"A curious monomaniac. The man seems to believe everybody was acquainted with his mother."
~ ~ ~
By Paul C. Squires (?-?).
First appearance: The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, July-August 1938.
Article (32 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"He is not a preacher. He is a master analyst in the field of criminology."As you can tell from the quote just above, our author diverges somewhat from the usual appraisal of Charles Dickens's criminously-related stories (see "Resources," below), giving him high marks for his criminological acumen. Throughout the essay, Freud raises his ugly head (let's face it, Sigmund was no Adonis) in the form of his theories of psychosexual pathology as they might relate to criminality. Since Squires must needs discuss plot details of several of Dickens's books, we're issuing a SPOILERS warning at this point:
"It is our plan to take up in this paper three of the novels [Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Our Mutual Friend] and consider
the criminalistic aspects in a systematic manner."
They say you should write about what you know:
"That he [Charles Dickens], who knew the streets, the law courts,
the lowest haunts of London as intimately as he knew the rooms of
his own house, must have had strong convictions on this subject
cannot be doubted by anyone even casually acquainted with his
novels and miscellaneous writings. He was intensely interested
not only in the common law and chancery, but also and preemi-
nently in the criminal law of England."
To the charge that Dickens was only a caricaturist:
"The principal difficulty cast in one's way when endeavoring
to interpret Dickens's characters is this: Dickens takes a single
human trait and constructs a personality out of it. In so doing
he is not, perhaps, as far wrong as some people would try to
argue. After all, are not men and women just so many exagger-
ations of a main, central trait—variations on a theme, we might
say—which determines their destinies? The big task is to break
through the encrustation of caricature covering the dramatis
personae of Dickens, thereby revealing their true essence.
When this is once accomplished, we find that his characters
are 'all too human,' to borrow a title from Nietzsche."
Not everyone was a deep-dyed villain:
"Dickens fought for a decent measure of flexibility in the harsh
penal system of his country. He carefully distinguishes between
the various kinds of motivation leading to anti-social conduct.
He always asks himself: Is this man worth saving?"
Social improvement was always Dickens's primary aim:
"Whereas in Great Expectations we have observed the mature
Dickens at work, in Oliver Twist we see the youthful reformer
in all the white heat of his enthusiasm. Here is the sort of
realism that jarred the prudes of the Victorian era. Oliver
Twist was written not only for the purpose of holding up to
shame and universal condemnation the poorhouse system
of his day, but especially aimed to debunk crime and the
Even the middle class couldn't escape Boz's critical gaze:
"This [Our Mutual Friend], Dickens's last completed novel,
introduces us to a criminal type differing radically from his
preceding portraitures. We refer, of course, to the school-
master Bradley Headstone. As Chesterton insightfully says,
'it was a new notion to combine a deadly criminality not
with high life or the slums (the usual haunts for villains)
but with the laborious respectability of the lower, middle
classes.' Dickens here made a notable voyage of exploration
into one of the most obscure domains of psychiatry and
criminology. His study of Headstone's mental pathology
is so remarkable as in and by itself to assure him a seat
among the great literary psychiatrists."
"Dickens does not smear a thick, nauseating coat of varnish
over his felons and crooks, as some have done. He refuses to
wax maudlin over them. He insists on tracing out the maze
of causation which produces the individual who breaks the
tablets of the law. The criminal is, for him, a natural and
Typo: "Whether Orlick intended to will Mrs. Joe that night"
- Project Gutenberg has Great Expectations (1861) (HERE), Oliver Twist (1837) (HERE), and Our Mutual Friend (1865) (HERE). Interestingly enough, our author doesn't even mention
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), over which much ink has been spilled since its first appearance; go (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- In a related vein, see John Marshall Gest's The Lawyer in Literature (1913) (online HERE; reviewed HERE), especially Chapters I ("The Law and Lawyers of Charles Dickens") and II ("The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick"):
"As Dickens viewed the law with profound contempt, so he regarded lawyers with scant favor. Most of the lawyers in his books are shysters, as we would call them, or narrow, mean, ignorant pettifoggers. His books are crowded with familiar specimens. . . .
"He was, as I said, sentimental and emotional; he was sympathetic also. He saw and appreciated the evils of society as they existed in his day, but he lacked the constructive faculty of suggesting practical reforms. His ability consisted in exciting compassion for the poor and oppressed, scorn and contempt for the oppressor, and derision for the laws which, at the time he wrote, favored poverty and oppression, and were the worn-out heritage of
an earlier stage of society. . . .
"I repeat that in reading Dickens's description of the law and lawyers we must bear in mind that, first and last, his aim was to ridicule, satirize and caricature all that he disliked and despised, and he saw much in the law
and lawyers of England to dislike and despise. He was not, of course, an educated lawyer. I doubt very much if he ever read any law at all."