"— like a devilish Engine back recoils / Upon Himself" (Paradise Lost, IV, 17-18)
he publisher John Macrone's wedding present to young Mr. and Mrs. Charles Dickens in April, 1836, was his 1835 six-volume edition of John Milton's Poetical Works, edited by Egerton Brydges. The inventory of the contents of No. 1 Devonshire Terrace completed by the end of May, 1844, indicates the set were shelved between six volumes of the poetical works of William Wordsworth and three of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That same catalogue, as given in the fourth volume of The Pilgrim Edition of The Letters of Charles Dickens (1844-1846), shows that Dickens also owned a single-volume edition of Paradise Lost, which he kept on the same shelf as several of his own works and beside that compendium of classical style, The Life and Letters of Cicero, and that seminal work for the Romantic poets, Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765).
Although he makes no specific reference to any work of Milton but Comus in his published letters, that Dickens was familiar with Milton's Paradise Lost is attested to by his closing words in Great Expectations. Furthermore, a coherent pattern of images surrounding the malignant character of Jonas in Martin Chuzzlewit suggests a much earlier influence. In this 1843-4 novel Dickens provides two versions of Milton's Satan: the first, a suave and plausible master of rhetoric, is Montague Tigg; the second, a brutal and egotistical bully, is Jonas Chuzzlewit.
J. Hillis Miller notes Jonas's gradual deterioration from a comic "blustering braggart and coward, to a melodramatic personification of pure evil" (145). The same process of moral, mental, and physical decay is evident in the character and appearance of Satan in Milton's epic Paradise Lost. In Book One, Satan appears to be a heroic warrior who, though defeated, still defies a tyrannical and unjust God. He is a mighty antagonist, a slightly tarnished archangel, magnificent though damned. In appearance like the epic heroes of Homer and Virgil, Satan is introduced carrying a gigantic spear and massive shield. Like Jonas, he looks and talks ‘big'. However, after his rhetorical triumph in the Great Consult, the apparently heroic Satan begins to undergo a progressive deterioration. Through adopting such disguises as a beast of the field and a "Cormorant" ( PL IV: 195), emblematic of his spiritually moribund state, he gradually tarnishes his heroic lustre. When the angelic guardians of the Garden discover him "Squat like a Toad, close at the ear of Eve" (IV, 800), Satan plunges in the reader's estimation. Since "no falsehood can endure / Touch of Celestial temper" (IV, 811-12), at the prodding of Ithuriel's spear he returns to his own form, a "grisly King" (821). Later, in what should be his moment of triumph upon re turning to Hell from his epic journey, recounting his exploits he is again transformed against his will. The master of dis guise and father of lies can no longer control his shape-shifting. However, this time the change is symbolic rather than an thropomorphic. For his mis-deeds he receives the reverse of what he anticipated--"public scorn"--as he is transmuted into "A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone, . . . punisht in the shape he sinn'd" (X, 508-16). This is Satan's last appearance in an epic which up to this point has scrupulously chronicled his thoughts and actions, and in which he has proven the chief actor. While Satan's self-demolition is complete, since out of egotism he has repeatedly rejected his only hope-- submission and repentance, Adam's growth in self- awareness is only just beginning. Having sacrificed his own immortal nature to join Eve in sin, Adam has become more worthy than the fallen angel of the reader's interest Superficially, Jonas and Satan do not much resemble one another as the reader first encounters them. While the fallen angel, towering above his fellows, bears a face scarred by thunder and "Brows / Of dauntless courage and considerate Pride / Waiting revenge" (1, 602-604), Jonas is lost in the "herd of harpies" and "kites" ( Martin Chuzzlewit, Ch. 10) that have alighted around the putative carrion of old Martin. However, Dickens like Milton focuses on his subject's eyes: Satan's are "cruel'. . . , but cast / Signs of remorse and passion to behold / The fellows of his crime" (I, 604- 606); Anthony and Jonas, father and son, stand side by side, alike in wariness and cunning, "winking their red eyes" (Ch. 4), like a pair of vultures calmly awaiting the demise of their prey.* Later, Jonas cites the funeral service from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Psalm Ninety (verse ten) to justify his wishing his eighty-year-old parent in his grave.
