Can Charles Dickens survive the woke purge?

The Charles Dickens Museum was daubed with graffiti accusing the novelist of racism.

Luke Casey

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Through works such as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and, of course, A Christmas Carol, among many other timeless classics, Charles Dickens secured his place in history as one of the greatest writers to have ever put pen to paper.

Or so we thought. In June, the Charles Dickens Museum in Kent was vandalised with the words ‘Dickens racist’ daubed on its walls.

One of the consequences of seeing the past through a ‘woke’ lens is that it leads to distortions and sometimes outright fabrications about historical figures. The Dickens graffiti followed the wave of statue toppling in the US and the UK, in which ‘anti-racist’ Black Lives Matter protesters demanded the removal of ‘racist’ statues. Except some of these statues were of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S Grant – conveniently forgetting their role in the abolition of slavery. Even the Emancipation Memorial – which depicts Lincoln and a slave breaking his chains and was actually paid for by freed slaves – was targeted by BLM.

The trend of decrying any and every historical figure as racist seems to stem from a very visceral form of virtue-signalling. In order to self-promote, aspiring woke activists must not rest until they have found a monumental historical figure who expressed questionable, controversial or even just disagreeable views. Then that person’s reputation has to be tarnished and their works and achievements can be thrown into the memory hole. At this point, the woke believe they have done their bit to eradicate racism. They think they have struck a blow for freedom by sterilising history.

The man responsible for the Dickens graffiti undoubtedly sought to display his woke credentials. I doubt many will be surprised when they find out that the vandal, Ian Driver, is a former Green Party councillor. But what is an ‘anti-racist’ doing in the Green Party? Through its neo-Malthusian politics, the Green Party and other environmentalists seek to suppress economic growth in the poorest parts of the world – where the majority are non-white.

But for woke types like Driver, anti-racism only really concerns non-white people in middle-class circles. It might mean achieving a racialised proportional representation on company boards or an increase in university modules about black history or literature, taught by black professors. This kind of anti-racism focuses more on symbolism than on material concerns. The genuinely downtrodden people of the developing world don’t figure much in this worldview.

In a blogpost, Driver owns up to the vandalism and accuses Thanet district council of institutional racism. He also lumps in the target of his ‘protest’, Dickens, with King Leopold II of Belgium, calling them both ‘genocidal racists’. Leopold’s regime in the Congo Free State was responsible for horrific atrocities committed against the Congolese. Quite how Dickens can be mentioned in the same breath is a mystery, to say the least.

But the campaign against Dickens is not limited to the actions of one ex-councillor – and nor is it a new phenomenon. For years, academics and the media have sought to paint Dickens as a racist, misogynist and imperialist – in other words, an evil man.

There is an unwritten rule in football: play the ball, not the man. This in part is why it is known as the beautiful game; no matter who the player is or what they have done, everyone is there to play football, not to bring each other down. Only when tactics target individuals does the game turn sour. This can be applied to debate and intellectual discussion. Undoubtedly, Dickens the man did say some things that would be unacceptable today. But any appraisal of him should focus on his vast works as a writer rather than who he was as a man. His woke critics are the intellectual equivalent of Millwall FC.

Dickens was an incredible author well-loved by the vast majority of people for his works highlighting social problems and the plight of working people. If he was alive today, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear him say something like ‘poor lives matter’. The current smear campaign against him is intended to rubbish his work and his own experience of poverty, which doesn’t sit well with today’s dogma of ‘white privilege’.

Identity politics, in its various forms, hunts down and attacks historical figures either for things they said (ignoring the main purpose of them and their work) or for not adequately representing today’s favoured identities in their work. How a writer like Dickens would have been able to anticipate the demands of activists in the centuries after his death is unknown. This crusade against historical heroes needs to stop.

Luke Casey is a history student.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

HABEO DICERE

27th July 2020 at 12:36 pm

Always thought Dickens rather too dull and vaguely preachy, and so didn’t bother reading him. Perhaps, thanks to this, it’s time to reevaluate his work. To have a vibrant culture, artist freedom matters, de-fund the BBC.

John Pretty

29th July 2020 at 8:56 pm

What a bizarre comment.

How can you make a judgment about an author if you have never read any of his or her works?

KATHLEEN CARR

1st August 2020 at 3:36 pm

Dickens is not realistic , you have to enjoy the rich tapestry rather than the who dunnit element. Probably Nicholas Nickleby is the most straightforward of his novels.You don’t have to like him though-I find Henry James very difficult to read. You might like the work of one of Dickens’ friends Wilkie Collins especially The Moonstone and The Woman In White.

Gordon O Gopher

25th July 2020 at 11:20 pm

Whilst it’s taken almost 200 years to come to these dubious conclusions about Charles Dickens, I suspect it’ll only be a few month before most people realise what a bunch or prize n0bs these woke eejits are. Many of us know it already.

