Notes on Dickens 8
Class mobility: Dickens is full of class mobility and characters who are on the make, both minor characters: Bailey, Guppy, Bradley Headstone; and major ones, whose class mobility mirrors the narrative trajectory of their respective novels: Pip, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby. In the Sketches especially, we see the emerging urban middle classes creating routines of pleasure for themselves: Mr Augustus Cooper joining the dance academy, Miss Amelia Martin taking part in amateur concerts, the whole family enjoying themselves at Astley’s. Class mobility is always hugely precarious in Dickens, both materially and spiritually. Economic forces may pull a man down just as surely as they can lift him up in the rapidly expanding economy of the city (How well he knew this from his own childhood experiences!): Is there any man who has mixed much with society… who cannot call to mind the time when some shabby miserable wretch, in rags and filth, who shuffles past him now in all the squalor of disease and poverty, was a respectable tradesman, or a clerk, or a man following some thriving pursuit with good prospects and decent means…?
On the other hand, economic success can have dire consequences for the soul, stifling all warm human feeling as middle class responsibilities (respectability, Sabbatarianism, temperance) replace working class pleasures: puffed up conceit is not dignity. Snarling at the little pleasures they were once glad to enjoy, because they would rather forget the times when they were of a lower station render [such people] the objects of contempt and ridicule.
This social mobility also effected Dickens personally, and could be seen in Dickens’s dress. The notorious bright fancy waistcoats of his youth were gradually replaced by the uniform black of the Mid-Victorian gentleman, as the dandy evolved into the paterfamilias and the respectable figure of society.