Dickens and the Knowing Child
DOI link for Dickens and the Knowing Child
Dickens and the Knowing Child book
A Dickensian childhood is defined by its abnormality. It achieves its literary effects through its implicit violations of ordinary, familiar assumptions about the nurturance, growth and safety of children-assumptions toward which Dickens gestures, but which he rarely depicts. A Dickensian child may have a living parent, or not, but either way it is inadequately taken care of. Most often its immediate caretakers subject it to abuse, neglect or physical and psychological exploitation. It is solitary: it has no close friends of its own age, even if it has siblings or goes to school. Its solitude may be underlined through its alienation from other children playing outside the window or enjoying a normal family life across the street. It knows how to work, how to observe and how to dream, but not how to play: the bafflement of Pip when he arrives at Miss Havisham’s and is ordered to play sums up the deprivations of his predecessors. I will squeeze that tense scene a little further by way of introducing my thesis: the Dickensian child has to play at being a child-has to pretend or appear to be a child-so as not to threaten common notions of childhood innocence and dependency. A corollary theme follows from this observation: the Dickensian child does not grow up in the ordinary sense. Instead of developing, it changes places; it moves on.