But Dickens is unnerved by the ghost of pure irrationalism that he has raised. During September 1840 it was widely rumoured that he had gone mad. The rumour hung around long enough for the Eagle Life Assurance Co. to require ‘an emphatic contradiction of the mad story’ before insuring him in November 1841 to go to America. This report obviously hit Dickens on the funny-bone. Forster says there was difficulty in restraining his wrath ‘within judicious bounds’ (Bk II, ch. 8). And no ingenuity is needed to relate Dickens’s intimate yet repelled insights into Barnaby to an unsuccessful attempt at self-dissociation: ‘… the little tokens he had given in his childish way — not of dulness but of something infinitely worse, so ghastly and unchildlike in its cunning’ (ch. 25). Only gradually will Dickens allow childish oddity to establish itself in later writings: in the old-fashioned Paul Dombey, in the quaintness of David Copperfield, and thence into the expressly autobiographical essays of the 1850s and 1860s. ‘They used to say I was an odd child, and I suppose I was’ he writes in ‘Gone Astray’ (MP, p. 405). It is not a long journey either backwards or forwards from the child horrified by a mask in A Christmas Tree or the frightened infant of ‘Nurse’s Stories’ (UCT, ch. 15), or the parrot in The Holly Tree who said, ‘“Blood, blood! Wipe up the blood!”’ to the novelist in 1841 with his ravens and his incurable interest in murder and mystery.
KeywordsChristmas Tree Flexible Presence Autobiographical Essay Oliver Twist Incurable Interest
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