According to a long-established convention, literary language is considered a discourse within the multiple discourses in a given national language, or a parole, within the more general langue. In fact, there are cases when the language of the novel, thanks to its polyphonic characteristics, strives to become more comprehensive and certainly more complex than the language of science, or the scientific discourse. A case in point is the social discourse in Dickens’s novels, which expands the coeval social sciences in ways unpredictable by philosophers, social scientists, and politicians. Most Victorian middle-class gentlefolks were aware that a large part of the population lived below the poverty line. Yet they had only a partial knowledge of the issue, based either on partial sights (e.g. walking by St Giles in London) or on statistics and descriptions. When Dickens takes up the subject of poverty, which he does often enough in his oeuvre, he adds layers of complexity to the issue in two basic ways. First, he adds an imaginative and emotional element, so that readers may visualize what it means to be destitute and how it may feel. The second way in which Dickens adds knowledge to the concept of poverty is by linking economic straits to other four related, but possibly distinct brands of poverty – in knowledge, in spiritual life, in emotional life, in health. As early as in Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how it feels to be poor, by hinting at the death of Tiny Tim. However, the Ghost (Dickens in fact) keeps his most striking insight for the end of the visit: immediately before his departure two ugly, repulsive children trouble the sight of Scrooge. The Ghost explains that they are siblings: Ignorance and Want, the children of Man. The Ghost admonishes Scrooge to beware of them both, but especially of Ignorance, a demon that was possibly also looming over the middle class. Noticeably mere economic poverty is not so scary to the former blacking factory boy as the poverty that comes with cultural poverty. The author of the Carol went well out of his way to include these two allegorical figures, which are often absent from film and stage versions, and sometimes also from translations of the Carol, as, indeed, they are a bit eccentric in the Christmas tale. Dickens certainly saw that they were not consistent with the rest of the book, so he must have considered them an important insight. In fact a kind of complexity, since the two are hardly ever perceived as twins in the Victorian social sciences, but rather as cause or effect of the other. According to Victorian social science one should be “cured” with work and the other one with schooling (eventually to be paid for by hard work). One can see at work a partition that Bruno Latour has described as a condition of modernity. According to Latour (We Have Never Been Modern), modernity is connected with the project of “partitioning” nature and culture, a process that took place sometime in the nineteenth century. Nature became the province of science, whereas culture is the province of humanities. To the modern man, only science can say anything true and practical, whereas literature can entertain him and uplift his spirit. As opposed to say physics, mathematics was simplifying social sciences by reducing it to statistics – a move satirized in Hard Times. In 1846-47 Dickens reflects upon poverty in connection with the Urania Cottage project, an asylum where former prostitutes can repent, learn the basics of housekeeping and then go to Australia to start a new life as married women. Clearly Dickens understood that poverty is much more than a figure below the standard income. He understood that causes for poverty are not to be understood and dealt with in separation. This awareness is expounded in Bleak House, a few years later. Here four different brands of poverty are illustrated both singularly and in conjunction. We find several examples of economic poverty; one of the most striking being that of Charley, an orphan girl of 12 or 13, who works her fingers to the bone washing clothes in order to feed herself and her younger brothers. Although she can neither read nor write, she knows the Bible, a profession, and her duty towards her family. Nemo, formerly Captain Hawdon, earns just enough as copyist to keep himself going and buy himself opium. He is not rich, but his poverty is eminently emotional. Such is the plight also of rich Lady Dedlock. Two or three characters are spiritually poor, the most striking example being Skimpole, the parasite who lives on other people’s money. Cultural poverty is the plight of Krook, too obtuse to learn to read and write, and the bricklayers, who are also economically destitute, but would be far better off if the bread-winner were not addicted to alcohol. To these categories, poor health should be added, a kind of poverty that connects every social class. The novel therefore becomes the site where the complexity of poverty is explored in all of its many different and combined forms. Dickens expounds the complexity of the social texture against the simplistic description of coeval scientist such as Malthus, Charles Booth, Beatrice Webb.
|Titolo:||Describing Poverty : the Complexity of Social Sciences in Dickens's Bleak House|
|Data di pubblicazione:||15-set-2017|
|Parole Chiave:||Dickens; Complexity; Bleak House|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore L-LIN/10 - Letteratura Inglese|
|Enti collegati al convegno:||Associazione italiana di anglistica|
|Citazione:||Describing Poverty : the Complexity of Social Sciences in Dickens's Bleak House / A. Vescovi. ((Intervento presentato al 28. convegno AIA Conference tenutosi a Pisa nel 2017.|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||14 - Intervento a convegno non pubblicato|