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David Copperfield : The Characters Who Do Not Affect the Stories

[ From Charles Dickens, Chapter IV, The Pickwick Papers
http://lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/CD-Chesterton-CD.html ]


...Dickens's work is not to be reckoned in novels at all. Dickens's work is to be reckoned always by characters, sometimes by groups, oftener by episodes, but never by novels. You cannot discuss whether "Nicholas Nickleby" is a good novel, or whether "Our Mutual Friend" is a bad novel. Strictly, there is no such novel as "Nicholas Nickleby." There is no such novel as "Our Mutual Friend." They are simply lengths cut from the flowing and mixed substance called Dickens -- a substance of which any given length will be certain to contain a given proportion of brilliant and of bad stuff. You can say, according to your opinions, "the Crummles part is perfect," or "the Boffins are a mistake," just as a man watching a river go by him could count here a floating flower, and there a streak of scum. But you cannot artistically divide the output into books. The best of his work can be found in the worst of his works. "The Tale of Two Cities" is a good novel; "Little Dorrit" is not a good novel. But the description of "The Circumlocution Office" in "Little Dorrit" is quite as good as the description of "Tellson's Bank" in "The Tale of Two Cities." "The Old Curiosity Shop" is not so good as "David Copperfield," but Swiveller is quite as good as Micawber. Nor is there any reason why these superb creatures, as a general rule, should be in one novel any more than another. There is no reason why Sam Weller, in the course of his wanderings, should not wander into "Nicholas Nickleby." There is no reason why Major Bagstock, in his brisk way, should not walk straight out of "Dombey and Son" and straight into "Martin Chuzzlewit." To this generalisation some modification should be added. "Pickwick" stands by itself, and has even a sort of unity in not pretending to unity. "David Copperfield," in a less degree, stands by itself, as being the only book in which Dickens wrote of himself; and "The Tale of Two Cities" stands by itself as being the only book in which Dickens slightly altered himself. But as a whole, this should be firmly grasped, that the units of Dickens, the primary elements, are not the stories, but the characters who affect the stories -- or, more often still, the characters who do not affect the stories. ...

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