oth Brontë and Dickens portray food and drink as figurative emblems illustrative of broader hungers and thirsts that inform characters' experiences. Whereas Brontë's description of the scanty, spoiled food at Lowood emphasizes hunger and scarcity, Dickens's repeated images of exuberent drunken revelry suggest a diet of abundance, excess, and contentment. In terms of technique, Brontë employs hunger as a conceit, or extended metaphor, which characterizes the theme of Jane's appetite for social, sexual, and spiritual fulfillment. At Lowood, Jane's "ravenous" hunger suggests the passion and impetuosity of her orphaned youth and the hunger that plagued the working class in the decade immediately preceding Jane Eyre's publication (Douglas, "Health and Hygiene"). Remember, while Jane is benefitting from Miss Temple's philanthropy, typhus fever descends upon Lowood, killing more than half the orphans.
Wohl suggests that our understanding of Victorian diet also paradoxically includes "an image of John Bull, contentedly overweight from all the benefits of free trade and the beef and ale diet which distinguished the English from unfortunate foreigners." In contrast to Brontë, Dickens invokes the figure of John Bull as an emblem of nourishment and plenitude. Dickens doesn't so much use drunkenness as a conceit but rather as a structuring or organizing device, and the journey motif and interspersal of embedded tales in Pickwick Papers establish a curious mingling of levity and pathos, fact and fiction, which brings to mind Bakhtin's notion of the carnivalesque. Whereas Brontë stresses scarcity and bereftness, Dickens's style itself enacts the abundance and nourishment which Pickwick and his light-hearted community of contented middle-class males celebrate.
This constant succession of glasses, produced considerable effect upon Mr. Pickwick; his countenance beamed with the most sunny smiles, laughter played around his lips, and good-humoured merriment twinkled in his eye. Yielding by degrees to the influence of the exciting liquid, rendered more so by the heat, Mr. Pickwick expressed a strong desire to recollect a song which he had heard in his infancy, and the attempt proving abortive, sought to stimulate his memory with more glasses of punch, which appeared to have quite a contrary effect; for, from forgetting the words of the song, he began to forget how to articulate any words at all; and finally, after rising to his legs to address the company in an eloquent speech, he fell into the barrow, and fast asleep, simultaneously. (Pickwick 280)
The "constant succession of glasses" yields "sunny smiles, laughter" and "good-humoured merriment" reminiscent of Dionysis (or Bacchus in Roman), the Greek god of wine and revelry.
The theme of exuberance which marks the exploits of Winkle, Jingle, and Weller makes sense given a literary or intellectual context of the dialectic between the Appolonian and the Dionysian. Nietzche, in The Birth of Tragedy, distinguishes between Schopenhauer's conceptions of the principium individuationis and will. Appolonian modes of thinking see form and structure as the basis for "individuality" and rational thought (Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia). Dionysian conceptions of the "will" value drunkenness and madness for their ability to break down such individuality. I suggest the non-linear, digressive organization of The Pickwick Papers emphasizes the Dionysian priorities of chaos and of submerging the identity to a greater whole. Moreover, such an organizing scheme suggests Dickens' intertextuality; Pickwick Paper's recalls the Dionysian organization of Don Quixote, Joseph Andrews, Canterbury Tales (to a certain extent), and even paintings by Heironymus Bosch.
Last modified 1996