Is any one surprised at Mr. Jonas making such a reference to such a book for such a purpose? Does any one doubt the old saw, that the Devil (being a lay man) quotes Scripture for his own ends? (Ch. 11)
Moreover, the parallels between Jonas and Satan extend far beyond their common guile and hypocrisy. The relatively benign figure in Phiz's plate five, "Mr. Jonas Chuzzlewit entertains his cousins," gradually dissolves into the gaunt, kinetic, wind-blown assassin of plate sixteen, "Mr. Jonas exhibits his presence of mind," as the braggart and masher becomes the sinister embodiment of homicidal destruction. Driven by fear of discovery and repugnance at being dominated, Jonas, although at heart a coward, murders his tempter and deceiver, Montague Tigg. Stripped of his customary self-assurance after a series of tactical and economic reversals, he is unmasked by Nadgett as a murderer. Lewsome's accusation produces a "ghastly change in Jonas" (Ch. 51); he becomes a "murderin' vagabond," then "a wretch," and finally the "monster who plotted his father's murder, a crime paralleling Satan's rebellion against the Creator. "Inch by inch the ground beneath him was sliding from his feet," as it is in Satan's last scene in Paradise Lost. Accused, Jonas "whined, and cried, and cursed and entreated them [the officers of the law], and struggled, and submitted, in the same breath, and had no power to stand" (close of Ch. 51). He lies writhing on the straw on the floor of the coach, torn between fear of imprisonment and terror of suicide, like a dying beast or crying infant (surely Dickens's anticipation of the Freudian Id), in a scene grimly parodic of the Nativity.
As his grovelling form recalls the shape in which Satan tempted Eve, so here the fruiterer's and the faint smell of peaches may be objective correlatives for the verdant wood in which Jonas, disguised as a rustic, slew the swindler Tigg, who had adopted the identity of Montague the financier. The faint aroma also prepares the reader for the revelation that Jonas has finally had the courage to poison himself; but this physical poisoning is a reflection of how his greed and desire for power have figuratively poisoned him. The form of a serpent, the carrier of a deadly venom (and, in Genesis, God's curse), is the complete antithesis of that of an archangel; Satan's transformation from the latter to the former is accomplished in a manner similar to that of Jonas Chuzzlewit.
In that Satan suffers as a consequence of his own pride, just as Jonas does from his own greed, "they can be seen as both the perpetrators and the victims of their own violence" (Whitehill 70) and rapacity. Just as Satan's descent in sympathy is juxtaposed against Adam's ascent, so Jonas's deterioration, culminating in his self-abasement and self- destruction, parallels young Martin's re-acceptance by his grandfather. Assisted by Mark Tapley in a mutually symbiotic relationship while both young Englishmen have suffered from swamp-fever, Young Martin has unlearned the Chuzzlewittian doctrine of self-love in the American wilderness. His experiences in the ironically- named Eden lead to his spiritual regeneration, for it is there that he learns to love his neighbour as himself. Old Martin, denouncing the specious heir and wooer of Mary Graham as if he were Blake's God in nineteenth-century dress in Phiz's plate nineteen, reinstates young Martin in his affections and fortune. While young Martin unlearns the sins of pride and self-love in the American wilderness, in a wood near Pecksniff's village Jonas secures his own destruction, by psychologically and physically, by committing the sin of Cain, striking down his Satanic double, Tigg. "Not only does he carry doom within himself, he also brings it–both figuratively and . . . literally–to others" (Whitehill 71). This appraisal of the force of Jonas's self-loathing echoes Milton's characterization of Satan, recently ejected from Heaven and now contemplating the world that God has recently created: "Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell" (IV, 75). Satan had taken the philosophical stance earlier, when addressing his companion in defeat, Beelzebub, that "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell" (I, 254-5); now he has learned ironic truth behind his neatly-pointed aphorism.
What young Martin experiences during his American adventures is a reintegration of self, and of self with society. Through the indefatigable optimism and unending kindliness of Mark Tapley Martin replaces his sense of self with a concern for others. His fever suggests a spiritual struggle; emerging from it, his first task is to nurse Mark. What Jonas experiences from his first encounter with Tom Pinch at the stile is a psychological disintegration. As his public and private selves drift further and further apart in his attempt to cover up his guilt at having (as he thinks) murdered his father (akin, per haps, to Satan's rebellion against God), he becomes an Id and an Ego without a controlling Superego. In Tigg's dream Jonas is "an enemy, a shadow, a phantom; . . .the terrible creature" (Ch. 42), as if he is Tigg's own Id. Tigg's finding his evil partner incubus-like beside his bed after his nightmare connects the image of Jonas here to that of Satan as heis discovered at the ear of Eve in the morning. "When the murder is discovered the transmutation is complete, and we see Jonas last just before he poisons himself, writhing in anguish on the floor, like 'some obscene and filthy animal. . .'(Ch. 51)" (Miller 145). Again, through Jonas, who had plotted the elimination of his father, Anthony, Dickens recalls the fate of Milton's Satan, who, having rebelled against the supreme father-figure, is punished for poisoning the souls of Adam and Eve.
