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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The pattern of the prodigal son or husband is especially loathsome for Dickens
because it brings crime , sin , and vice into the home . Spurning filial obedience
and neglecting parental or spousal protection and care are very high on Dickens
I mean Christianity , especially in its popular and simplified form . ... of the text
whereby it is necessary to return the text to its historical , biographical , and
especially moral setting to approach a sound , but by no means exclusive
... the poetry , to our mind , is not like nature , though it is sometimes something
like poetry ” ( 133 ) . Thackeray was especially hard on Bulwer because he
thought the man , though celebrated , not as good an artist as he believed himself
to be ...
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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