Against Peace, against Hope, against Happiness

  • Gwen Watkins


It seems to be too painful for Dickens to accept the idea of the rejecting mother directly, so that he has to approach it obliquely: either he follows the tradition of folklore by using the stepmother concept (that is, the one who rejects the child is a mother-substitute, not the true parent) or he refuses to take the rejection seriously by treating it as comedy. The true mother is always seen by Dickens as loving the child even though, as in David Copperfield, she really fails him or, as in Nicholas Nickleby, she is totally self-concerned and incapable of love. (In this early book he cannot manage his two worlds as skilfully as in later works: although Mrs Nickleby is a purely comic figure, he feels constrained to add the occasional disruptive sentimentality such as the awkward scene in which Mrs Nickleby’s masterly reflections on the silver tea-pot with the ivory knob and the spice-box which ‘used to stand in the left-hand comer, next but two to the pickled onions’ are suddenly broken in upon by Kate’s maunderings about her father’s death - ‘the kindest and gentlest heart that ever ached on earth has passed in peace to heaven’-and immediately followed by a moral discourse beginning: ‘It is an exquisite and beautiful thing in our nature, that when the heart is touched and softened by some tranquil happiness or affectionate feeling, the memory of the dead …’ and so on.)


Firm Control Great Expectation Original Reader Unconscious Mind Maternal Affection 
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© Gwen Watkins 1987

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  • Gwen Watkins

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