(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Where I forever and always disprove the claim that Dickens couldn't write good female characters....Part 1 DUN DUN DUNN

That Dickens was abysmal at writing lady type characters is sort of a literary given. And I mean, sure, headstrong, heavily-bearded dude writing in the Victorian era. When some other guy named Coventry Patmore actually wrote this poem:
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
 How often flings for nought! and yokes 
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes 
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse, 
With pardon in her pitying eyes.


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     Plus, Dickens had numerous decidedly bad relationships with women throughout his life, almost all of which were caused by his being a dick (ummm like when he left his wife Catherine for the 18 year old Ellen Ternan). 

    So what with disgusting cultural norms and icky personal baggage, there's no denying that Dickens' fictional depictions of women are mostly repugnant and frustrating, either doe-eyed weepy angels or monstrous vicious shrews. BUT you are missing out on quite a bit you think all his women characters are terrible. He sucked but he was also an extraordinarily brilliant person and he wrote some pretty kickass female characters to match, even if they kind of slip through the cracks.  For all the Little Nells and Lucie Manettes, there are also your Betsey Trotwoods and Helena Landlesses. Let's talk about them!

The Pickwick Papers: As the majority of the book is about a bunch of old guys who ramble around the countryside and drink, there are SURPRISINGLY not a lot of women. There only one of marginal interest is Mary Weller. Mary Weller was actually the name of Dickens' nursemaid when he was little, and she used to tell him creepy stories.

Oliver Twist: Nancy. As a prostitute and thief she is the complete antithesis of a "good" Victorian woman, but rather than vilifying her as would have been more acceptable based on the morals of the time, Dickens makes Nancy the compassionate, valiant heroine of the story. And a lot of readers don't realize that, based on a comment she makes to Fagin about Oliver's age,  she's only 16 or 17. Damn, right?  She is tragic, strong, compelling and morally complex in a novel where most of the characters are either ALWAYS picking wildflowers at six in the morning or ALWAYS kidnapping orphans.

We'll pick up again next time with Nicholas Nickleby. I still have nothing to say about Agnes Grey, so I'll probably just rant about governesses some time soon.

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