For the past couple weeks we’ve covered content from Charles Dickens, T.S. Eilot, and Virginia Woolf. With Dickens we read Oliver Twist and analyzed the discovery of an orphan boy’s true history and how it engages with class attitudes of agency or stagnation. With Woolf, we read Mrs. Dalloway and travelled a day through London in the minds of Clarissa, Septimus, and Peter. With Eliot, we of course read his famous poem The Waste Land with special attention paid to the cyclical and intersecting nature of life and death. Each of these propose a different perspective of London that I think derives from their personal identities and experiences with London.
Charles Dickens was born into a poorer class but was afforded a rare opportunity to become educated. After that, he began to rise in society after finding his way into journalism and writing. This background is relevant because it illustrates how Dickens understands the life of working class citizens so well. His view of London seems unsentimental yet necessarily attached, an attitude that comes across in his other books, too, like Hard Times. In the frame of this class, his background maintains a few parallels with Oliver’s life–young boy needing an education, learning about the world from his interactions with others, then discovering his calling in life. Drawing this connection is not unique to Oliver and Dickens, but it does simplify and characterize the angle Dickens views London.
Eliot’s approach feels closer to Dickens than to Woolf’s yet does not align too closely. Eliot is a bit of a hybrid of Woolf and Dickens with his narration style that combines the observant tone with the personal insights of the speaker. For instance, within the second section of the poem titled “A Game of Chess,” the passage reads: “When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said–I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself, HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart. He’ll want to know what you done with the money he gave you” (34-35). There are hints of Dickens’s storytelling style with theopinionatied narration but employs the freedom of poetry with the line “HURRY… TIME” while all vascillating between reality and the mind’s eye.
Woolf stays in the minds of the main characters mostly, though momentarily exploring time through the eyes of others as well, over the course of one day. Since the book is titled Mrs. Dalloway the focus is on Clarissa and how she perceives the space and people around her as she moves from her house, to the streets of London, into the shops, and then within her house once her dinner party commences. This attention on the female perspective is something commonly associated with Woolf, and probably would not prove as entertaining or insightful to read had Dickens wrote the novel.
I appreciate how I got a class critique and social observation of London through Dickens, an interrupted yet cohesive telling from Eliot, and a lady’s perspective from Woolf. It’s fascinating how the same city can function so differently yet still similarly for people from different backgrounds and social spheres.