Temperance XIV Fact / Fiction

Roman à Clef:

Angela Burdett-Coutts

Characters:

Cecilia 'Sissy' Jupe; Signor Jupe.

Books:

Hard Times; Household Words;

All The Year Round;

The Uncommercial Traveller.

     The themes of the Temperance card are represented by Dickens' novel Hard Times. The book's preeminent theme is the battle, balance, and respective values of fact verses fiction. As an outspoken critic of Utilitarianism and the dehumanizing aspects of industrialization, Dickens makes a solid case in defense of fancy and underscores the dangers of cultivating the head while denying the heart.

 

 Yet, the manner in which he does this is ironic. Unlike all but one other Dickens novel, Hard Times contains no preface and no illustrations. Instead of his usual sprawling book overflowing with idiosyncratic characters, Hard Times is by far Dickens' shortest novel and the people who populate its pages are sober and reserved. Whats more, Dickens' in-built prejudices against the very people he appointed himself spokesperson for distort the book's message and appeal. Dickens' view - that while workers had the right to strike they were unwise to use that right – is hypocritical, pusillanimous, and middle-class in the extreme.

 

 During a visit to Preston to gather background for the book, Dickens witnessed a professional speaker addressing a group of striking workers. The man received little sympathy from the men and was prevented from stirring up trouble by “the persuasive right hand of the chairman.” Dickens, however, alters this reality in Hard Times to misrepresent the wider situation – workers he otherwise presents as intelligent men are misled by mischievous agitators. The credit Dickens extends to the common man in the novel is undermined by his own vested interests which contrive to see these so-called intelligent men persuaded by the eloquence of a windbag to persecute an honourable and unfortunate fellow-worker. Dickens' solution, as mediator with something of a saviour complex, is for the “honest”, “manly”, and “good-humoured” workers to sort out their differences amicably with Josiah Bounderby – a man who has proven himself to be nothing more than a lying, bullying, self-serving fraud. Where, in a normal Dickens novel, the exposition of this Trade Union section would take many pages across a number of chapters, here it is reduced to a few terse sentences – a fact which, given its bias, is just as well.

 

 Charles Dickens - the celebrated defender and champion of the disenfranchised, the underclass, the Common Man – also promulgated in his writing his view that the people were incapable of governing themselves, that taking physical action such as striking to address legitimate grievances was tantamount to mob rule, and that the only real and just solution to Society's problems was a heartfelt small c christian concord made in good faith. That these unflattering aspects of Dickens' politics and art get less consideration is here, on the Temperance card, being redressed, re-weighted, and characterized in the uncharacteristic Hard Times - arguably Dickens' most political and least artistic novel.

 

 The soulless, utilitarian education of the Gradgrind children, which sees what gladness they had in them gradually ground down, results in a moral and emotional breakdown in their adult years. This echoes the nervous breakdown John Stuart Mills suffered, the result of his father's stringent insistence on a rigorous, analytical, fact-based education. The antipode and antidote to this is joy, play, entertainment, and fancy – represented in the novel's Sleary Circus and the gifted artistic endeavours of the novelist himself. And even as the novelist's aims are contradicted by his own economy and didacticism, the power of the fancy horses of the Sleary Circus are clearly equal to - if not in every way stronger than - the horsepower of the Bounderby factory.

 

 As much as Charles Dickens strove to be and nearly was, no man can be all things to all people all of the time. If he had been like his friend and compatriot Thomas Carlyle, writing political screeds and philosophical treatises, he would have gone for the most part disregarded and unread by the masses. Instead, Dickens sugared and larded his writing with humour, caricature, exaggeration, and sentimentality, tapping into the conservative bedrock of the British people by pandering to their base needs. More righteous or radical critics take exception to such methods, but without them, Dickens would have never had entrée into the heart and hearth of the populace. Once there, Dickens was able to accomplish what radicals, politicians, and critics were unable to do – not only influence and alter the minds of the people but affect real and immediate change in rigid Victorian society. In short, the very things which made Dickens weak as a writer of fiction made him strong in fact as an advocate. And vice-versa.

 

 Through his fiction, Dickens addressed and accomplished real change in a variety of ways and arenas. His optimism and faith in the dignity of mankind – or, his unrealism – facilitated real change in debtor's prisons, schools, nursing, funerals, public executions, sanitation, child labour, workhouses, jails, chancery, and more. Restless and gregarious, Dickens could not and would not allow himself to be bored, nor could he allow his characters to be. His temper did not allow for a moment of silence, let alone dull monotony; as a result, it's a real-life colour missing from his palette. Because of this, his works - so often dealing with misery and exploitation – are nonetheless theatrical, entertaining, and popular. Through fantasy and fancy, Dickens' readership never found itself the one thing absolutely fatal to populism, that is: bored. As Dickens had the slurry Sleary say: “People mutht be amuthed.”

 

 As the Trade Union episode in Hard Times attests, this demand for constant concession had its deleterious side. As Dickens told Forster regarding the Yorkshire schools in Nicholas Nickleby, “I have kept down the strong truth and thrown as much comicality over it as I could, rather than disgust and weary the reader with its fouler aspects.” Also writing to Forster, he complained of the restraints placed on English novelists compared to the French, who were able to write freely and naturalistically while the hero of an English book was compelled to be too good to be interesting. At the same time, while the Francophile Dickens detested Napoleon III's assumption of power, he despaired of representative government. It may also be noted that he privately celebrated the bicentenary of Charles I's beheading by getting drunk on champagne. In some ways, Dickens was capable of eccentric and outlandish characterizations – and, now and again, characteristics – precisely because he was of the centre, a moderate of the middle-class. The extravagance he perceived in politics, religion, and society, compelled him to an extravagance of satire.

