In Pickwick Papers Dickens, who seems to have a different conception of faith than does Tennyson, also writes about restoring faith,. For Tennyson, faith in humanity and faith in God are linked. One leap of faith can obtain both. Dickens appears to make a distinction between these two faiths. Dickens's concern seems to be with regaining faith in humanity. His characterization of Pickwick certainly reassures a reader, at least temporarily, that there are benevolent people. However, through his satirical portrayals of religion in this novel, Dickens also expresses a desire to address the issue of religious faith. Defending his characterizations of Mr Stiggins, Dickens explains

Lest there should be any well-intentioned persons who do not perceive the difference between religion and the cant of religion, piety and the presence of piety, a humble reverence for the great truths of Scripture and an audacious and offensive obtrusion of its letter and not its spirit... it is always the latter, and never the former, which is satirized here. (Dickens, 52)

Thus Dickens makes it clear that his portrayal of Stiggins should be perceived as a challenge to those who use religion as a pretense, as a way to indicate an honesty of spirit which they do not really possess. He further expresses his admiration for those who truly have faith in God by declaring

it is never out of season to protest against the coarse familiarity with sacred things which is busy on the lip, and idle in the heart; or against the confounding of Christianity with any class of persons who, in the words of Swift, have just enough religion to make them hate, and not enough to make them love, one another. (Dickens, 52)

By criticizing those who pay only lip-service to religion, Dickens indicates that those who can take a leap of faith in God and can truly love others could make a difference. Yet Dickens seems to be skeptical of the idea that people might really be able to make a leap of faith in God. A faith in humanity, however, might be easier to bring about since people are tangible, "real things; things as can be felt and touched."

As a result of their different conceptions of faith, Tennyson and Dickens use different techniques to re-inspire faith. Tennyson uses nostalgia to re-inspire faith, Dickens uses Pickwick, the embodiment of benevolence. Pickwick is the model for a secularized Christian and moral behavior. He represents the ideal gentleman who never inflicts pain and constantly works to remove the obstacles which hinder those around him. In potentially awful and embarrassing situation, Pickwick sees the humor, and rather than exploding in anger, he either laughs or somehow makes someone else laugh. For instance, when Jingle betrays him, placing him in the garden of the Seminary for Young Ladies in the middle of the night, the narrator says "It might have been Mr Pickwick's appearance, or it might have been his manner...that reduced the more reasonable portion of the establishment...to a state of comparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr Pickwick's sincerity, that he should immediately submit to a test of personal restraint" (Dickens, 305). Pickwick good naturedly steps into the closet "of his own accord." Sam Weller even goes so far as to describe him as "a reg'lar thorough-bred angel for all that; and let me see the man as wenturs to tell me he knows a better vun" (Dickens, 734). Thus Pickwick's beaming presence draws people to trust in him and then to go a step farther and trust in humanity.

By creating fantasy worlds, either by harkening back to a mythical past or by creating a world of forgiveness and benevolence amidst whatever circumstances, Tennyson and Dickens encourage people to take a leap of faith and trust in God and a common humanity amidst a culture of impersonality and doubt.

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Pickwick Papers Idylls of the King

Last modified 1996

Last modified 8 June 2007