I’ve always loved the writings of Charles Dickens. But most authors never seem to pry enough into British Victorian aesthetics to unravel a great mystery. Why did the children of Charles Dickens fail so miserably? The best biographers seem to skirt over the issue and move toward a more general appraisal of his life’s work. Leave it to Dr. Robert Gottlieb to write ‘Great Expectations’, a biographical account of the lives of Dickens’ ten children.
George Steiner at Cambridge has elaborated on both the medium of writing, and the wry aesthetic that underwrote Victorian ethics. Of course any educated Catholic could have discerned far deeper than most critics, the reasoning why the children of Dickens did so poorly. The ethics of writing is inseparable from selfishness. As Steiner has written, the demanding aesthetic of a written medium drowns out the realism of ‘the street.’ A writer is far more sensitive to the vagaries of his/her imagination that to the concerns of one’s child. Very few parents ever achieved both success in their careers and a home worthy of coming home to.
Economists from the Austrian school like Ludwig von Mises or Fredrick Hayek have written on the social impact of confiscatory taxation; how it bequeaths nothing, just look at our blighted cities and exhausted individuals to know the social ethic grounding Keynesian thought is ever greater fluctuations in prices and inflation. Gone is the possibility for capital or equity formation. It was worse for those during the Industrial Revolution. The pound sterling became a cross for those that never achieved social mobility, an event open mostly to women, just ask the Irish!
What did Catholic aesthetics know that is missing from the Victorian ethic?
The answer is found in a difficult academic term used by literary critics throughout the west: the disassociation of sensibility is a term usually found in the work of Andrew Louth, a Cambridge academic familiar with idioms of both theology and literary criticism. This term effects a known technique used in complete isolation. It is work performed in a manner inconsistent with the moral demands of integrity; felt responsibility was kept at bay! All to the detriment that became human person.
This insight was discovered by President Teddy Roosevelt as he witnessed a Pennsylvania coal strike. He saw the impact that avarice had in divorcing capital from labor. The arrival of digital mediums unites what was divorced for a millennium!
To Dickens, he never brought to his real life progeny the same degree of imaginative love he exerted over the characters of his books!
Charles had ten children; Dora died in infancy, leaving nine. Except for his son Charley (1837-1936) who became a literary journalist and Henry (1849-1933) who enjoyed a career as a barrister, nearly all his children became hopelessly improvident.
I studied similar effects with the children of numerous famous Victorian, especially Lord Curzon who fatefully watched his daughters succumb to the intrigues of numerous social, psychological pathologies.
The stories of Charles children is a bit different.
The single most significant determent to being born Dickens was that Charles viewed his children as extensions of himself. No where do find the liberating process of identity development, the very integral required to live happily is forever removed from them. If ever any child disappointed him, Charles had them banished to the far reaches of Empire. Walter was dispatched to India to serve in the Army. Frank became a sheep herder in Australia before heading off to Canada for the Mounted Police. Katie Dickens (1839-1929) married Wilkie Collins brother Charles, yet Mamie (1838-1896) suffered the fate of most women in Victorian England, destitute and unable to ‘get on.’
One question: how did the great anatomist of Victorian childhood prove to be so negligent with his own?
Look not only to the social impact of the Pound Sterling, but to the sour ethics that underwrote Protestant aesthetics.