decorated initial 'T'o his friend and biographer, Forster, [Dickens] said that he was always losing sight of a man in his diversion by the mechanical play of some part of the man's face, which would acquire a sudden ludicrous life of its own. Many of what we shall call the “signatures" of Dickens' people� that special exaggerated feature or gesture or mannerism which comes to stand for the whole person�are such dissociated parts of the body, like Jaggers' huge forefinger which he bites and then plunges menacingly at the accused, or Wemmick's post-office mouth, or the clockwork apparatus in Magwitch's throat that clicks as if it were about to strike. The device is not used arbitrarily or capriciously. In this book, whose subject is the etiology of guilt and atonement, Jaggers is the representative not only of civil law but of universal Law, which is profoundly mysterious in a world of dissociated and apparently lawless fragments; and his huge forefinger, in which he is virtually transformed and which seems to act like an “it" in its own right rather than like the member of a man, is the Law's mystery in all its fearful impersonality. Wemmick's mouth is not a post-office when he is at home in his castle but only when he is at work in Jaggers' London office, where a mechanical appearance of smiling is required of him. As Wemmick's job has mechanized him into a grinning slot, so oppression and fear have given the convict Magwitch a clockwork apparatus for vocal chords. [p. 130]


van Ghent, Dorothy. The English Novel: Form and Function. New York: Harper Torchbook, 1961.]

Last modified 1988