People will still be reading Dickens in another 200 years. Wokeness and BLM will be a footnote in the horrible history of political correctness.

Mor Vir

25th July 2020 at 10:09 pm

So yes, my own approach to historical ideological phenomena is to understand them in their historical, material location. Thus I welcome the emergence of clear ideological data to clarify and confirm trends. In broad terms ‘r acism’ is an imperialist era state ideology, it was considered to be ‘good’, if problematic in its day.

The tendency of others is also to stress the historical relativity of the ideological phenomena, so as to ‘excuse’ the behaviour. However they do not draw relativist conclusions nor a material basis of ideology even when they are exposed to the data of relativity. They oddly remain ‘believers’ in the present norm, which is an act of conformity.

So, I would welcome a full public enquiry into racial attitudes and atrocities in the British Empire so as to build up a clearer picture of imperial era ideology and its material basis; likewise a clarification of the relativity of ideological phenomena in general. The argument against that would be that it would disorientate the conformists and possibly do more harm than good – which is an elitist attitude toward the demos.

John Pretty

29th July 2020 at 9:00 pm

This article is about Charles Dickens.

What is your comment about?

fret slider

25th July 2020 at 2:46 pm

It seems to me that the more woke they are, the more their development has been arrested.

6th form politiks rools.

Brandy Cluster

25th July 2020 at 5:52 am

Some things are absolutely off limits and Dickens is one of these.

We need to stop talking about these tin pot dictators who want to change culture and society. If they accuse you of racism just look back blankly and say, “…and your point is”. They’ll soon grow tired WITHOUT A RESPONSE.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 10:56 pm

It’s social media I suppose. It provides us with the illusion that we’re all connected and even small events take on an importance that they don’t deserve. As little as twenty years ago this person would have received a small fine for vandalism and a paragraph in the local newspaper for being a crank and a silly old sod. Having said that it’s a bit worrying that this dimwit was elected as a political representative. Ach, du lieber Gott who will save us from those presumptuous twats who assume the right to speak on our behalf.

Mor Vir

24th July 2020 at 7:08 pm

What a shame, Dickens always seemed such a nice man. I googled to see what it was all about and it turns out that he was pretty explicit. He supported the suppression of the Indian rebellion of 1857 and he wrote that their race should be wiped out.

– ‘I wish I were Commander in Chief over there [India]! I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, “I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities [Indian Mutiny 1857]”‘.

Some authors estimate that up to 10 million Indian civilians were killed in reprisals for the 1857 rebellion although British sources put it at 100,000.

And we all had thought that Dickens seemed such a nice bloke. It turns out that he was a ‘kill them all’ character.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 11:04 pm

Come on Mor, the production of literature is not about being a nice person. If only nice people wrote novels then the culture would be very much impoverished. You’re too smart to not recognise this; I suspect you’re playing your contrarian role; and that’s why I like your comments but c’mon matey.

Mor Vir

25th July 2020 at 1:42 am

Mate, I never said nothing about literature. : )

Mor Vir

25th July 2020 at 10:21 am

Oh dear, it seems that Dickens was a ‘repeat offender’ who was quite taken with his genocidal theme. The above quote is from a letter that he penned to Emile de la Rue on 23 October 1857. It was a rework of a section from a missive that he sent to Baroness Burdett-Coutts on 4 October 1857.

‘I wish I were Commander in Chief of India. The first thing I would do to strike that Oriental race with amazement (not in the least regarding them as if they lived in the Strand, London, or at Camden Town), should be to proclaim to them in their language, that I considered my Holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested; and that I begged them to do me the favor to observe that I was there for that purpose and no other, and was now proceeding, which all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the earth.’

He wished that he was the God-appointed supreme commander of the British forces in India so that he personally might be the instigator and executioner of the entire extermination of the Indian race. He really seemed to get off on that genocidal stuff. He was also a professed fan of the British ritual of ‘blowing’ Indians from out of cannons to splatter them.

This really is shocking stuff, up there with jaw-dropping statements from Winston Churchill during the Bengal Famine of 1943 like ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.’ Perhaps there ought to be a full public enquiry into r acist attitudes and atrocities in the British Empire, a lot of these people are lunatics.

Claire D

25th July 2020 at 1:37 pm

MV
You have left out the context, always so convenient when someone is being demonized.
The Indian Rebellion began in May 1857, no question that there were terrible atrocities on both sides with the rebels paying a very high price, but as far as the British were concerned 6000 men, women and children were massacred. For the the British at home, many of whom were relatives of those killed, this was deeply shocking and made some people very angry, hardly surprising really.

Your third paragraph is of course nothing but hearsay and rumour.

