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The World XXI

Roman à Clef:

Charles Dickens





         Charles Dickens' popularity was instantaneous, classless, and very quickly grew to be worldwide. It was unique in world history and endures to this day. As Shakespeare is to poetry, Dickens is to prose. Akin to Christ's gospel disseminated through the Roman Empire, so Dickens' work and reputation spread throughout the British Empire. Dickens had a number of advantages over Shakespeare – English had become the dominant world language; his age was one of publicity, photography, and personality; his era was steam powered and one of worldwide expansion and communication; and the urban culture he lived in had become almost universal.


 Six years after Pickwick, Dickens set off to conquer America. His Farewell Banquet was attended by 450 notables, including politicians and the leading figures in literature, the arts, the theatre, and public life generally. When he arrived in Boston, the eminent Bostonian William Whetmore Story said: “The People eat him here!” When he returned 20 years later, Longfellow reported: “The enthusiasm for him and his Readings is immense. One can hardly take in the whole truth about it, and feel the universality of his fame.” Dickens instinctively avoided any incident “which could call a blush into the most delicate cheek.” He not only appealed to the more sensitive and thoughtful reader as well as to the most unsophisticated reader, but also to those unacquainted with reading at all. As one obituarist wrote, he was “the one writer everybody read and everybody liked.” He was the intimate of every household the world over.


 After Dickens' death, his fame continued to grow. His influence on world literature included such unlikely authors as Dostoevsky and Kafka. In 1902, The Dickens Fellowship was founded, its stated objective to “knit together in a common bond of friendship lovers of the great master of humour and pathos, Charles Dickens, to spread the love of humanity”, the “keynote of all his work”, and to “campaign against those 'social evils' that most concerned Dickens”. Branches were established all around the world, and continue to this day. In 1905, the Fellowship began publishing its own journal, The Dickensian, and in 1925 purchased Dickens' former home, opening it to the public as the Dickens House Museum.


 But possibly the single greatest measure of Dickens' enduring popularity is the countless dramatizations of his work. These began in his day with stage adaptations, none of them authorized and some begun while the novel was only half completed. His characters have been portrayed by marionettes and animation along with humans, and broadcast over radios from Moscow to Melbourne. As early as 1903, film adaptations have been made of Dickens' works. The American movie pioneer D.W. Griffith recognized very early the intrinsic cinematic quality of Dickens' writing – not just its innate melodramatic flare for character and incident – but its narrative style of rapid cross-cutting. The Russian film-maker Sergei Eisenstein elaborated on this method of “progressive montage of parallel scenes, intercut into each other”, calling Dickens the connecting link between the 19th Century novel form and the “future, unforeseen art of the cinema”. Although repeatedly adapted to this day, Dickens' works in the audio and visual realm rarely live up to Eisenstein's call for a cinematic experience which captures the essential spirit of the revised novel - but in a new form, original and expressive in its own right; one respectful and befitting the new medium. Nevertheless, film and television adaptations continue to be made and enjoyed by people the world over. And broadly speaking, the literary energy, scope, characterization, and narrative mode of the 19th Century's preeminent author presaged the central story-telling techniques of the preeminent art form of the 20th Century: film.


 While Dickens' worldview grew more autumnal as he grew older, it remained always vital and intense. He was as fascinated with the rotting cabbage-stalks of Covent Garden as he was with the catacombs of Cloisterham Cathedral. He was not repelled by the scoundrels and vagrants he brought to life, and even relished in the blackhearted excesses of Fagin and Quilp. Dickens recognized the unique spark of every person he drew and, drawing out that character further, made them a special place of prominence all their own. The overwhelming welter of the world - with its decayed toys locked away somewhere in a forgotten attic room and its dizzy vistas teeming with labourers, stage-coaches, life-rafts, and malaria – Dickens detailed and infused it all with the same vibrant energy, the same gracious embrace. As a champion and defender of everything expansive and life-giving, he focused all his skills against everything destructive or impoverishing. Naturally allied with the fructifying, he kicked at the impediments that crippled humanity, and groped his way in the blackening toward an understanding of all that darkened humanity's hopes for happiness and health.


 By the latter half of his career, he understood as well or better than anyone of his era the capitalist machine, which enabled and ennobled a few while indenturing and devouring the many. He understood it with unfaltering enmity. Rather than theory or more systems no matter how reformed, Dickens' heart and head where loyal always and only to flesh and blood men, women, and children. His weapons against the tyranny they endured were also their salves – pathos and humour, caricature, intrigue, and the exposure of the evil which lies hidden. He gave the people what they wanted, because he wanted what they wanted – the gift of themselves. And the people, in turn, gave themselves to him.


 Dickens did not remake the world in his own image - he remade it in its own image. In the end, he had no magic spell the make everything right, no grand scheme to redress all the wrongs of the world. Magic there was – tears and laughter, anger and contrition, generosity of spirit and fighting the good fight – but underneath it all, in its heart and soul, Dickens' gift was a simple one. As simple as the golden rule. As simple as the golden mean. As simple as the hope and faith in humanity, its frailties and folly. As simple as the warm, whole-hearted inclusion which finds a home for even the lowliest here among us in the vast unknown of our great wide world.



Notes for General Circulation : 


  • The ultimate card of the Major Arcana is a culmination of all the preceding cards, and as such is exceedingly difficult to ascribe with one specific meaning. Simply put, it is the anima mundi, the world soul; it is the egg of Charles Dickens' oeuvre, disseminated across not only the four corners of the earth but across the 5th hidden dimension of time. 

  • The spinning globe which circles the sun and which in turn is circled by the moon, creating the days, the seasons, the years, represents the universal lemniscate, the returning eternity of time itself. The globe, as a circle, represents the perfect and never-ending, the entirety of everything and the zero of The Fool.

  • A balance between the four elements has not only been achieved, but utilized and potentiated to the greater - the greatest - good. This good is all-inclusive, even of evil, for it is neither threatened nor in any way subordinate to evil, but rather in its perfection maintains control over all. The Devil is freed and The Hanged Man has become one with his other half. The Hermit no longer needs his crutch, but has become himself the lantern, the light. 

  • Within the worldly plane, matter encapsulates and subjugates spirit; here, on The World card, the spirit is emancipated which in turn emancipates matter. The individual, the one, is unified and made whole in the Absolute Being.

  • The map of the world here on The World card is the centre leaf of a book; the book represents Dickens' oeuvre and the book, made from trees, represents the Tree of Life. The small inset or legend is a reduced version of the whole card which, as it too contains a reduced version &c., creates a fractal, indicating the "as above, so below" of the macrocosm and the microcosm.

  • The four stamps issued by the Royal Mail to celebrate Dickens' death and Literary Anniversary represent the traditional tetramorphs of The World card, in turn representing the four fixed signs of the zodiac, the four elements, and the four evangelists. The post aspect underscores the original dissemination of Dickens' works throughout the English speaking world of the British Empire and beyond. 

  • The young Dickens of The Magician card has become Charles Dickens the accomplished author in his maturity. His eyes are closed as in meditation, receiving energy from across the four corners of the earth and sending energy back out. The World card is sometimes called Truth or Wisdom. 

  • The World in traditional divination indicates the successful fulfillment of a dream; as a negative indicator, it suggests obstacles to one's aims or undue attachment to earthly matters.


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