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Tag Archives: sarcasm

A Tale of Two Writers

Long before I knew Harri got a letter from Chaz I was thinking that the two should really strike up a dialog, I mean, they have so much in common.

First of all, both authors are writing to elicit social change.  Dickens is working to bring awareness of the dismal situation of the poor to his fellow Londoners, and Stowe is obviously working to abolish slavery.  They have chosen literature as their medium.

Both authors rely heavily on humor to carry their message.  I didn’t see this coming with HBS.  For some reason, I always assumed Uncle Tom’s Cabin was nothing more than a dark, sad tale, I didn’t expect to read hillarious scenes like the one with Sam and Andy leading Haley on a wild goose chase down a nonexistent road.  It reminded me a little bit of Fagin’s gang, but with a moralistically superior cause for raising a ruckus.

Both authors utilize sarcasm in their writing, as well.  The narrator’s voice in Dicken’s work drips with the stuff, while HBS is more apt to reserve her sarcasm for specific characters’ dialogs.  My favorite example of this sort of writing is, well, practically every single sentence St Clare speaks in response to his wife.  Even Stowe can’t help but let a little snarkiness out at Marie.  Here’s a bit where the Omnicient Royal We has just given us a full page of hope that the African people will become the highest and noblest kingdom as a result of God’s chastening, and then she turns her attention to the mistress of the house:

Was this what Marie St. Clare was thinking of, as she stood gorgeously dressed, on the verandah, on Sunday morning, clasping a diamond bracelet on her slender wrist?  Most likely it was.  Or, if it wasn’t that, it was something else; for Marie patronized good things, and she was going now, in full force – diamonds, silk, and lace, and jewels, and all, – to a fashionalbe church, to be very religious.  Marie always made a point to be very pious on Sundays.

All these little hints at similarities between the two writers were nothing compared to what I encountered in the last five chapters.  Granted, Stowe didn’t depict Tom’s murder with the gory detail that we encountered in Nancy’s death, but the remainder of the story was completed much like Oliver Twist.  Long lost relatives came out of the woodwork.  There was an end to all the misfortune and bad timing that had plagued the characters thus far.  No story was left hanging, and futures were hopeful on the horizon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of happy endings, but both books tied up all the loose ends almost too perfectly.  Really, George’s sister just happened to be in the cabin next door?  Rose is Oliver’s aunt?  Quimbo and Sambo were both converted at Tom’s death?  Topsy becomes a missionary?  Oliver gets to live with Brownlow?

Stowe obviously admired Dicken’s work, and it shows in her own writing.  A bit of research on the connection between the two told me that she initiated their professional friendship by sending him a lavender copy of UTC.  She was an amazingly bold woman, wasn’t she?  Apparently their professional relationship continued for years, although he remained somewhat critical of the book.

Maybe she should have sent him a blue copy instead.

 
 

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Two Twisted Questions

1. Does the “gentleman in the white waistcoat” have a name?  I know he’s a member of the workhouse board.  After Oliver asks for more gruel, Mr. White Waistcoat is the one that says “That boy will be hung“.

2. In chapter III, Mr. Gamfield the chimney sweep wants to apprentice Oliver.  Well, he really wants the pounds that will come with the child.  The workhouse board wants to reduce the amount of money given to the sweep due to his unsafe occupation.  Gamfield is reluctant to accept the lowered sum.  During negotiations Mr. White Waistcoat says,

“He’d be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium.  Take him, you silly fellow!  He’s just the boy for you.  He wants the stick, now and then: it’ll do him good; and his board needn’t come very expensive, for he hasn’t been overfed since he was born.  Ha!  ha!  ha!”

The amount of food given to workhouse employees has been mentioned several times previously.  During those instances Dickens lays on thick sarcasm.  He poses the board’s discussions in such a way as to make them appear truly concerned about the poor people.  We readers understand Dickens is writing with his tongue in his cheek, and we cringe at the terrible things the board says and does for the “benefit” of the poor. 

But in this instance is Mr. White Waistcoat laughing aloud because Oliver has been abused his whole life, and he assumes Oliver will receive the same brutal treatment from his new master?  Is White Waistcoat saying “Ha! ha! ha!” because Oliver has never had enough to eat; therefore, he will not expect much in the way of meals?  Has the curtain dropped to reveal the true beast White Waistcoat is?  Is he no longer pretending?  Am I misreading this?

Great Illustrated Classics

Bonus question number 3:  Jane Eyre is our next novel.  Does anyone know if the orphan in that book is any happier than Oliver Twist is?

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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How to Read Depressing Literature

Susan Wise Bauer gives us all sorts of fabulous tips on how to read in The Well-Educated Mind.  She does not, however specifically address how to tackle Oliver Twist and it seems that some readers are struggling with drudgery, sarcasm, and dismal nature of this novel.  I, however, am eating it up.  While this probably speaks mostly to my disturbed personality I am channeling that dark enjoyment into a few handy tips.

Tip I
Ignore reality.  Pretend like the 19th century England that Dickens illustrates is as fictitious as Bromdingnag and Laputa.

Tip II
Imagine all characters as cartoons.  Add animated gags and tricks, including “Pow!” graphics, tweeting birds flying in circles around people’s heads, and characters that disappear when they turn sideways because they’re so underfed.

Tip III
Concentrate on the writing, rather than the plot.  Dickens crafts some gorgeous sentences.  Much better than these.  With verbs and everything.  Admire the craft.

Tip IV
Think about all the good that was accomplished by this writing, about how this scathing exposition on society helped to reform and provide aid to those in need.  Warning:  This tip does not work in conjunction with Tip I, so use it judiciously, and only when you are already in a state of melancholy.

Tip V
Buy into the sarcasm.  Laugh at it.  Work it into your conversations.  Maybe even your blog post.  Of course, I would never do such a thing.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Oliver Twist

 

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Insults a la Mr. Bennet

Perhaps Elizabeth learned her witty retort skills from her father.  Check out what Mr. Bennet has to say about his son-in-law Wickham in chapter 53.  The door has barely shut behind newlyweds Lydia and Wickham when Mr. Bennet says…

“He is as fine a fellow, ” said Mr. Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, ” as ever I saw.  He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all.  I am prodigiously proud of him.  I defy even Sir William Lucas himself to produce a more valuable son-in-law.”

Sarcastic much?

Oh, there is some serious insulting going on here. 

1. Wickham has great schmoozing abilities.  He fooled everyone before with his delightful manners, and he’s trying to do it now.

2. Sir William Lucas is Collin’s father-in-law.  Lucas’s daughter Charlotte was Collin’s second choice after Elizabeth rejected him.  Readers, we definitely understand how Bennet feels about Collins.  Remember that not too many pages ago Bennet told Lizzy if she married Collins he’d never talk to her again

3. valuable son-in-law:  Could this be referring to the money it took to get Wickham out of debt?  Also relating to the fact that Wickham had to be bribed to marry Lydia?  Maybe alluding to Wickham’s incapability to earn an honest wage?  Perhaps it’s all of the above.

Spoiler alert:

Here’s another related quote from Mr. Bennet about his sons-in-law.  In Chapter 59 Elizabeth watches her father get to know and like Darcy.  Bennet says: “I admire all my three sons-in-law highly,” said he.  “Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.”

I’m betting that Wickham is his favorite only in the way Mrs. Bennet is his favorite;  they both have tremendous entertainment possibiities. 

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Pride and Prejudice

 

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