Society’s Outcasts

In Dickens’s preface to Oliver Twist, he describes one of his objectives to portray the outcasts of society in all their true form but also to show how Good can survive through adverse circumstances and ultimately triumph.  How can this text be used as a lens in reading Collins’s The Moonstone?  Dickins writes that he will spare none in describing details of the vilest outcasts of society.  Collins’s readers, rather, are exposed to villains as Dickins would describe like “meat, in delicate disguise.”  John Herncastle, would appear a gentleman though likely was a murderer in addition to being a thief.  Godfrey Ablewhite, likewise a thief, is described in Betteredge’s narrative as follows:  “he had a beautiful red and white colour; a smooth round face, shaved as bare as your hand; and a head of lovely long flaxen hair, falling negligently over the poll of his neck…He was a barrister by profession; a ladies’ man by temperament; and a good Samaritan by choice.”  More contrasting descriptions of these villains with Sikes and Fagan in Oliver Twist would be difficult to find.

 

But where this lens brings similarity and clarity are in two of their outcasts: Nancy and Ezra.  Both are social outcasts and degraded.  Both carry a heavy burden throughout their lives.  Collins’s description of Ezra repulses not only Betteridge but also the reader.  After receiving a clear description of his appearance, his demeanor, we as readers, also turn our heads and look the other way. He tries to make himself invisible and we also would rather hide him from view.  And yet, it is interesting to note that Ezra’s profession is as someone who heals and who eases pain.  Moreover he was the means of bringing about the healing of Dr. Candy as well as the riunion of Rachel and Franklin. Nancy, more than once, came to the aid of little Oliver and was fundamental in bringing about justice due him.

 

Both characters also loved and derived some alleviation from this. Dickins writes:  “It is emphatically God’s truth, for it is the truth He leaves in such depraved and miserable breasts, the hope yet lingering behind; the last fair drop of water at the bottom of the dried-up weed-choked well.”  Nancy clung to Sikes to her destruction.  Ezra has been separated from his love but has worked tirelessly to provide for her.  And in Ezra’s final weeks he was permitted to see “the sunny side of human life” and be reconciled with the world he was to leave. (p. 447). To that end, I think Dickins’s goal of “the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last” can be confirmed by Ezra Jennings as well.

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