A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens and Dostoevsky on Industrialisation

Dickens and Dostoevsky both critique the social effects of industrialisation and utilitarianism, though each has a different approach and a slightly different focus. Dickens employs parody, satire and caricature to ridicule the effects of the new political economy while Dostoevsky examines the consequences of rational morality taken to extremes. Dickens uses residents of a regional manufacturing town1 to illustrate the social consequences of industrialisation, and particularly the influence on education, while Dostoevsky focuses on the experiences of an urban individual to demonstrate the psychological and social consequences of utilitarianism.

In Hard Times, Dickens’ main characters represent different social groups and illustrate industrialisation’s effect on society. For example, Gadgrind represents educators and politicians who advocate the principles of reason and utility but discount emotion, affection, imagination and aesthetics. He is a “man of realities. A man of.

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.. calculations”. One who promotes fact over fancy until faced with the personal consequences of such a philosophy.

Bounderby typifies wealthy factory owners and the beneficiaries of capitalism. He is a proud of his status as a self-made man, until the story of his success is exposed as a fiction designed to conceal his working class background. Bitzer characterises those who are the products of rational education.His mean-spirited adherence to rationalism personifies the ideals of utilitarianism and capitalism.

He identifies himself as a commodity “made in the cheapest market, and …to (be) disposed of.

.. in the dearest” because “the whole social system is a matter of self-interest”2. Ironically, it is the confrontation with Blitzer (a product of Gadgrindesque education) that contributes to Gadgrind’s eventual redemption and the decision to make “his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity”3.

There are other characters who represent various social groups.Slackbridge and the Hands typify unionised workers and illustrate that even in collective action the inherent conflict of capitalism and industrialisation creates social division and allows for corruption. Stephen Blackpool is the honest but displaced and dispossessed worker, the quintessential victim of industrialisation4. It is Sissy Jupe, however, who typifies Dicken’s defence of morality, emotion and creativity.

Sissy (Cecilia) is named after the patron saint of music and the virtuous character in Chaucer’s second nun’s tale who claims the protection of a guardian angel.Sissy exemplifies the innocence of childhood5, but her namesake’s qualities are also significant as Sissy represents the importance of aesthetics, art and an attitude of faith and hope. Sissy is responsible for raising Jane Gadgrind as a happier and more fulfilled person than her rationally educated siblings (Louisa and Tom). Sissy’s simple, persuasive honesty resolves Louisa’s dilemma brought on by the actions of James Harthouse.

She also provides moral support for Rachel, helps find the injured Stephen, and assists in Tom’s escape. While Sissy never comes to terms with Gadgrind’s world of facts, her compassion and imagination are pivotal in the redemption of Gadgrind6. Sissy is Dicken’s model person, the embodiment of Matthew Arnold’s qualities of sweetness and light7.In Crime and Punishment, though the characters are from diverse socio-enonomic backgrounds, it is their philosophical perspective that is most significant.

The social effects of industrialisation and systems of education are presented in the novel, though they receive less attention than in Hard Times; they provide a relentlessly depressing backdrop but serve as context and as objects of incidental rather than direct criticism. The main focus is utilitarianism. Dostoevsky shows how a rational and apparently beneficial ideology generates distasteful contradictions when pushed to extremes. Yet Crime and Punishment does not oversimplify the issue but allows for inconsistency and paradox.

There are occasions and debates in the text where the benefits of self-interest are demonstrated and legitimised8. Though predominantly, the degree to which characters endorse the philosophy of rational self-interest is the degree to which they become dehumanised and/or anti-social.While the novel demonstrates the detrimental effects of utilitarianism on society in general, there is a greater emphasis on the consequences for the individual. Dostoevsky twists the tenets of utilitarianism into a Gordian knot that denies each character access to their desired goal of self-determination.

The various strands of pleasure and pain, transgression and penalty, endeavour and reward, action and consequence, rationality and the greater good form a tangled web which traps the subject at its centre.For the individual, utilitarianism is self-defeating and destructive. For Luzhin, relying on utility ruins his reputation, his engagement and his business strategy. For Svidrigailov, utilitarianism leads inevitably to nihilism, where good and evil are equivalent and murder or generosity are morally neutral.

