Charles Dickens

Dickens Conference

Dickens Conference posted in Eleison Comments on August 16, 2014

The Dickens Conference held two weeks ago at Queen of Martyrs House in Broadstairs, England, went very well, within its modest limits. On the Saturday there was only a little rain, the Sunday was all sunshine, and nearly 30 participants, mostly from England but also from Denmark, France and the USA, much enjoyed the house, one another’s Catholic company, and the three lectures of Dr David White on three novels of Charles Dickens (1812–1870), England’s best loved writer after William Shakespeare.

“Within its modest limits” because outside of the devoutly attended Masses on the Saturday and Sunday, there was little outwardly supernatural about the Conference. Let us say that it was a session of sanity rather than sanctity, but we notice immediately that at least in English the word “sanity” makes up three quarters of the word “sanctity.” Grace builds on nature, and it can hardly build on the insanity and corruption of nature to which the world around us is giving itself over, day by day. Sanity is therefore more important than ever, even for supernatural purposes. If the “Resistance” is presently making so little apparent headway, is it not because there is just not enough sanity still around to recognize and cast out the mind-rot, and the rot of true obedience and sanctity?

In Dr White’s first lecture he spoke of David Copperfield, Dickens’ own favourite amongst his many novels, and specially linked to Broadstairs. This is because on Dickens’ many visits for work or holidays to his beloved seaside town, he came to know an eccentric old lady who lived in a small house still existing on the sea-front. She so impressed him that he built her into David Copperfield as Betsy Trotwood, an eccentric old lady who takes in the orphaned hero of the novel and protects him until he finds his way in life. In her mouth Dickens puts his own hatred of Puritanism and Calvinism, said Dr White. At least once in his life Dickens was told that Catholicism is the one true religion, but he never became a Catholic. However, he had a supreme respect for the Gospel of Christ, and genuinely good-hearted characters tumble over one another in the pages of his novels.

On Saturday afternoon there followed a visit to the sea-front house of “Betsy Trotwood,” now a Dickens Museum; full of Dickensian memorabilia and with a Dickensian curator. Then the second conference was on Bleak House, first novel of Dickens’ second period, when England was growing darker. Bleak House attacks lawyers and the law in particular, but in general, said Dr White, it attacks a System more and more in control of society, demoralizing and crushing the innocent sheep. Politics are becoming meaningless and the aristocracy is losing touch with reality, but an inhuman System is driving forward until it will finally collapse under its faksehood, in the manner of Vatican II, added Dr White.

The third lecture presented on Sunday morning Hard Times, another of the darker novels, about the total lack of real education, 150 years ago! Without education of the heart, Dickens knew that human beings will be cold and inhuman. Dr White drew on his decades of teaching in the USA Naval Academy to back up Dickens’ portrait of the enormous stupidity of the social robots engineered by an “education” spurning history, the arts, music, literature and especially poetry. The result, he said, is the boundless boredom of youngsters today, a reflection of pure nihilism.

However, Conference participants went home feeling neither bored nor nihilistic, but much refreshed. Deo Gratias.

Kyrie eleison.

Dickens’ Broadstairs

Dickens’ Broadstairs posted in Eleison Comments on June 21, 2014

A number of friends have asked me how I like the house newly purchased for the “Resistance” in Kent, England. I like it. It is spacious and it is being beautifully set up by a fellow-exile from the Society of St Pius X, Fr Stephen Abraham. Only Heaven knows how it intends the house to be used in the near and distant future, but it is meanwhile a delightful refuge, five minutes on foot from the sea which God created, and which the liberals cannot touch.

Several famous English artists and writers from the past have also found refuge in this delightful corner of north-east Kent. Most famous of the artists is J.M.W. TURNER (1775–1751). Born in London where he spent most of his working life, from age 11 he spent several formative years in Margate, some four miles up the coast from Broadstairs. Here he discovered the sea, which with its light effects was a lifelong inspiration for his painting, and to Margate he frequently returned later in life.

Also in Margate the most famous poet in English of the 20th century, T.S. ELIOT (1888–1965), composed in an open-air pavilion still standing on Margate’s beach, a substantial section of the third part of his most famous poem, The Wasteland (1922). He had come to the seaside town as a refugee from London where an unhappy marriage had seriously affected his health. He did not stay long, but went on to Lausanne, Switzerland, where thanks to the care of a good doctor he completed his recovery and The Wasteland. But the prospect of the sea at Margate had no doubt helped.

Another famous poet, at least in England, was a frequent visitor to Ramsgate, two miles down the coast from Broadstairs. Samuel Taylor COLERIDGE, one of England’s five outstanding Romantic poets, is best-known for his long poem, The Ancient Mariner. He loved bathing in the sea at Ramsgate, perhaps also for health reasons. In any case, the colder the sea, the more he liked it.

Most famous of all, however, was a frequent visitor to Broadstairs itself, the novelist Charles Dickens (1812–1870). He first resorted to Broadstairs in 1837, as a quiet place in which to complete his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, but he so fell in love with the antiquated little seaside town that he often returned with his family to write, or to rest from writing, through the 1840’s and into the 1850’s. His name and names of his novels, or of characters from his novels, are to be found all over the old town that he knew. It is now surrounded, not to say strangled, by Victorian and modern suburbs, but Broadstairs still celebrates every year its most famous visitor with a Dickens Festival in June.

Dr. David Allen White, a Catholic teacher of literature and music who is well-known to many Catholics striving to keep the Faith all over the English-speaking world, is a great lover of Dickens. Since he is passing through London this summer, he agreed to visit Broadstairs in order to hold on August 2 and 3 a 24-hour weekend seminar on Dickens, open to the public and including three conferences and Sunday Mass, and a visit which he will guide to the Dickens Museum in town, set up in a little old house known to, and visited by, Dickens himself. If you are interested in attending, let us know soon (through info@dinoscopus.org), because if numbers have to be limited, first come will be first served. Meals will be provided in-house, but visitors will have to find their own accommodation outside. Beware, it will be the height of the holiday season.

Dickens was not Catholic, but Dostoevsky called him “a great Christian.” Dickens certainly had a warm and open heart, and a brilliant pen.

Kyrie eleison.