[This example of fine work written by a first-year university student in 1993 has historical importance because it exemplifies a very early (pre-Web) use of hypertext in education. The essay originated as a portion of one answer to a multipart seminar assignment, the results of which were then uploaded into a pre-WWW hypertext system, Eastgate System's Storyspace. I forgot to transfer full bibliographical information from the larger assignment, but I believe we used the Penguin edition of Little Dorrit. — George P. Landow.]
A striking difference in the characterization in Little Dorrit and Phantastes lies in Dickens's superior ability to convey concisely and unforgettably the nature of a personage. Dickens has an amazing perception of people, and his use of an omniscient narrator allows for his impressive insights. His often comical characterizations constantly inform the reader as to the nature of the people discussed. We observe Mrs. Clennam in tghe following passage: "She then put on the spectacles and read certain passages aloud from a book--praying that her enemies (she had made them by her tone and manner expressly hers) might be put to the edge of the sword, consumed by fire, smitten by plagues and leprosy, that their bones might be ground to dust, and that they might be utterly exterminated" (75). No doubt remains about Mrs. Clennam's attitude toward life after reading this passage. In only a few lines, Dickens expresses her essence.
Again, in a single-sentence characterization of Little Dorrit, Dickens makes the reader understand her: "Her look at her father, half admiring him and proud of him, half-ashamed for him, all devoted and loving, went to his [Clennam's] inmost heart" (122). MacDonald's narrator rarely reaches the same level of perception about characters because the reader's experiences of people and events are simultaneous to those of the narrator. Anados has no secret well of knowledge about other characters from which he might draw. After his discovery about the Ash-tree, he questions, "How can beauty and ugliness dwell so near?" (48) Had the narrator been Dickens--omniscient and perceptive--the Ash-tree would undoubtedly have endured considerable character analysis prior to the incident. Anados receives warnings from the knight and the beech-tree, but no concrete character analysis occurs.
Dickens's descriptions also prove more detailed. The passage about the doctor of the Marshalsea offers perhaps the best example:
The doctor's friend was in the positive degree of hoarseness, puffiness, red- facedness, all-fours, tobacco, dirt, and brandy; the doctor in the comparative--hoarser, puffier, more red-faced, more all-fourey, tabaccoer, dirtier, and brandier. The doctor was amazingly shabby, in a torn and darned rough-weather sea-jacket, out at the elbows and eminently short of buttons. . ., the dirtiest white trousers conceivable by mortal man, carpet slippers, and no visible linen. "Childbed?" said the doctor. "I'm the boy!"
Dickens paints a brilliant picture of this man and brings him to life in the mind of the reader. MacDonald fills his writing with fantastic descriptions, as when Anados recounts the stories he read in the castle library: The men alone have arms; the women have only wings. Resplendent wings are they, where in they can shroud themselves from head to foot in a panoply of glistening glory. By these wings alone, it may frequently be judged in what seasons, and under what aspects, they were born. From those that came in winter, go great white wings, white as snow; the edge of every feather shining like the sheen of silver" (79). Although MacDonald paints a distinct pictures, one notes that the ideas he presents remain in the reader's memory more often that the accompanying descriptions. The notion of the female inhabitants, in Anados' book, having wings appears more powerful than the color and nature of the wings. With Dickens, however, the doctor's detailed description, his unique traits stand on their own when removed from the context of the Marshalsea. Dickens attains an unequaled richness of detail.
Last modified 24 October 2002