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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Men who are thoroughly false and hollow , seldom try to hide those vices from
themselves ; and yet in the very act of avowing them , they lay claim to the virtues
they feign most to despise . “ For , ' say they , ' this is honesty , this is truth .
What makes Thackeray ' s narrators so interesting is their reluctance to claim that
they represent full literal truth , while nonetheless aiming to convey a larger moral
truth . Laura Fasick has examined this quandary in “ Thackeray ' s Treatment of ...
... the materials of the narrative that remain unknown to us because they are
fictional , and the “ truth ” about Lyndon himself , hidden in the events he narrates
and disclosed to us through his language , which masks this truth from himself .
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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