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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By the word ' debts ' is here evidently meant ' trespasses ' or sins ; for the word '
trespasses ' is used in the same prayer ... which are past ; just as the paying
regularly all our future debts can never cancel a debt which is already standing
Athough I have examined some of these features already in Dickens ' earlier
work , I will now explore at greater length the way the broad concepts of debt and
punishment engender dubious strategies for human conduct , and call forth ...
As we have seen in the previous chapter , from the outset of his career Thackeray
was inclined to depict gamblers as almost certain losers in the long run . One
very likely consequence of gambling was debt . In many Victorian narratives ...
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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