Dickens and Thackeray: Punishment and Forgiveness
Attitudes toward punishment and forgiveness in English society of the nineteenth century came, for the most part, out of Christianity. In actual experience the ideal was not often met, but in the literature of the time the model was important. For novelists attempting to tell exciting and dramatic stories, violent and criminal activities played an important role, and, according to convention, had to be corrected through poetic justice or human punishment. Both Dickens' and Thackeray's novels subscribed to the ideal, but dealt with the dilemma it presented in slightly different ways.
At a time when a great deal of attention has been directed toward economic production and consumption as the bases for value, Reed's well-documented study reviving moral belief as a legitimate concern for the analysis of nineteenth-century English texts is particularly illuminating.
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Infanticide , to us a hideous crime , appears to change its value with changing
social needs . One recalls the ancient Greek practice of exposing unwanted
infants to the elements . The law in Victorian England remained basically lenient
For the greater part of the play , evil appears to reign triumphant , controlling the
structure of events , dictating the moral co÷rdinates of reality . Virtue , expulsed ,
eclipsed , apparently fallen , cannot effectively articulate the cause of the right .
Subsequent references appear in the text . George Worth has devoted a
booklength study to the subject in Dickensian Melodrama : A Reading of the
Novels ( Lawrence : The University of Kansas Press , 1978 ) . 9 . A number of
studies have ...
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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