 

 Another huge factor in Dickens' influence largely overlooked today is the massive amount of nonfiction he wrote and published as editor. The periodicals Household Words and All The Year Round occupied a major portion of his time for two full decades, the years in which he also wrote what is now considered his greatest fiction. For a time he edited a daily newspaper, the Daily News, as well as writing and soliciting journalism all throughout his career. Dickens also wrote travel books, was a copious letter writer, penned political pamphlets and children's books, and was much sought after as a public speaker.

 

 Also forgotten is Dickens' many involvements with causes and charities of his time - even as he regarded most charitable activity of his era misguided, ineffectual, and self-serving. His shrewd assessment of organized charity, arrived at from personal observation and considerable involvement in philanthropic enterprises, propelled him to undertake many of his own initiatives in aid of such diverse causes as adult education, mechanical institutes, emigration, soup kitchens, health and sanitation, model dwellings, prison reform, orphanages, recreation facilities, hospitals and sanitariums, and what the poor should be allowed to get up to on Sundays. He was an early and active advocate for artist's pensions, serving as trustee for the Royal General Theatrical Fund and as officer of the Guild of Literature and Art. But his most sustained and hands-on philanthropic project was managing Urania Cottage, the “home for homeless women” he planned and ran on behalf of Angela Burdett Coutts.

 

 At Urania Cottage, “fallen” women were taught reading, writing, sewing, cooking, laundering, and domestic work. Eventually, the reformed women emigrated to one of the colonies where most married and led new lives. Indicative of the accepted morés of the time, Miss Coutts - for all her good intentions - doubted the morality of fallen women marrying. Miss Coutts was the daughter of a banker, and - described by Edward VII as “after my mother, the most remarkable woman in the kingdom” - was also, aside from Victoria, the wealthiest. Where Dickens was practical, positive, inspirational, and committed, Coutts was naïve, moralistic, punitive, and doubtful. As a testament to Dickens being the driving force behind Urania Cottage, when he withdrew his involvement after the separation from his wife led to a rift in his relations with Coutts, the home ceased to function and within a few years closed down. The woman striding confidently toward the reader here on the Temperance card, holding the hands of a young boy and girl in direct allusion to the ensuing Devil card's Want and Ignorance, is Angela Burdett Coutts.

 

 When Dickens read the Report of the Children's Employment Commission, he was incensed and felt compelled to write a scathing political editorial on its findings. After some consideration, however, he wrote A Christmas Carol instead. That book, renown and beloved the world over for centuries, along with Hard Times, soon forgotten in its day but later rediscovered and lauded as a masterpiece, represent the golden mean of all Dickens' work – its ability to instruct, entertain, and through fiction affect factual change.

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Notes for General Circulation : 

 

  • The Temperance card is something of an intermediary between the Death and The Devil card. It signifies the balance between the spirit's emancipation from life and the worldly trappings of living. 

  • The binary poles of Hard Times constitute the fusion of opposites in Temperance - Fact & Fiction, factory & circus, schoolroom & experience. This dichotomy is made literal in Hard Times' title: the Latin root temp means time, while, in metallurgy, to temper is to render hard through heating. 

  • The boy and girl of the Temperance card allude to the boy - Want - and girl - Ignorance - of the ensuing Devil card. Their sex being poles themselves, these children are being pulled along together toward their destiny by a kind of angel - Angela Burdett Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the "richest heiress in England" - another clear contradistinction with the Devil/Poverty card.

  • As with the 3 central figures, the Temperance card is divided into 3. While all manifestations are essentially triadic, the third dialectical force remains invisible to the sublunary plain where it is only possible to perceive the duality of negative and positive forces. 

  • The flow of dark forces toward the light, from the fictitious Coketown to the Sleary Circus, suggests a melting - or perhaps smelting - of transient emotional energies from the subconscious to the hardened energies of the conscious intellectual mind - a circularity of forces akin to the yin and yang fishes. 

  • The central figure in flowing garments suggests spiritual agency. She is the Maiden of the zodiac, Virgo, involved with the critical assessment of material facts in order to arrive at truth. As Miss Coutts, she is the unwed virgin protectress of "fallen" women. As Demeter, she is Persephone's mother - 2 aspects of the triple goddess -  the giver of food and the bringer of the sacred law.

  • Temperance is affiliated with the Hebrew letter Nun, a palindrome meaning fish, and suggesting nun - a vestal priestess, from the Persian nana, meaning mother and tutor. Coming between Death and The Devil, it may suggest the noon of mid-day. 

  • Temperance can be linked with Nut, Egyptian guardian of the shades of the dead. This in turn suggests nut, signifying fruit and the seeds of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as nub, as in kernel, and nubile.

  • Temperance is associated with Mary, the Mother of God; more, she is the Christian tripartite Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Virgin Mary.  

  • In mythology, Temperance is affiliated with Iris, goddess of the sea and sky - emotion and thought. She is messenger between man and the gods, and the personification of the rainbow. A rainbow is the result of a fusion between water and light, with the physical liquid wave dividing the intangible fluorescent wave into its constituent parts - or, the white light which illumines the blackness transformed into the full spectrum of colour, including those invisible to the naked eye. In this way, Temperance is the balance between Fire, Air, and Water - Fire combusting in Air to give light, light passing through Water to create the rainbow. Fittingly, the iris is the eye's colour, and is responsible for controlling the pupil.