April 24th, 2010

cass groovy

Charles Dickens and Uriah Heep

Found via a forgotten course, Roger Boylan links to an article about writers who fail as human beings and has the same reaction I do to a key quote:

[Dickens] gave an interview in 1862 to a young Russian journalist named Fyodor Dostoevsky which Slater [Dickens's biographer] guesses Dickens thought would never see the light of day:

"'He told me that all the good simple people in his novels [like Little Nell] are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to live for, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life.'"

This is remarkable to me because the article refers to DAVID COPPERFIELD and to its readers' ignorance of Dickens's own terrible early life in poverty, and it made me realize that Dickens saw himself in both his protagonist and in the villain, Uriah Heep. Dickens is one of those love-or-loathe writers for me -- A TALE OF TWO CITIES is immortal, DAVID COPPERFIELD is freaking great, and OLIVER TWIST should be hurled aside with great force -- and COPPERFIELD is one of his best works, for me, in part because the villain is so magnificently human and no less evil for being understood as such. Often, especially in fanfic, dark characters are revealed to be nursing a sympathetic heart beneath a cruel exterior, but Dickens's genius is that Uriah Heep's personal tragedy have formed a person who is a through-and-through bastard.

Heep has a bit of dialogue that concludes with what I think is one of the finest villainous monologues, ever:

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