Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 17

Thread: Dickens' religious convictions

  1. #1
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    1,934

    Dickens' religious convictions

    I was looking at the Unitarian website this evening. I was aware Elizabeth Gaskell was a Unitarian, but I was surprised to see Charles Dickens listed as one. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it said that,

    In the early 1840s Dickens had showed an interest in Unitarian Christianity, and Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” Writer Gary Colledge, however, asserted that he "never strayed from his attachment to popular lay Anglicanism".'


    From his writing, I assumed Dickens was a natural Christian, and not someone who struggled with his/her faith like Thomas Hardy or George Elliot, or atheists like later Victorians such as George Gissing and H.G. Wells. Both Pip from Great Expectations and David Copperfield say, 'May God forgive me,' or something very similar when recounting episodes from their lives when they thought they had treated people badly. These are both first person narratives. In other books he seems very Christian, particularly in A Christmas Carol.

    In other ways he was not so religious, such as when he left his wife to live with his new girlfriend, Ellen Ternan.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  2. #2
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Kuala Lumpur but from Canada
    Posts
    4,113
    Blog Entries
    25
    I think I agree with you. I've never gotten a sense of particularly deep religious conviction from Dickens, but he has always come off as conventionally Anglican with very standard Victorian religious ideals. I suppose his progressiveness on certain social issues might have attracted him to the Unitarian movement but I don't think he has the kind of religious conviction and revolutionary idealism we would associate with 19th century Unitarians.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

  3. #3
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    Posts
    1,168
    In the winter of 1842-43 Dickens wrote to a friend that he had joined a Unitarian congregation

    “Disgusted with our Established Church and its Puseyisms, and daily outrages on common sense and humanity, I have carried into effect an old idea of mine, and joined the Unitarians, who would do something for human improvement, if they could; and who practice Charity and Toleration.” Fred Kaplan Dickens

    Can you give any examples of Unitarian revolutionary idealsim, Pip?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    South coast
    Posts
    60
    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    I was looking at the Unitarian website this evening. I was aware Elizabeth Gaskell was a Unitarian, but I was surprised to see Charles Dickens listed as one. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it said that,

    In the early 1840s Dickens had showed an interest in Unitarian Christianity, and Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” Writer Gary Colledge, however, asserted that he "never strayed from his attachment to popular lay Anglicanism".'


    From his writing, I assumed Dickens was a natural Christian, and not someone who struggled with his/her faith like Thomas Hardy or George Elliot, or atheists like later Victorians such as George Gissing and H.G. Wells. Both Pip from Great Expectations and David Copperfield say, 'May God forgive me,' or something very similar when recounting episodes from their lives when they thought they had treated people badly. These are both first person narratives. In other books he seems very Christian, particularly in A Christmas Carol.

    In other ways he was not so religious, such as when he left his wife to live with his new girlfriend, Ellen Ternan.
    Your pretty accurate but remember the Victorians saw a lot of death and poverty.
    Leaving his wife ---- well if we were required to be perfect there would be no Christians.

  5. #5
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    1,934
    Quote Originally Posted by Magnocrat View Post
    Your pretty accurate but remember the Victorians saw a lot of death and poverty.
    Leaving his wife ---- well if we were required to be perfect there would be no Christians.
    Victorians did see a lot of death and poverty, and I think that is a reason they were more religious than we are today. If you have a child who is dying, or children whose mother is dying, what do you tell them? Sorry, that's it, you/she's had your chips; or you/she will meet up in heaven?

    Being a Christian means being a hypocrite to some extent. You swear you are sorry for your sins and promise you will be better next week, every time you go to service. Nevertheless, carrying out an adulterous affair and not intending to stop it is a difficult act to keep up if you want to remain a Christian.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  6. #6
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Kuala Lumpur but from Canada
    Posts
    4,113
    Blog Entries
    25
    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    In the winter of 1842-43 Dickens wrote to a friend that he had joined a Unitarian congregation

    “Disgusted with our Established Church and its Puseyisms, and daily outrages on common sense and humanity, I have carried into effect an old idea of mine, and joined the Unitarians, who would do something for human improvement, if they could; and who practice Charity and Toleration.” Fred Kaplan Dickens

    Can you give any examples of Unitarian revolutionary idealsim, Pip?
    Unitarian theology rejected the concept of original sin and Biblical infallibility and put heavy emphasis on independent and scholarly explorations of faith. The organization was characterized in the Victorian period by a strong emphasis on universal education reform and poverty reform and was associated politically with social reform politics often called the "civic gospel". After doing a bit of digging it seems to be the consensus of Dickens' biographers that he was kind of a loose Christian who took from whatever organizations suited his own views which valued religious tolerance and shied away from evangelical strictness. He apparently became enamored with unitarianism after encountering the religion on a trip to America.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

  7. #7
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    Posts
    1,168
    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    Being a Christian means being a hypocrite to some extent.
    Another way of putting it is a Christian is aware that they are sinners but still loved by God.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  8. #8
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    South coast
    Posts
    60
    Hypocrisy is a widespread human characteristic and is certainly not confined to Christians. Do as I say not as I do is a motto we often apply and I for one plead guilty. Just as some bad does not mean we have no good points or that we should stop striving to improve.

  9. #9
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    Posts
    1,168
    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    “Disgusted with our Established Church and its Puseyisms, ... the Unitarians, who would do something for human improvement, if they could
    Dickens is being unfair to many more orthodox Christians who were involved in social and political action.

