If you haven't already, go check out this link he sent last week too: Literary Artifacts of Dickens. I'm particularly interested in this quote:
"Looking at them all, one wonders: how exactly did he manage it? What insights did he have into the complexities of human character that let him render his own so unforgettably?
"Especially because...Dickens’s characters are often rather two-dimensional. Poor orphaned Oliver Twist hasn’t a bad bone in his body and is unendingly sweet to everyone (even if he’s got to pick a pocket or two) while the barbaric Bill Sikes is never seen to do anything but spit, snarl, and wipe beer from his mouth with a handkerchief. Sikes beats his own bulldog until it needs stitches, murders his prostitute-girlfriend Nancy, and basically makes Breaking Bad’s Walter White look like a saint.
"The exhibit’s curator, Professor William Moeck, agrees that many of Dickens’s memorable characters are “melodramatically polarized,” explaining that he was “influenced by the fairy tales and allegories [he] read in his youth […] villains are exaggeratedly wicked, while heroes and heroines wear almost saintly auras.”
"But if this seems like a recipe for caricature and not character, then why are they so long-lived? Writer E.M. Forster struggled with this same question. While condemning flat characters in his Aspects of the Novel, he gave Dickens a pass. “Dickens’ characters are types,” he wrote, “but his vitality causes them to vibrate a little, so that they borrow his life and appear to live their own.”
"Is it his vitality that really makes them resonate, or our own? If Dickens’s creations are flat perhaps they are elastic, like balloons, waiting for curious readers to come and inflate them. Like the heroes and monsters in our greatest myths, there is ample room inside them for us to live. Perhaps the secret to Dickens’s success was that he did not set out to create characters, but curiosities, which readers worldwide keep leaning closer to examine."
What do you think? Many of us have joked about the saintliness of Old Woman Esther, and one could point to the guardian and Ava as other sources of extreme goodness. But even though Esther narrated this section, and was again her saintly self, those tiny hints of romantic distress in previous chapters have me a bit on edge and not as trusting that all is as well in her world as she'd have us believe. From that, I see a full character, and perhaps a more unreliable narrator than I first supposed. Is that what Dickens intended, or am I the curious reader coming in and inflating her character with more than is really there?
Some of the other characters could be described as two-dimensional--Mrs. Flite and Mr. Gridley, losing their lives and sanity to the Chancery, come to mind--and yet I can totally buy that they've given up the better parts of their lives to their obsessions (and I definitely agree with Esther that Richard is on the road to their future). The jury (or my jury, anyway) is still out on Mr. Bucket, that curious investigator.
What do you think? How does Dickens keep us interested in these characters when often, by modern standards, they don't seem fully fleshed out and human?
Other than that, I don't have much to add about chapters 23-25. Richard is definitely heading down a bad path, and Esther and Mr. Jarndyce can see it but are powerless to stop it. The scene of Esther helping Caddy and Prince tell their respective parents about their engagement was some much-needed humor. And I'll admit, I might have been a tad sleepy when reading Mrs. Snagsby Sees It All, because I'm not 100% clear on just what it was she saw. I did, however, guffaw at this description of her: "Finally, becoming cataleptic, she has to be carried up the narrow staircase like a grand piano." Maybe that's why I like Dickens so much--the man really knew how to turn a phrase.
That's it--we're officially on break! See you back here on Jan. 7, with chapters 26-29 (yes, that's 4 chapters). Enjoy whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, and may it be filled with wonderful books and plenty of fine beverages to enjoy them with!