. Hominy felt her position, and
knew what was expected of her. ( MC 540)
These characters exhibit amour propre with demonstrations of their own importance or by
asserting what they consider their own superiority on the social scale, but often the Americans
voice pride in their fellow countrymen as well. The phrase ―one of the most remarkable men in
our country, sir!‖ ( MC 268) is applied to numerous Americans, and even Hannibal Chollop is
touted by Elijah Pogram as ―a model of a man, quite fresh from Natur‘s mould! . . . a true-born
child of this free hemisphere . . . a child of Natur‘, and a child of Freedom . . .‖ ( MC 533). Boast
as Pogram might about him, Chollop is in no way what Rousseau had in mind as the natural man.
Hannibal Chollop is actually a ―violent vagabond‖ ( MC 520). His intense brutality is one
of the major vices of the Americans, although Hannibal‘s brand is more violent than most. He
was much esteemed for his devotion to rational Liberty; for the better propagation
whereof he usually carried a brace of revolving-pistols in his coat-pocket, with seven
barrels apiece. He also carried, amongst other trinkets, a sword-stick, which he called his
―Tickler‖; and a great knife, which (for he was a man of a pleasant turn of humour) he
called ―Ripper,‖ in allusion to its usefulness as a means of ventilating the stomach of any
adversary in a close contest. ( MC 520)
As disturbing as his violent behavior are his being distinguished in the eyes of his fellow
countrymen, his deeds being celebrated in all the newspapers. Perhaps we should note that
Dickens did expressly say in a letter to Andrew Bell, the author of Men and Things in America ,
that brutality and violence were not limited to America:
. . . remember how much brutality you may see (if you choose) in the common streets
and public places of London. I have often seen a boy, and more than once a Woman,
quite as roughly used as your Negro in the Oyster room and either you or I rising from
our desk and walking out, could find in the next street (always supposing that we were
bent on looking for him) the counterpart of your Yankee swaggerer. ( Letters II.402-03)
Importantly, he wrote this before actually coming to America (12 October 1841), and the
examples he cites from Bell‘s account, while deplorable, seem mild compared to the actions of
Dickens‘s American.
But Chollop is not the only unlawful character. Jefferson Brick and Colonel Diver tell
Martin about the sale of forged letters as a common practice and as a sign of ―smartness‖ ( MC
265). Major Pawkins, ―one of the most remarkable men‖ in America,
was a great politician; and the one article of his creed, in reference to all public
obligations involving the good faith and integrity of his country, was, ―run a moist pen
slick through everything, and start fresh.‖ This made him a patriot. In commercial
affairs he was a bold speculator. In plainer words he had a most distinguished genius for
swindling, and could start a bank, or negotiate a loan, or form a land-jobbing company
(entailing ruin, pestilence, and death, on hundreds of families), with any gifted creature in
the Union. . . But as a man‘s private prosperity does not always keep pace with his
patriotic devotion to public affairs; and as fraudulent transactions have their downs as
well as ups; the major was occasionally under a cloud. ( MC 268-69)
The American who has greatest effect on the action of the novel, however, is Zephaniah Scadder,
the agent who sells Martin his estate in Eden. Several of his sales ploys are shams: he has a city
map on the wall of the office misleading Martin (and undoubtedly others) to think that Eden
actually has been settled; he claims that the furniture in the office is made of Eden lumber; he
tries several times to talk Martin out of the deal so he can say, ―If it shouldn‘t happen to fit . . .
don‘t blame me‖ ( MC 358). And when Chollop finds Martin and Mark in Eden, he finds
pleasure in Scadder‘s having gotten the better of the British men: ―Chollop was so delighted at
the smartness of his excellent countryman having been too much for the Britisher, and at the
Britisher‘s resenting it, that he could contain himself no longer, and broke forth in a shout of
delight‖ ( MC 522). Dickens‘s charge in the letter to Forster previously quoted—―the national
love of ‗doing‘ a man in any bargain or matter of business‖—is illustrated clearly by the actions
and accounts of these Americans. In these cases, the ―doing‖ involves immoral and illegal
dealings, and falls into Rousseau‘s equation of civilization and vice.