I’ll leave Churchill for another day.

Mor Vir

25th July 2020 at 2:20 pm

Claire, I did give the context of the 1857 Rebellion and so did the quotes from Dickens, moreover it is well known.

General massacres of the Indian civilian population. in retaliation for the Rebellion, were conducted in Delhi, Allahabad, Kanpur and Lucknow; along with civilian massacres in other towns and cities, at least 100,000 civilians were killed although estimates range into the millions. I know that you are not trying to justify or excuse that, or Dickens’ support of it, in any way.

I am not sure what you are trying to say is ‘hearsay’, all of the stuff about Dickens is part of his own written record, including his liking for cannon blowing Indians (The Speeches of Charles Dickens, K.J. Fielding, Ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1960, p. 284)

Alan Burdon

26th July 2020 at 7:52 am

It is a luxury of today to be able to snootily decry the attitudes and behavious of our brutal unenlightened ancestors on the basis that we are so pure and holy that we would never engage in such terrible thoughts and deeds.
Unfortunately, our lived experience shows that such critical attitudes are largely a result of feelings of impotence and a desire for power. How often do we see “persecuted and vulnerable” people turning to become the oppressors as soon as they achieve power themselves?
Human nature is replete with nastiness of all varieties, and since we began to abandon belief in a higher power to which we would all eventually become accountable (some religions excepted), all restraint has been lost. To judge the past by the standards of today has been a symptom of our rise to better things. Sadly those better things are disintegrating and we commit as many atrocities today as were enacted in the past, it’s just that they are dressed up as being for the good of someone or other according to the lights of those committing them.
Dickens was honest in his dislike of those who had committed the atrocities of the Indian Rebellion and the response was equally honest. Compared to today’s mealy-mouthed excuses for similar actions there was something healthy about the simple polarisation of positions back then.
None of this has anything to do with Dickens’ ability in producing some of the best novels of the English language. Leave him alone.

Mor Vir

26th July 2020 at 9:24 am

Oh come on, this is a mere hundred years before some on this forum were born, we are not talking about cave men here.

Jesus, is there anything that you would not say to absolve Dickens? You people are weirdos.

And do not tell me to ‘leave him alone’, I will do whatever I like and you can cope with it.

Mor Vir

26th July 2020 at 10:50 am

OK, lets analyse this.

– judgement of past ‘ancestors’ is self-righteousness

– it is hypocritical will to power

– human nature is nasty, all restraint today has been lost due to atheism; yet we have risen to higher things, which is why we have standards despite atheism; no, we are just as nasty today but pass it off as humanitarianism

– Dickens was honest about his dislikes and so was his response, which is healthy

– he was a good writer, so he should be ‘left alone’.

So, why not also say that Dickens was self-righteous, hypocritical, nasty, lacked restraint, and passed off his nastiness as humanitarianism? Why was he ‘honest’ and ‘healthy’ when he did that and not the Indians or the people today?

I am sympathetic to the interpretation of all morality as pretence and pretext and as will to power. I am not interested in making arguments about ‘moral truth’, I am interested only in phenomena as such.

Thus what interests me is the peculiar bias that some people display toward Dickens. He is clearly seen as a national icon and therefore a sacred cow, like Churchill. ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar.’ It attaches a quasi-religious status to Dickens, he is untouchable and everyone else is touchable; thus anyone who says anything that might undermine his status is to be severely criticised and reprimanded – it is blasphemy.

There is something exposed about this, some of the British are willing to take off all their clothes and reveal all of their biases, even display quasi-religious tendencies – for Dickens, which is weird.

It is ethnic attachment on display, and taken to quasi-religious proportions – ancestor worship; yet Britain is a changing society and it cannot be expected that bias can be imposed on newer generations. To them it is just weirdness.

Certainly there will be no telling people what they can and cannot talk about; the sacred cows will naturally be slaughtered.

– The slaughtering of the sacred cows…

Mor Vir

26th July 2020 at 12:34 pm

The sacred cows of the British capitalist state had their context in imperialism and r acial supremacism. The material base has moved on, along with capitalist state ideology; the state now condemns its past ideology of ‘r acism’, so as to facilitate its material interests today through increased labour utilisation with workers from abroad. The capitalist state maintains a pretence of moral absolutism for social control; thus the problem of the ‘guilt’ of its sacred cows.

Likely it is pondered whether it would be best to just slaughter the sacred cows so as to reinforce the current ideology and social control – whatever facilitates capital accumulation. The capitalist state could thus ‘redeem’ itself and restore its ‘moral authority’. And that is already happening to some extent, with the removal of statues and the change of place names. The state wants to distance itself from its past self so as to reinforce itself in the present.

