Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hard Times, Teil Zwei

A couple of months ago, I blogged a bit about my "compartments" while reading Hard Times by Charles Dickens. You can read that blog (as if you haven't already) here.

I'm done talking about compartments. Today I'm tying up loose ends.

While I was reading Hard Times (arguably my favorite by Dickens, though that changes with my mood and I've still so far to go with him), a passage really struck me. When I read it, I wanted to share it with someone dear to me right then at that moment, but when I had the chance, the timing was off. I'm very self-conscious and when something is important to me and I want to share it with someone, I get stage fright and I worry that if it doesn't fall the way I envision it, it will, in a sense, knock me down.


Anyway, today especially, I'm hoping to have a captive audience in at least one of you and that sharing this passage will mean something, even though I don't get to read it aloud as I had intended to do a few months ago had I the right timing.

Why does this passage strike me so? I relate to little Miss Jupe here in her exposed innocence, so wise; yet lacking the circumspection to keep it to herself. She has yet to stumble upon how special she is nor has anyone yet to see her for how rare she is. I have always been too perceptive for my own good and, so many times, I wish I could be as oblivious as the next girl. Sometimes wisdom can be a curse and Dickens understands that.

Through Sissy Jupe, Dickens provides commentary on the conventional wisdom of his time that, sadly, still holds. This little portrait of "just the facts" life speaks to me in that it exposes the guilt and fear that can be experienced when introspection doesn't match up with what it's "supposed" to and can leave a person wishing that it were so simple as absorbing without thinking.

Of course, in order for me to adore it so, it must be laced with good ol' Victorian wit.

"Mr. and Mrs. M'Choakumchild never make any mistakes themselves, I suppose, Sissy?"
"O no!" she eagerly returned. "They know everything."
"Tell me some of your mistakes."
"I am almost ashamed," said Sissy, with reluctance. "But to-day, for instance, Mr. M'Choakumchild was explaining to us about Natural Prosperity."
"National, I think it must have been," observed Louisa.
"Yes, it was.--But, isn't it the same?" she timidly asked.
"You had better say, National, as he said so," returned Louisa, with her dry reserve.
"National Prosperity. And he said, Now this schoolroom is a Nation. And in this nation, there are fifty millions of money. Isn't this a prosperous nation? Girl number twenty, isn't this a prosperous nation, and a'n't you in a thriving state?"
"What did you say?" asked Louisa.
"Miss Louisa, I said I didn't know. I thought I couldn't know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was in a thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all," said Sissy, wiping her eyes.
"That was a great mistake of yours," observed Louisa.
"Yes, Miss Louisa, I know it was, now. Then Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me again. And he said, This schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets, in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my remark was--for I couldn't think of a better one--that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million. And that was wrong, too."
"Of course it was."
"Then Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me once more. And he said, Here are the Stutterings--"
"Statistics," said Louisa.
"Yes, Miss Louisa--they always remind me of stutterings, and that's another of my mistakes--of accidents upon the sea. And I find (Mr. M'Choakumchild said) that in a given time a hundred thousand persons went to sea on long voyages, and only five hundred of them were drowned or burnt to death. What is the percentage? And I said, Miss;" here Sissy fairly sobbed as confessing with extreme contrition to her greatest error; "I said it was nothing."
"Nothing, Sissy?"
"Nothing, Miss--to the relations and friends of the people who were killed. I shall never learn," said Sissy. (60-61)

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2004.

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