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Thursday, February 09, 2012

From the woods to Orwell and Dickens

Call this a musing or a ramble, whatever.  I went for a long walk in the woods with my dog, Todd, which ought to mean, since it was in the woods in Maine, that I then read Thoreau; but after our walk I was initially interrupted by a partial journey through Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" (with an interlude to eat my very first cara cara orange, which I highly recommend) and a full viewing of "Interstellar Overdrive."  

Then on to read Christopher Hitchens' last essay, which was on G.K. Chesterton, which I confess to not really understand since I'm not very aware of Chesterton and only marginally more so of T.S. Eliot, who is also quoted often in that piece.  But then on to an article in The Atlantic regarding the writing of Hitch's final essay, which then lead me on to something that would not be surprising if you knew Hitch and again not surprising if you know me.  What is it?  Orwell's essay on Dickens, of course.  But before you read the link to the essay, I want to share this gem of a quote from Orwell:
“One is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.”
 Since Hitchens is what truly sparked me to write this personal piece, I will likely end my day with a little of Mr. Walker's amber restorative.

Now back to the Orwell essay to put in a teaser quote:
attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been
approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and,
more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so
completely that he has become a national institution himself. In its
attitude towards Dickens the English public has always been a little like
the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling.
And then one more, which I hope will help to tie some of these themes together, at least what it was about Orwell that Hitchens admired.  In this quote you see Orwell's pragmatic outlook on society as he explains Dickens' similar view:
Whatever else Dickens may have been, he was not a hole-and-corner
soul-saver, the kind of well-meaning idiot who thinks that the world will
be perfect if you amend a few bylaws and abolish a few anomalies. It is
worth comparing him with Charles Reade, for instance. Reade was a much
better-informed man than Dickens, and in some ways more public-spirited.
He really hated the abuses he could understand, he showed them up in a
series of novels which for all their absurdity are extremely readable,
and he probably helped to alter public opinion on a few minor but
important points. But it was quite beyond him to grasp that, given the
existing form of society, certain evils CANNOT be remedied. Fasten upon
this or that minor abuse, expose it, drag it into the open, bring it
before a British jury, and all will be well that is how he sees it.
Dickens at any rate never imagined that you can cure pimples by cutting
them off. In every page of his work one can see a consciousness that
society is wrong somewhere at the root. It is when one asks 'Which root?'
that one begins to grasp his position.

Are you lost yet?

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