In a gathering of men at Pawkins‘s boarding house early during Martin‘s visit, the
Americans exhibit two forms of greed. The first is their inhalation of the dinner:
All the knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few
words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost in self-defence, as if a
famine were expected to set in before breakfast time to-morrow morning, and it had
become high time to assert the first law of nature [i.e., self preservation]. The poultry,
which may perhaps be considered to have formed the staple of the entertainment—for
there was a turkey at the top, a pair of ducks at the bottom, and two fowls in the middle—
disappeared as rapidly as if every bird had had the use of its wings, and had flown in
desperation down a human throat. The oysters, stewed and pickled, leaped from their
capacious reservoirs, and slid by scores into the mouths of the assembly. The sharpest
pickles vanished, whole cucumbers at once, like sugar-plums, and no man winked his
eye. Great heaps of indigestible matter melted away as ice before the sun. It was a
solemn and awful thing to see. Dyspeptic individuals bolted their food in wedges;
feeding, not themselves, but broods of nightmares . . . ( MC 271)
The Americans display gluttonous eating habits and a deficiency of manners more than once.
For Martin, dinner is only the first symptom of their greed. The men‘s conversation after this
dinner directly demonstrates their chief concern:
It was rather barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greater part of it may be
summed up in one word—dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and
associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions
that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with
dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was
auctioneered, appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable
thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. The more of that
worthless ballast, honor and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard from the ship of
his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample stowage-room he had for dollars.
Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner of the nation for an
idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded
soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to them! ( MC 273-74)
These two passages clearly portray the intense money-grubbing and epicurean excesses of the
Americans. In such incidents, combined with the schemes of Scadder and others in the Eden
Land Corporation, Dickens‘s Americans clearly possess this typical characteristic of civilized
With themselves, their country, and their money at the forefront of their minds,
Americans have no time for compassion or for any of the worthier feelings of the human heart.
Throughout the American chapters of the novel, we find no mention of one character, other than
Mark, and eventually Martin, feeling sympathy for another, nor any mention of ―Institutions‖
focused on the needs of frailer members of society. If compassion is unknown in the more
―civilized‖ parts of society, then we certainly are not surprised by Hannibal Chollop‘s obvious
lack of it: he sits in Martin‘s cabin ―smoking away like a factory chimney‖ ( MC 520), despite
Martin‘s struggling with fever to the point of death. Nor are we shocked when he laughs and
makes jokes about Scadder‘s con game instead of sympathizing with the victims. Nor does
Captain Kedgick have any compassion when Martin returns from Eden, only being concerned
that Martin ―didn‘t ought to have received ‘em‖ at the ―le-vee‖ in his honor ( MC 536) if he did
not intend to stay at the settlement. The only sorrow the captain feels is that Martin and Mark
―had not both died in Eden‖ ( MC 537).
The final civilized characteristic is the external source or sources of a person‘s—and in
this case, a nation‘s—concept of self. That anyone in America cares about the opinion of an
outsider such as Martin is improbable. Any criticism he levels at the United States to an
American is brushed off as ignorance. The Americans build their concept of self worth by
listening to others like themselves, others who share the same views and opinions, others who
will declare them ―the most remarkable . . . in the country.‖ While many need no one else to
praise them because their self-concept is already so high, such compliments and behavior are
common features of their conversation. Or, as with Colonel Diver, they measure their self worth
by public opinion:
It was clear that Colonel Diver, in the security of his strong position, and in his
perfect understanding of the public sentiment, cared very little what Martin or anybody
else thought about him. His high-spiced wares were made to sell, and they sold; and his
thousands of readers could as rationally charge their delight in filth upon him, as a glutton
can shift upon his cook the responsibility of his beastly excess. Nothing would have
delighted the colonel more than to be told that no such man as he could walk in high
success the streets of any other country in the world: for that would only have been a
logical assurance to him of the correct adaptation of his labours to the prevailing taste,
and of his being strictly and peculiarly a national feature of America. ( MC 266)
For t