Foretaste of Heaven

  1. 251 (chapter 30)

The boy stirred, and smiled in his sleep, as though the marks of pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and affection he had never known. Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odor of a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish like a breath; which some brief memory of a happier existence, long gone by, would seem to have awakened

 

  1. 275 (chapter 32)

… with the hand of death upon them, have been known to yearn at last for one short glimpse of Nature’s face; and, carried far from the scenes of their old pains and pleasures, have seemed to pass at once in to a new state of being.  Crawling forth, from day to day, to some green sunny spot, they have had such memories wakened up within them by the sight of sky, and hill and plain, and glistening water, that a foretaste of heaven itself has soothed their quick decline, … the memoires which peaceful country scenes call up, are not of this world.

 

 

The passages are describing heaven, describing an after-life but also a before-life because Dickens connects the past with the future. Indicating that we came from there and will return.  But it is also so hopeful.  He links so many images of nature to Heaven, all gentle, all peace.  There is such a comfort in his descriptions.

 

The passage is really about the temporal space we are in now; that no matter how much drudgery there is in this life, there is a better life. He describes Nancy, Dick, Oliver’s mother, …, their poor lives.  But then says that “Heaven is just” and “that there is a brighter world than this.” (p. 282)

 

Is Dickins talking about redemption? About the fact that we are all redeemable?  The discussion between Rose and Nancy with Rose pleading for Nancy to turn around would suggest so.  Is Dickins saying we are all born the same; that Nature, pure nature, gives us the chance to remember who we are, that we can return, that we will return.

 

Dickins clearly describes “good” and “bad” characters. But who is to judge at the end?  Will the “bad” be punished?  What about Nancy?  Clearly a “bad” character but is she redeemable?  There is so much hope throughout this novel, hope of redemption, hope of a better place, hope that Rose will be healed, hope that Oliver will find Brownlow, hope that Rose will convince Nancy to turn around.  Dickins treats death almost lightly as in the early chapters with the children who die, the small coffins, the abuse and neglect leading to death. But he continually reinforces the message that death is not the end, that there is so much more to come, that for those who have suffered in this world there is a better place to come.  The images he uses from nature are of the purest.  Music and streams and sky and hills and plains and peace.  Always peace.

 

What was he trying to say to the audience at the time? If it was mostly the middle class who read these novels, what message was he trying to convey to them?  The message seems to be for those who are suffering in this world, that there will come a better time and place.  Peace will prevail.  There is injustice in this world as we know it, much injustice, but “Heaven is just.”

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