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Haven’t you got better things to do?

Meek and boring heroines

Another great comic from Hark, A Vagrant. It is a fair zinger too, though the odd gutsy female appears in Dickens (Madame Defarge in A Tale Of Two Cities may not be the heroine, but she does rather steal the book due to sheer bloodthirsty charisma. She is French though so cannot be expected to know how to behave.)

That rather underscores the point, though: women in Dickens are generally either Good (meek, mild, modest, and mouse-like) or Bad (proud, scornful, controlling, and harridanical). We know which one is going to get the boy (this and other mysteries are not usually a matter of great suspense in Dickens). There is generally a young male paragon in the story too, upright, honest, clear-eyed, and full of good clean Victorian spunk. In this situation a wedding on the last-but-one page is virtually guaranteed, unless one of them suddenly dies of consumption.

However, the novel being what it is, you can expect that the young couple will have to endure many tribulations and obstacles before their chastely joyful union, including the hero sometimes marrying the wrong person by mistake. David Copperfield does this in David Copperfield, hooking up with Dora Spenlow, who is in the memorable words of Blackadder, “wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume”.

My favourite Dickensienne is probably Little Dorrit in Little Dorrit. She supports her ungrateful father and feckless brother with furious and sustained bouts of needlework, and generally is a shining light of common sense and industry though surrounded by the usual Dickensian rabble of thieves, blackmailers, villains, cheats, debtors, simpletons, angry lesbians, wicked landlords, rakish artists, corrupt officials, confidence tricksters, and evil butlers.

Least favourite: I heartily agree with Oscar Wilde who remarked, “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without dissolving into tears… of laughter.”