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Title: The Dickens-Thackeray debate
Author: Clews, David
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1972
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The nineteenth and early twentieth century habit of comparing Dickens and Thackeray sprang from the existence within the early and mid-Victorian consciousness of certain diametrically opposed ideas: empiricism and intuitive Carlylean spirituality; yearning Romantic subjectivism and a belief in objective authoritarianism and duty; and, in 11terature, realism and the idealism of romance. Reacting against the excesses of the immediate past, the men of the 1830’s and 40’s were yet unable to ignore the impressions left by these. In particular, they were affected by the scepticism of the empiricists, and this produced in their minds a tension between faith and doubt, which, when suppressed by those unwilling to face their own divided nature, found an outlet in externalised comparisons such as that between Dickens and Thackeray. In criticism of Dickens in the 30’s and 40's, he was separately admired as optimist and attacked as pessimist, but only in the early 50's was the dichotomy of hope and scepticism openly stated, in the shape of his antagonism with Thackeray. In the late 40's, the latter’s stylistic purity had seemed more objective than the self-indulgent mannerisms attributed to Dickens, but later, when the centre of contrast shifted to a distinction between optimism and cynicism, the balance inclined in Dicken’s favour, though the darker vision of his rival, mirroring the repressed fears of the age, could never be ignored. Many of the other strands of comparison - the ascription to Thackeray of restless self-consciousness and to Dickens of objectivity; the contrast between the real and the ideal instituted byDavid Hasson - related back to this focal point of hope and doubt, which continued to lie at the heart of the opposition in the 70's and 80's and even in criticism of the 1900's. From the 80's onwards, however, interest in the traditional comparison was declining. The polarity of Dickensian heart and Thackerayan head reflected an important aspect of nineteenth century experience, but it was often a distorted reflection, since the ideas of Victorianism were being used by writers lees conscious of the problems of the time than men such as Carlyle who had created the Victorian ethos. Concepts of optimism, objectivity and realism were more naively and rigidly applied than by the minds (themselves often naive and inconsistent) which had originally formulated them.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature