Sunday, August 29, 2010
elevated into the marvellous
After my last post I was still thinking about the way Dickens notices people's particularities when I came across this sentence in one of his Reprinted Pieces: "In the Courts of Justice, the materials of thousands of such stories as we have narrated - often elevated into the marvellous and romantic, by the circumstances of the case - are dryly compressed into the set phrase, 'in consequence of information I received, I did so and so.'"
With that it occurred to me that he was also alert to the habits people use to mask or reduce complication (particularity being one of those habits, a way of turning the large grey world into black and white, a purpose that religion or politics serves for some people, so that a particularity such as that of Miss Monflathers becomes a little secular religion of her own. Hence her bravery when she sees it questioned), and that this pinpoint-reduction, this moment of focus (everything "dryly compressed into the set phrase"), becomes another kind of advertisement, by which we may know them. And then I remembered that E.M. Foster had called Dickens' characters one-dimensional, and I wondered at the way we (this is a general we and may not mean you) think of fictional characters as autonomous beings -- imaginary autonomous beings, of course, and artificially created by authors, but still realistic imitations of people, with life histories and internal motivations -- thinking of them as realistic imaginary extrusions of their realistic imaginary pasts, whereas a character like Mr Micawber or Mrs Gamp is perhaps an extrusion of the world itself, as if this fictional environment is a kind of deep-sea fish, putting out a light at the end of its forehead-prong, and that light is a character. The light is the spectacle, but the mass propelling that light is the fish.
Which reminds me in turn of an idea I'm probably remembering wrongly from Plato; that there is a pure essence, and that the things around us remind us of that essence. A tree is a reminder of the perfect essence of trees. And so Mrs Gamp is not a person, even an imaginary person, but a reminder of the perfect essence of Gampness, which we must have intuited, once upon a time.