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The Magician I Charles Dickens

Roman à Clef:

Charles John Huffam Dickens aka 'Boz'

aka 'The Inimitable' aka The 'Revolver'

aka 'The Sparkler of Albion' aka 'Tibbs'

aka 'Rhama Rhia Rhoos 

alias Francis Goodchild alias Timothy Sparks

alias Chas Tringham


Arthur Clennam; Daniel Doyce.


Little Dorrit; Sketches by Boz.

         Charles Dickens was a human dynamo. Like a personification of the Victorian era itself, Dickens was an indomitable, indefatigable man of seemingly boundless energy, will, and creativity. From a sickly child with a middling education, born into a lower middle-class family down at the heel, Dickens quickly worked his way up from a lawyer's junior clerk to a freelance journalist. Having taught himself stenography in his spare time, mixed with a gifted memory and a preternatural knack for observation, Dickens became one of the most capable and astute young reporters, securing a box at Doctor's Commons from which to report on legal proceedings. From here he moved to the Houses of Commons and became a political journalist, reporting on debates in Parliament. Concurrently, Dicken's self-confidence grew alongside his capabilities. His innate talent for mimicry and his limitless love of the dramatic arts motivated him to rehearse tirelessly for a position in a theatrical troupe - an endeavour only thwarted by an untimely illness. Undaunted, he continued writing semi-fictional stories based on observations made of London life. These were printed in papers and journals under the pseudonym Boz and granted Dickens some notice – enough that, although untried as a novelist, he was hired on promise alone to write a serialized novel.


 Although The Pickwick Papers was contrived by its publishers to be a showcase for Robert Seymour's illustrations, the young Dickens took immediate control of its content and direction. Taking some issue with the senior artist's first submissions, Dickens kindly asked they be re-crafted to his own specifications; days later, Seymour committed suicide. Undaunted, Phiz was hired to replace him and Dickens carried on with Pickwick, also accepting the position of editor of the literary magazine, Bentley's Miscellany. Before he had finished writing Pickwick's some 1000 pages, Dickens began work on Oliver Twist. He somehow found the time to write 4 plays, the productions of which he oversaw, and get married. He also did charity work. Then, midway through Oliver Twist, Dickens began writing Nicholas Nickleby.


 Child of the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian era was also the age of Social Criticism, and Dickens himself embodied these two poles. The age was one enthralled with agency, accumulation, discovery, and fabrication – these being attributes seen from the perspective of the privileged and empowered self in the world. Criticism of the disparities in material states and the reduction of human life to statistic and mechanics is the subconscious and conscience of that self-same materialistic outward-moving perspective. Dickens, himself, was a machine, an industry. He was fascinated by both people and things – how they spoke, where they went, the way in which they moved, their colour, likeness, and smell – that is, every conceivable aspect of their appearance rather than what they might represent. He loads detail onto detail until they fill and overflow their fat book's bindings. All fragments, in Orwell's assessment, a cathedral of rotten architecture constructed of wonderful gargoyles. 


 In this way, Dickens' world is a border world between the organic and inorganic, the animate and the inanimate – caskets, dolls, bottle green coats, disembodied portraits, clothes that resemble their wearers more than their wearers do; objects like people, people like objects; Wegg, with his peg leg, 1/2 way to being a chair. This is Dickens the great mimic, painting pictures with words on the broadest of canvases. It is also the Dickens of public sanitation, squalid housing conditions, criminal Old Baileys, malignant schools, and deleterious greed. For these are the mechanics of man, not the mechanics of the mechanics – the what they do, not why. When the magician performs his trick, all eyes are on him. His magic is a feat of misdirection. We can't believe our eyes, and yet that's exactly what the magician gets us to do - why we do is someone else's question. After all, if we were told the trick and could see what we couldn't see, there would be no more magic. We would return to our magicless world and our magician would be out of a job.


 In Arthur Clennam, our author has chosen an odd representative of the Mechanical Age. For starters, he's 40-something – Dickens' age. His past, present, and future are all vague at best. His father is dead and his mother is not really his mother – in fact, he's not whom he thinks he is at all. The woman he thinks he loves loves someone else; the woman who loves him he hardly thinks of at all, and certainly not like that. Everything he turns his hand to falls apart or slinks further away – extracting information from his mother, rescuing Tattycoram from Miss Wade, getting to the bottom of Dorrit's debts, interrogating Blandois. The only thing he manages to do is hitch his cart to Daniel Doyce, an intelligent, hard-working inventor and engineer. Their new-found company, Doyce & Clennam, represent the author and his country and culture divided – the ingenuity and creative spirit of its people in the person of Daniel Doyce, and the feckless, rather oblivious class of people with some resources and clout in the person of Arthur Clennam. Again, the exact essence of what this union of genius and faculty accomplishes - and how - is left vague and not properly speaking qualifiable. Of sole concern and greatest import seems to Clennam at least to be the putting of things in order, setting things to rights, good old-fashioned organizing, and dotting the decidedly lower case i's.


