Natural, Civilized, Citizen: Dickens's Characters and Rousseau's Philosophy
This dissertation presents evidence, using the vehicle of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy, that Charles Dickens remained an optimist, contrary to critical opinion that claims he became a dark pessimist during the latter half of his life. Rousseau and Dickens shared a belief in the innate goodness of humankind and, if not in the perfectibility of humanity, at least in the redemption and possibility of betterment both of the individual, and through the individual, of society. Critical connections between the two writers are examined in Chapter 1: "A Review of the Literature." In one of his early discourses, The Origins of Inequality, Rousseau posits hypothetically that in the early stages of human development, the "natural man" existed in a state of peace and tranquillity; his identifying characteristics were self satisfaction (in Rousseau's terms, amour de soi), contentment with only the material goods necessary to sustain himself, genuineness, a self concept based on his own inner evaluative system, innocence (freedom from vice), and most notably, compassion for other human beings. When humans began to gather in groups and form societies, they evolved from natural men into "civilized men," thus developing pride (amour propre), a competitive nature, greed, pretension, a self concept determined by others, immoral and/or illegal behaviors, a lack of compassion. In the more mature writings of Rousseau he acknowledges that a return to nature is impossible, and that the only hope for the redemption of society is individual transformation, by which the individual retains or regains natural characteristics and exhibits them within the confines of society. The person who achieves this type of life is the "citizen" as presented in Rousseau's The Social Contract. While these are the works of Rousseau in which he presents the typology, he also portrays the same characteristics in Ãmile, Julie, and his first discourse. Evidence and illustrations of these types are presented in Chapter 2: "Rousseau's Philosophy: The Relevant Principles." In this study, characters in Dickens are measured by the sets of characteristics set forth by Rousseau. In each of the novels under discussion (Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend), at least one character represents each of the three types, natural man, civilized man, and citizen. One character per novel is presented in each of three chapters here (Chapter 3: "Dickens's Natural Man"; Chapter 4: "Dickens's Civilized Man"; and Chapter 5: "Dickens's Citizen"), with references to relevant others. For each character, evidence is presented to show that he or she displays all the characteristics of the particular type. In addition, in Chapter 6: "Geographical Significance: The Country vs. the City" the role of geography in the natural/civilized dichotomy is discussed. Rousseau believed that rural life (i.e., life in the country, away from the city and large numbers of people) is more conducive to one's remaining natural; city life, on the other hand, leads to corruption and the development of civilized characteristics, due to one's proximity to others. Dickens's novels contain a similar sentiment, although as both Dickens and Rousseau concluded, life in the country (in "nature") becomes less and less possible with the advance of civilization, so one's only choice is to become citizens, living naturally within the city. Taking into consideration the survival of natural characters throughout Dickens's literary corpus, as well as an increase in the number of redeemed characters (albeit in a civilized setting), conclusions are drawn that Dickens did not lose his optimism toward the end of his life; in fact, he presents the survival of natural goodness as possible in spite of the corruptive forces of civilization. Like Rousseau, Dickens ultimately reinforces not only humankind's innate goodness, but also its resilience and adaptability.
Perfectibility, Natural Goodness, Natural Man, Rousseau, Dickens
October 21, 2009.
A Dissertation Submitted to the Department of English in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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