"The Angels Forgive"

decorated initial 'T' o heighten the reader's estimate of their principal characters, Dickens and Tennyson characterize them by comparisons to angels. Throughout The Pickwick Papers, light seems to emanate from Pickwick's face. Metaphorically, like an angel, he bestows warmth and love on those with whom he comes into contact. Dickens, too, mythologizes Arthur by describing his "face, which then was as an angel's." The authors use such characterizations to not only portray the intrinsic goodness of their characters, but also to show the pacifying and warming effect that they have on other people. Indeed, Pickwick and Arthur both do act as guiding angels, leading the Pickwickians or the knights of the Round Table toward a certain goal. While Pickwick leads his men into a pleasant state of friendship, gaiety, and marital love, Arthur guides his men to spiritual enlightenment.

In "Guinevere" when Arthur first spies his wife after he has learned of her disloyalty, he proceeds to chastise her, deeming that she has "spoilt the purpose of [his] life." However, Arthur's lecture dramatically halts as he pauses, she lays her hands at his feet, and "far off a solitary trumpet blew." At this moment, Arthur allows his love for Guinevere to overcome his anger.

'Yet think not that I come to urge thy crimes,
I did not come to curse thee, Guinevere,
I, whose vast pity almost makes me die
To see thee, laying there thy golden head,
My pride in happier summers, at my feet.
The wrath which forced my thoughts on that fierce law,
The doom of treason and the flaming death,
(When first I learnt thee hidden here) is past.
The pang, which while I weigh'd thy heart with one
Too wholly true to dream untruth in thee,
Made my tears burn - is also past, in part.
And all is passed, the sin is sinn'd, and I,
Lo I forgive thee, as Eternal God
Forgives: do thou for thine own soul the rest.
But how to take last leave of all I loved?
O golden hair with which I used to play
Not knowing O imperial-moulded form,
And beauty such as never woman wore,
Until it came a kingdom's curse with thee -
I cannot touch thy lips, they are not mine,
But Lancelot's: nay, they never were the King's.
I cannot take thy hand; that too is flesh,
And in the flesh thou hast sinn'd; and mine own flesh
Here looking down on thine polluted, cries
"I loathe thee:" yet not less, O Guinevere,
For I was ever virgin save for thee,
My love thro' flesh hath wrought into my life
So far, that my doom is, I love thee still.
Let no man dream but that I love thee still.
Perchance, and so thou purify thy soul,
And so thou lean on our fair father Christ,
Hereafter in that world where all are pure
we two may meet before high God, and thou
Wilt spring to me, and claim me thine, and know
I am thine husband - not a smaller soul,
Nor Lancelot, nor another. Leave me that,
I charge thee, my last hope. Now must I hence'...
And while he spake to these his helm was lower'd,
To which for crest the golden dragon clung
Of Britain; so she did not see the face,
Which then was as an angel's.

Arthur adopts a martyr-like role, as he proudly announces, "Lo I forgive thee, As Eternal God Forgives." In a similar manner, Mr. Pickwick reveals his own benevolence in his forgiveness of Jingle. Pickwick encounters Jingle once again in the debtor's prison in a pitiful state of dejection. Considering that he has been "duped, deceived, and wronged by the destitute outcast who was now wholly in his power," Pickwick should naturally take his revenge on the helpless man However, Pickwick, like Arthur, in his nobility of character, substitutes forgiveness for the response that another, lesser man would have given. As a symbol of his forgiveness, Pickwick gives Jingle a trinket from his waistcoat-pocket. The trinket, and its representation of Pickwick's forgiveness, imparts to Jingle "a sparkle to the eye, and a swelling to the heart." Arthur's selfless act of forgiveness emotionally touches the reader in a similar manner.

The theme, the importance of forgiveness, that Tennyson and Dickens highlight in these passages, reflects the influence of the Bible. The Bible was undoubtedly the most widely read book in nineteenth-century England. Even the illiterate were exposed to its basic tenets. One of the most well-known scriptures in the Bible proposes, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" ( Matthew 6:14,15). As Arthur and Pickwick each perpetuate love in his own social domain, they must always forgive because, "he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47).

Last modified 1996