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David Copperfield : An Almost Malicious Maturity of Satire

[ From the Chesterton article in Britannica (1929)
http://www.dur.ac.uk/~dcs0mpw/gkc/books/dickens_Britannica.txt ]


...John Dickens had fallen heavily into debt; he continued the tendency to change his private address; and his next private address was the Debtors' Prison of the Marshalsea. His wife, the mother of eight children of whom Charles was the second, had to encamp desolately in Camden Town and open a dingy sort of "educational establishment." Meanwhile the unfortunate Charles was learning his lessons at a very different sort of educational establishment. After helping his mother in every sort of menial occupation, he was thrown forth to earn his own living by tying and labelling pots of blacking in a blacking warehouse at Old Hungerford Stairs. The blacking was symbolical enough; Dickens never doubted that this piece of his childhood was the darkest period of his life; and he seems indeed to have been in a mood to black himself all over, like the Othello of the Crummles Company. Of his pessimistic period, of the heartrending monotony and ignominy, he has given little more than a bitter abbreviation in David Copperfield. But he was storing up much more than bitterness; it is obvious that he had already developed an almost uncanny vigilance and alertness of attention. By the time his servitude came to an end, by his father falling into a legacy as he had fallen into a jail (there was really a touch of Micawber in the way in which things turned up and turned down for him) the boy was no longer a normal boy, let alone a child. He called his wandering parent "the Prodigal Father"; and there was something of the same fantastic family inversion in the very existence of so watchful and critical a son. We are struck at once with an almost malicious maturity of satire; ... 

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