Friday, June 08, 2007

Dickens on Criminal Nature

I've been ending the day with a chapter or two of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit and I'm really enjoying all of the side characters and conversations that Dickens so ably throws into the middle of his stories. One of those conversations struck me as something I might hear even today when the topic of crime comes up in conversation.

Dickens places one of his characters in an out-of-the-way French tavern where he hears the owner's wife respond to a Swiss customer who has excused even the worst criminal behavior by telling her that she needs to consider what it was in the life of the criminal who turned him into the devil he is today. The landlady responded:
"I am a woman, I. I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy. But I know what I have seen, and what I have looked in the face, in this world here where I find myself. And I tell you this, my friend, that there are people (men and women both, unfortunately) who have no good in them - none. That there are people whom it is necessary to detest without compromise. That there are people who must be dealt with as enemies of the human race. That there are people who have no human heart and who must be crushed like savage beasts, and cleared out of the way. There are but few, I hope; but I have seen...that there are such people."
The debate continues today, proving that there is nothing new under the sun.


  1. Hey, I like your blog. Great quote from Dickens, who like Shakespeare, had amazing insight into our human frailty and our darkest urges. These days we see them everywhere - mostly in our government!

  2. Thanks, for the compliment, Timothy, much appreciated.

  3. I haven't read Little Dorrut (on TBR list, of course, but I think I recall my husband saying it is his favourite Dickens.

    (Too busy at moment with the distraction of building my first Library Thing collection! And various other computerised distractions...)

  4. I'm still enjoying it, Sally, but it's going to take a few weeks to finish at two chapters a day. My edition has 740 pages and I've seen other editions that were close to 900 pages because of larger print, etc.

    But it's worth the effort.

    BTW, isn't Library Thing amazing? I really love the ability to track the growth of my library and to parse all that information into all kind of meaningful stuff. Keep working on'll love the end result.

  5. I love how it begins, ""I am a woman, I. I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy." and then a fierce torrent of words follows.

  6. Isn't that just like a woman, Ted? Set a guy up, only to clobber him when his guard is down...