Yet some sacred cows are more sacred than others and they are to be ring-fenced. Some lesser cows are to be offered up to preserve others. It is likely pondered whether they might be ‘excused’ by recourse to moral relativism, without conceding, let alone endorsing moral relativism; the capitalist state does not want to lose the pretence of moral absolutism or to admit that it is all about money. But who is likely to buy that duplicity, apart from ‘loyalists’? It is quite the dilemma for the British capitalist state how to square all of this.

John Pretty

29th July 2020 at 9:01 pm

His views were probably considered quite reasonable in 1857.

Gordon O Gopher

24th July 2020 at 5:54 pm

In fact if you google this guy you realise he’s got some long standing obsessive issues with local Labour councillors and his actions have nothing to do with racism. He’s just a guy with issues. I bet there’s quite a few ‘activists’ with issues.

James Knight

24th July 2020 at 5:37 pm

What a timely riposte to trash talk Dickens, over 150 years too late.

Right back atch!

I also have a collection of pointed and witty ripostes to Nero to put him in his place.

T Zazoo

25th July 2020 at 1:09 am

Good point. The whole Roman Empire has to go really starting with all those busts of the various Caesars. None of them were woke.

Brandy Cluster

25th July 2020 at 5:53 am

And none of them relied upon silicone (if you get my meaning).

Dodgy Geezer

24th July 2020 at 4:58 pm

Perhaps this is a good occasion for a magistrate to make a psychiatric examination order?

Linda Payne

24th July 2020 at 4:58 pm

These cultural vandals need to be taken to task and charged with criminal damage; they show a lack of intellectual thought and are an insult to the british people

Brandy Cluster

25th July 2020 at 5:55 am

Re-read Orwell’s “1984” if you want to be really disturbed. Better still, watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbTQJGxk95o

KATHLEEN CARR

24th July 2020 at 4:31 pm

The person doing the graffitti is well known in his area as a stupid person and most locals were upset at his behaviour , especially as the building is private property ( I think it was reported to be a house that inspired Dickens ). The press seem to be trying to cause mischief by giving this vandal a voice.People who love literature are not going to enjoy University courses as they usually concentrate on deconstructing work -you will often find lecturers who are unfamiliar with even the basic plot of works of Dickens and Austen . Some of this graffitti would seem to be created deliberately in order to create stories in the press, presumably to upset people who genuinely appreciate their country.

Warren Alexander

24th July 2020 at 3:49 pm

Having at school been forced to read the sentimental, mawkish, drivel written by Dickens, I would suggest that it would be a service to all of humanity if his books were banned and burned.

KATHLEEN CARR

24th July 2020 at 6:22 pm

As I love Dicken’s novels I don’t want them banned and burned , but I wouldn’t mind classics being ‘cancelled’- , then the drama departments on TV can’t do woke versions with the heroine played by a BAME actor who believes in girl power and the novel distorted to fit the new agenda so much that the author would probably not recognize their own work.

Warren Alexander

24th July 2020 at 6:40 pm

We’ll have to agree to disagree on Dickens but I’m behind you wholeheartedly on woke TV productions of novels – classic or otherwise

Claire D

25th July 2020 at 6:45 am

I agree with both of you there, I like Dickens very much and am sick of films and dramas of the classics, the latest Far from the Madding Crowd made steam come out of my ears, the first one from the 1960s was another matter, as good as an adaptation could be I think.

John Pretty

29th July 2020 at 9:04 pm

I wasn’t and I disagree.

As for me, I hated having Orwell’s 1984 forced down my throat at school.

Having literature forced on you as a schoolchild can have that effect.

Hasting Keith

24th July 2020 at 3:36 pm

“His woke antics are the intellectual equivalent of Millwall FC”. A comment, that will piss-off people on both sides of the argument.

Jim Lawrie

24th July 2020 at 5:06 pm

Filters that fail to sieve out such phrases tells us something of how the editors and staff view the white working class.

Walksfar Woman

25th July 2020 at 4:53 pm

Millwall FC = white workign class. Unbelievable.

Hasting Keith

24th July 2020 at 7:59 pm

Apologies to the Author – It’s that chip on my shoulder (and I’m not even a Millwall fan). I agree with the main thrust of his argument.

Walksfar Woman

25th July 2020 at 4:56 pm

“His woke critics” you mean, rather diffierent meaning, asnd if they are pissed off its becasue its hit a nerve.

Gareth Edward KING

24th July 2020 at 2:26 pm

Daubing graffiti on a museum wall in normal, plain English is known as being a philistine. I presume that his ward know about his anti-social behaviour and that they vote him out, in the meantime, what punishment will he be subjected to? A hefty fine?

Gordon O Gopher

25th July 2020 at 1:51 am

I think he needs to be on a different kind of ward. One that’s a bit more secure.

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