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No matter the success those years brought, there was in this greatest of storytellers an unyielding attachment of sorts to his early social and moral experiences; he worked them over repeatedly in the later novels— down-and-out English life, the exploitation, and, not least, the miscarriages of justice.No acclaim, no money, no amount of achieved influence seemed enough to stop him from looking closely at a nation he both loved and yet found urgently in need of reform.Nor did his success as a writer and an eager public speaker, if not performer, prevent him from going back, time and again, to the memories generated by an earlier life: the child in a debtor’s prison, the youth struggling with a harsh and mean life, the young man observing lawmakers at their shilly-shallying or corrupt worst, and, above all, the apprentice writer taking note of lawyers—who, of course, are right there when men and women go to prison, or lose whatever rights or privileges they may have had, or find themselves in severe straits because the laws work this way rather than that way or on behalf of these people rather than those.
Again and again lawyers figure in the penetrating enactments of ethical conflict which Dickens insisted on making a central element of his most important novels.
In , of course, the issue is not just lawyers, but the law itself—its awesome, pervasive, perplexing, unnerving presence.
Too much is made, one can argue, about the protracted nature of the celebrated Jarndyce litigation.
In one enumeration, made in the well-known first chapter, Dickens does indeed mention “procrastination,” but he also mentions “trickery,” and he mentions “evasion,” and “spoliation.” He even makes reference to “botheration,” surely of interest to this proudly self-conscious age wherein the social sciences, especially psychology and psychiatry, are thought to explain so much to us.
This prison, Marshalsea, figures prominently in , even as it did in the life of the young Dickens, who spent time behind bars in accordance with prevailing custom; a debtor’s family often accompanied him when be became locked up.
As a child, Dickens also worked for extremely low wages in a shoe-blacking factory: he pasted labels on bottles.
At the same time he immersed himself in his own world—reported on the workings of his mind’s imagination, its exceedingly vigorous life.
Soon enough a substantial segment of the English reading public, rich and poor and many, many in between, became familiar with the antic and sometimes soberly edifying carryings-on of Samuel Pickwick and his fellow clubsmen Nathaniel Winkle, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass—and those they met: Alfred Jingle, Dr. Wardle, his daughters Bella and Emily, his spinster sister Rachael, Samuel Weller, Job Trotter, and the landlady Mrs.
Men, women, and children still find themselves irritated, then confounded, then outraged, and finally maddened by cases which affect them deeply, and seem to go on and on and on—maybe not for generations, as happened in , but long enough for particular children to suffer in extended custodial fights, and for particular workers and families to suffer while the responsibility for, say, dangerous environmental pollution is argued in court for months which become years.
Yet is much more than a novel that portrays the outcome of a legal impasse.