The Social Gospel of Charles Dickens

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“I hold my imaginative capacity,” Charles Dickens once wrote, “on the stern condition that it must master my own life, often have complete possession of me, make its own demands upon me, and, sometimes for months together, put everything else away from me.”

And yet, such isolation always made him uneasy. Privately and publicly, Dickens extolled the vita activa and warned of the dangers and vices that often overwhelm those who withdraw morosely from society, or who hold themselves above the common run of humanity. Dickens’s novels repeatedly make snobs, solipsists, and self-absorbed spongers the targets of satirical scorn. In Bleak House Harold Skimpole appears contemptible when he boasts of his egocentric and conniving ways”his brazen habit of cadging money and sympathy from susceptible friends.

Of course, in the same novel, the kind and generous Esther Summerson behaves quite otherwise. … Continue Reading »

Land of Lincoln: A Review

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In the elementary schools of the American Midwest, Abraham Lincoln has always enjoyed a good press. Schoolchildren in northern Indiana, I can attest, marked Lincoln’s birthday by drawing crayon portraits of the president while listening to inspirational stories about his life. In middle school . . . . Continue Reading »