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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29 Perhaps this was no more than a reflection of the larger movement of thought
during the century , with claims for objective or scientific responses to human and
natural events displacing to a large degree religiously grounded moral ...
But if these two worlds at first appear to be separate , perhaps even polar
opposites , a little examination proves them to be elaborately intertwined . Estella
is not an embodiment of a happy household , but the daughter of a convict . The
... but perhaps a significant weakness of the novel is that there is too little
penetration of the masks , too much reticence . Other novels had scamps like
Becky Sharp to puncture other people ' s pretences . Esmond had what I believe
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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