Was Charles Dickens a perv?


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Portrait of a Young Woman, Samuel Worcester Rowse (1822–1901), Courtesy of the MET

I’ve been a pretty voracious reader most of my life, but will admit I’ve never fully read a Dickens’ book before. I think I’ve tried a couple (Oliver Twist, Bleak House) but never made it all the way through. Though the Artful Dodger from the movie has somehow stuck in my psyche nonetheless, as of course Scrooge has.

In any case, I just finished reading A Christmas Carol, which I found enjoyable, but there were a couple of passages where Dickens describes a young woman that struck me as kind of pervy.

Here’s the first one:

Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

Later on, here’s his description of another young woman:

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory!

In both these descriptions, the narrator inserts these breathy ejaculations. Not only were they totally unnecessary to the story itself, but when you add in the voyeuristic nature of Scrooge and the reader peering into domestic scenes without the knowledge of those being observed, it becomes even more creepy. As if Dickens is indulging in a momentary bit of a masturbatory fantasy right alongside of the moral journey of his protagonist.

Is this just me? I know he’s writing in a very different era. But . . . well, pretty sure there were more than a large number of women back then who would have said #metoo.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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