 Little wonder, then, that when Doyce is away in Russia, negotiating with that rival government because the English one is too arrogant and indolent to entertain his innovation, Arthur Clennam sinks all the company's money into Merdle's Ponzi scheme. As a result, Arthur Clennam - Dickens' token of Victorian upper-middle-class respectability and facility - loses even what little he had and winds up gravely ill and penniless in the Marshalsea prison. So much, then, for the self-made man's marshalcy. Dickens, as a boy, had been acquainted with this real-life debtor's prison; now, as Clennam, he was in his imagination in the poor house again. And just as Doyce returns from Turkey a rich man and Arthur - recognizing finally Amy Dorrit's love - is released from jail, Dickens true to form performs his confidence trick: Arthur, author, and reader learn the hard way where to invest their trust – not business, not government, not religion – but the human heart. This, in a nutshell, is Dickens' magic.


 In Clennam, Dickens does something novel for him – he becomes engaged now and then with his character's inner life, and in so doing registers his own personal moral questioning. Even when, as legerdemain, he seems to be doing his level best to undermine this very impression. The unusualness for Dickens, then, of Clennam - a man almost without will from a man almost all will – becomes less odd and more pointed, even more poignant. Clennam's sick being is insight into the Victorian era and the Victorian ethos. He must be made both worthy of salvation and salvageable, but how? In Clennam's lack of imagination we brush up uncomfortably with a perceived lack of imagination in Dickens – or, perhaps more fairly, the limits of magic itself and its paucity in everyday reality. And yet, Dickens couldn't find it within himself or his bag of tricks - or the credulous faces of the audience he envisaged - to forgo thaumaturgy. The real change he wished to conjure in the condition of Clennam's spirit, and in his capacity for love – the mechanics of his mechanics – Dickens was unable in the end to enact from within. Instead, he employed his old sleight of hand, replacing the elusive metaphysics of Clennam and Little Dorrit's concerns with his own trusted surface surrogate: poverty and wealth. Only when Clennam is reduced to Little Dorrit's status, and Little Dorrit herself is returned from wealth to penury, can the hero and heroine desire and deserve each other. In some ways, Little Dorrit's mechanics seem as automatic as the system Dickens had undertaken to dismantle. And for some readers, the effort needed to pull off this shell game can only tax their willing suspension of disbelief. In this way, The Magician has strong subterranean connections with The Temperance card.


 While always Indomitable, Dickens' energies grew more sombre and weather-worn as he aged. It was only natural that such a boundless optimism such as his would over time, confronted with the endless grey area of reality and the inadequacy of his era and attitude, devolve into mannerism and disintegrate into dismay. First and foremost an emotional man, preeminent advocate of the child in himself and in all men, Dickens was in a certain sense taken in by his own tricks. Able to achieve real magic, unquestionably, he was in some ways trapped into being that little boy in Rochester, placed on a pub table by his father, inventing stories and improving songs for the entertainment of the patrons. In this way, The Magician card has strong subterranean connections with The Chariot card.


 The Doyce & Clennam aspect of The Magician card is its shadow, its inner workings perhaps. As the first card of the Trumps it is the Trump of the Trumps - the card of trick-taking games elevated above its officially appointed station. The central portrait of Dickens, painted by Francis Alexander on the author's first trip to America, represents the truly spellbinding aspects of The Magician card, when the unprecedented and yet to be matched literary phenomenon that was Charles Dickens said of himself,


“I am here, there, everywhere, and (principally) nowhere.”


Notes for General Circulation


  • The Magician represents the man as he is, the enchanter, the marvel, magic wand in hand.

  • The Magician is an incredibly rich representation of humanity's capability; the level of consciousness available to mankind. 

  • The Magician looks directly at his audience, the reader. He looks on his audience for recognition and inspiration, and his audience look to him for the same. He may have little personality of his own as yet, but his energy and charm more than make up for it.

  • His control over his prolific creativity is signified in the borders of the Minor Arcana which frame him. There may be some suggestion, however, that they are being used here by The Magician merely as decoration. 

  • The white quill Boz holds may indicate the divine nature of his endeavour, a feather from the peace dove or the Paraclete. The black ink and its well may suggest darker aspects circulating beneath the surface. The table Boz poses before, bisecting the card and concealing The Magician's lower half, signifies the division between heaven and earth. 

  • The Magician is traditionally associated with Gemini, ruled by the planet Mercury. Mercury the god is a trickster, a messenger of the gods, whose name is derived from merchant and indicates commerce. The division of The Magician into 3 characters suggests Mercury's triadic glyph. 

  • The Magician's appearance in a formal pattern may indicate change is needed - of career, or of attitude. The central cross and somewhat fylfot aspect of the card suggests disparate aspects need to be pulled together or that details need to be focused on. If the reader is female, The Magician's need for an audience's approval may imply a male who will turn out to be not entirely satisfactory.

  • The Magician represents the mercurial impulse towards speech, the written word, and/or acting. It indicates the ability to take risks, an alert intelligence, and a persuasive eloquence. It may also indicate cowardice, hubris, and charlatanism - especially as it relates to man's blindness to his own spiritual condition. Because The Magician is affiliated with Gemini, the dualism or divided nature of which is essential to the card's understanding - a point iterated in the split inspirational & facilitating aspects of Doyce & Clennam.

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