The rational consequent to such a meaningless life is suicide9. As for Rodya, when he confesses his crime to Sonya, she cries, “What have you done – what have you done to yourself?” And his response is just as clear, “Did I murder the old woman? I murdered myself, not her!”According to utilitarian ideals, punishment (pain) is the rational way to prevent further crime. Punishment reforms criminals or protects society from them or deters potential criminals through threat of penalty10. Dostoevsky, however, suggests that legislation and punishment are not the answer to anti-social behaviour.

Rather, where reason and utility fail, a change of heart and a moral code succeed. Like Dickens, Dostoevsky maintains a redemptive theme. It is neither the threat nor the act of punishment that resolves Rodya’s dilemma. Instead, it is a conversion experience that emulates the bible’s account of Peter’s post-resurrection restoration11.

Crime and Punishment suggests that normative ethics (to promote happiness and prevent unhappiness) fails to account for the complex emotional, psychological and spiritual qualities of the human subject.In some ways, both Hard Times and Crime and Punishment support Marxist ideas about class, alienation, base and superstructure, the inequalities of capitalism, and the concept of economic determinism (subjectivity is dependent on access to the means of production). However, Marxism maintains that class conflict is not only the result of capitalism but that it is also the catalyst for social reformation. Yet neither novel suggests that the way forward is dependent on working class collective action and revolution.

Rather, there is a focus on individualism, particularly the notion of personal redemption/conversion to facilitate change. In the novels, capitalism and industrialisation are not so much the cause of class conflict as they are the cause of class inequality.Both Dickens and Dostoevsky suggest that industrialisation and utilitarianism are amoral, misguided and socially detrimental. Yet neither author is resistant to “progress” per se, rather, both imply that without some extra-material or meta-rational moral code progress is ultimately dehumanising and socially destructive.

Marxism argues for a rationalisation of the ownership of the means of production, while the novels simply argue for greater ethical and moral responsibility.Marxism sees the problem of industrialisation as a conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, while in Hard Times, it is fact and fancy that are opposed, and in Crime and Punishment it is reason and faith. Both authors identify superstructure (ideology) as the sticking point. But neither Dickens nor Dostoevsky suggest that sharing material wealth will solve the problem, rather, they argue that the real wealth is found in maintaining humanitarian principles and, if not faith, at least grace and charity.

1 Even the town itself is described as a machine.2 Hard Times pp303,3043 Hard Times p312 It is also ironic that the very people Gadgrind earlier despised (the circus group) are the ones who willingly assist him with Thomas’ escape.4 Stephen works in a factory, is later black-listed and unemployed and subsequently dies from injuries sustained in a mine.5 A common theme for Dickens6 Interesting that Dickens and Dostoevsky represent rationality and utilitarianism with masculine characters, but emotion, affection and imagination are the realm of the feminine.

Yet both rely on a (very feminine) female to represent positive vales and to intervene in the narrative as the agent of change and redemption.7 Matthew Arnold, “Introduction” and “Sweetness and Light” in Culture and Anarchy from Matthew Arnold on Education, G Sutherland (ed), Penguin, 1973. The latter stages of Hard Times become somewhat idealistic as Dickens subordinates social criticism to the requirement for redemption and narrative closure.8 For example, Razumikhin acknowledges his continued assistance of Rodya is influenced by his growing attraction to Dunya – yet his self-interest is rewarded and ultimately benefits a number of others.

9 Dostoevsky surrounds Rodya with comparable and contrasting others who mirror his own repressed inner self. The lives of those around him serve to reflect and illustrate his own inner dialogue. In particular, the polar opposites of Sonya (caring, compassionate, spiritual) and Svidrigailov (aggressive, detached, nihilistic) mirror the duality of Rodya’s personality. Interesting that when Rodya meets Svidrigailov, he descends into the depths of a dark tavern, but he visits Sonya, he ascends to a spacious room with high ceilings.

Interesting too, that Rodya’s decision to confess is influenced as much by Svidrigailov’s death as it is by Sonya’s entreaties – the death of utility allows morality to prevail.10 Interesting to note that English philosopher and Utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham, was also responsible for the concept of the Panopticon penitentiary.11 Both events: occur a few weeks after the crucifixion/resurrection (Easter), follow a short period of introspection/guilt and an unexplained absence of the advocate, are located on the shore of a body of water at early morning, include a sudden appearance of the “saviour”, and a tearful conversion. After his encounter with Sonya, Rodya “had risen again and he knew it” (p492).

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A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens and Dostoevsky on Industrialisation. (2017, Dec 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/examine-ways-dickens-dostoevsky-creatively-explore-impact-industrialisation-humanity-education-essay/