As Harry Stone has pointed out, "Each character enacts his name. Each name, in turn, signals the truth within" (Stone 203) so that when we first encounter him Milton's rebel angel is al ready making the transition from being "Lucifer" ('Child of Light') in Heaven to "The Enemy of Mankind" and Prince of Darkness in Hell. Likewise, through the name "Chuzzlewit" Dickens suggests the clan's common affinity for sharp practice, for ‘chizzling' and living by their wits. But Jonas is overwhelmed and devoured by his own greed, for in allying himself with Tigg in the Anglo- Bengalee fraud he leaves himself open to blackmail, manipulation, and financial ruin. Even as he is plotting Tigg's murder, Jonas continues with their jointly contrived scheme to defraud Pecksniff (something of a confidence man himself), little suspecting that in doing so he will be consigning not only Tigg's but also his own investment to a common oblivion.
True to his vindictive, egocentric nature, Jonas dismisses Tom Pinch from his house when a more civil reception might have resulted in his hearing the name "Nadgett," which in turn might have checked Jonas's rush to do away with Tigg. "Tom shook the dust of that house off his feet," as if he were the biblical Lot fleeing the imminent destruction of Sodom. Gradually through the course of the novel Martin Chuzzlewit Jonas brings about his abandonment by any who could assist him, as if he were the present-day counterpart of that Old Testament city. Through incivility and cruelty he alienates himself from any who would give him sympathy or protection: free of his father (his only kindred spirit other than Tigg), he brutalizes his wife, Mercy. With only himself to rely on and trusting in his own resourcefulness alone, Jonas is drawn to his destruction by Tigg, Crimple, and Nadgett.
Like Satan journeying through Chaos, Jonas travels by himself into the gloomy countryside for his encounter with death and sin. In his description of the wood in which Jonas commits the murder Dickens implants subtle suggestions of post-lapsarian Eden. The copse begins "with the likeness of an aisle a cloister" (Ch. 47), which is also a setting appropriate to a deed of Gothic horror. Shortly thereafter Jonas springs out of the wood "as if it were hell!" The grove only paragraphs before had been the choir for "The music of the birds" and a garden blooming with "Sweet wild flowers." What has intervened to effect the transformation from Eden to Hell is the "terror and dread" Jonas has released. The Wiltshire grove becomes in his deranged psyche a spot only a little less fearful than the "dark room," the hell or tomb that encloses the "hideous secret" of his second self. But, like his biblical namesake, once swallowed, Jonas is delivered against his own will to where fate intends him to be. For Jonas as for Satan, loss of self- control is the outward and visible sign of loss of self. Jonas, like Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll on the park bench and Milton's serpentine archangel, has lost the ability to compose either his features or his destiny.
Dickens has anticipated even in physical terms the predicament facing Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll when, trapped inside his alter-ego Hyde, he finds himself unable to re-enter the laboratory and resume his former identity. The room to which Jonas must return to escape detection is, ironically, "infernal"–a haven that, like Hell for Satan, offers a temporary and ultimately illusory escape from punishment. Committing the unnatural deed unglues Jonas's inner and outer selves, as symbolized by the man who should be in the locked room and the disguised killer who is at large, "not only fearful for himself, but of himself" (Ch. 47). Having slain his doppelganger, Tigg, Jonas becomes "his own ghost and phantom, . . . at once the haunting spirit and the haunted man," a dualism Dickens would explore further four years later in the detached, amoral ego of Redlaw in the last of the Christmas Books, The Haunted Man (1848), some four years later.
J. Hillis Miller, " Martin Chuzzlewit, " Dickens; Modern Judgements, ed. A. E. Dyson (Bristol: Macmillan, 1968).
John Milton, Paradise Lost, in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. (New York: Odyssey, 1957).
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, ed. Margaret Cardwell (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982).
* In his "Notes on Martin Chuzzlewit " (Dickensian 42 ), T. W. Hill notes that the devilish eyes of Jonas are "similar. . . to those of" a later Satanic character, "the treacherous Uriah in David Copperfield . . . " (143).
Sharon Whitehill, "Jonas Chuzzlewit: Archetype of the Self-Destroyer," Dickens Studies Newsletter 9 (1978).
Harry Stone, "What's in a Name: Fantasy and Calculation in Dickens," Dickens Studies Annual14 (1985).
Last modified 8 June 2007