    Slavery was abolished in his early lifetime in large part through the political campaigning of evangelicals. (But Dickens always shows political action as corrupt.)

    Trade unions were frequently established by the energy of workers who had learnt confidence and ability in organisation and public speaking through their membership of evangelical chapels, (But Dickens disapproves of trade unions and working class evangelicals.)

    Anglicans who had rediscovered their catholic heritage (Puseyites) worked in slums providing medical care and midwifery and building churches in which the locals could experience beauty, colour and drama. (But Dickens shows the Puseyite do gooder, Mrs Pardiggle, solely as patronising and interfering. And he seems to imply in Bleak House that all philanthropists ought to spend more time with the families.)

    He says the Unitarian would do something, but doesn’t know any practical thing they do. Other Christians were certainly getting their hands dirty doing something.

    For all his righteous indignation, Dickens seems to offer no answerto social injustice except the wealthy ought to be more like the Cheeryble brothers. Which isn't very realistic or helpful.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  10. #10
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    1,934
    With regards to Christians who did things, I would have thought it was the Quakers who did most. They set up factories but were benevolant employers. I read a local history book about Huntley & Palmer, who made biscuits and who used to be the biggest employer in Reading. Apparently the workers thought the wages were low, but on the other hand, the owners were reluctant to lay people off, and put people on lighter jobs as they got older. They were rather paternal employers, and felt betrayed when some workers attempted to unionize the factory. From that point of view, they had a similar mindset to Dickens. I read a book on the Irish Famine and the Quakers came out well in that too. They ran soup kitchens, while unfortunately the British government were trying to operate workfare schemes, which was an inadequate response to the scale of the problem. The Quakers were popular also because they did not try to proseltyse. In fact, I gather it is relatively difficult to become a Quaker.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  11. #11
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Kuala Lumpur but from Canada
    Posts
    4,113
    Blog Entries
    25
    Unitarians were notable for their early emphasis on women's education and equality of the sexes. Some English evangelical movements of the period (the SA for exampme) also supported this in opposition to the more mainstream churches.

    Unitarians became a vogue religion for rich people and intellectuals with progressive and deistic views because of its broad tolerance of individual religious difference. Dickens was probably attracted to it because it put little pressure on him as an individual to actualize any Christian belief system. Which is different from someone like Gaskell and her husband who believed strongly in the Church's mission and worked hard for actual political reform.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 03-11-2017 at 02:03 AM.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

  12. #12
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    Posts
    1,168
    Thank you for that, Pip.

    It is interesting to compare the treatment of religion in Dickens with George Eliot. Although she was an atheist, she had an appreciation of religious experience and its value that Dickens never had.

    In Daniel Deronda there is a sympathetic and very perceptive account of liturgical synagogue worship. In Adam Bede there is the Methodist preacher, Dinah Morris, a working class woman. Her quietly passionate sermon is a total contrast to Mr Chadband. Her prayer with a condemned prisoner is the climax of the novel. And particularly there is the account of her profound silent prayer after her preaching. (I can’t imagine Dickens appreciating silent prayer – that may be why he totally ignores the Quakers.)

    Also interesting is that unlike Dickens she not only appreciated religious experience, but also political activism, for example Will Ladislaw and Felix Holt.

    I still prefer reading Dickens.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  13. #13
    Registered User bounty's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    2,148
    everyone---not too long ago I read a Charles dickens biography, by jane smiley. I don't recall offhand if she addressed much of his faith life, but if you all are interested, I could hunt up the book and give it a good look.

    meanwhile, im reminded of the very intense ending of a tale of two cities where carton is on the way to his execution, innocent, but giving his life for the love of another, and quoting Christ.

  14. #14
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the South East of England
    Posts
    1,168
    When Dickens does refer to Christianity (as bounty mentions in Tale of Two Cities), I often find it very moving. My theory is that Tiny Tim is a Christ figure who brings Scrooge to learn compassion. I admit to having a lump in my throat if not actual tear reading of Jo in Bleak House dying repeating the Lord's Prayer.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 03-13-2017 at 04:22 PM.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    South coast
    Posts
    60
    You are right about tear jerkers , Dickens was a master of the death scene.
    The great appeal of Christianity is its creation of a moral universe that reaches beyond the grave and puts everything right. We cannot bear pointlessness , a good deed or thought must have its reward now or later. Nancy was brutally murdered but her goodness cannot die it must be part of the great scheme of things. That is the message of Charles Dickens and in 'A Christmas Carol ' it reaches sublime heights.
    Such artistry is very rare and moves us beyond words.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. The intrinsic value of religious institutions and the belief in religious dogmas
    By Freudian Monkey in forum Philosophical Literature
    Replies: 56
    Last Post: 09-22-2012, 08:13 AM
  2. Religious fiction
    By trueromantic in forum Religious Texts
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 07-06-2009, 12:30 AM
  3. TMI Religious?
    By sHaRp12 in forum The Mysterious Island
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 02-01-2007, 01:00 AM
  4. What is a religious experience?
    By Joakim in forum Religious Texts
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 04-02-2006, 09:42 AM
  5. Religious Backgrounds
    By mono in forum Religious Texts
    Replies: 24
    Last Post: 10-07-2005, 10:38 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •