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44 But the tone and spirit of its narrative voice is consistently David's, containing all of Dickens's characteristic wit and fancifulness, but purged of that humour's typically aggressive edge. In a way it is Dickens's most successfully Wordsworthian novel: its charming, if problematically wistful serenity witnesses a psychic continuity with childhood along Wordsworthian lines, a fact that the narrative itself self-consciously directs us to. 46 Nevertheless, the discrepancy between this tone, which presents David's boyishness as charming, and the novel's implied critical view of David as overly-boyish and fixatedly Dorabound, suggests that Dickens's ventriloquil identification with David - with the David in himself - is a holiday respite, to use Edmund Wilson's phrase, from the toils of personal (and socially representative) self-division.

This could explain the odd fact that in the ensuing two novels, and most clearly in Little Dorrit, a resurgent authorial ferocity-is matched by a fascination with passive heroines who, especially the clearly Wordsworthian Amy, are even more acquiescent than David. The urge to escape the dialectic's demands by a surrender of the will is obviously very present to the energetic but inwardly wearying Dickens of the mid-1850s. Yet it is a temptation which it is the triumphant achievement of a novel such as Little Domt to resist, both in the reassuringly un-Amy-like presence of Dickens's voice and in the book's thought-out case about Amy and her opposite, the rebellious Tattycoram, which entertains perceptive doubts as to whether Wordsworthian lack of self-assertive will and fidelity to childhood bonds are necessarily good things.

What today seems more apparent, however, is the easy compatibility of such flights with a firm grasp of the socially real. Similar to this is the co-existence of 'rounded' developing characters such as Dombey with humorous, 'flat' ones such as Toots and Cuttle, in whom the fixed persona persists into situation after situation with the same triumphant sense of difficulty inventively overcome as we get at the level of the local prose in the amplifications of wit. Equally in harmony, for the most part, are thematic depth and seriousness with the presence of many of the formal patterns and devices of stage comedy:4 complaints about the forced coincidence ofWalter's return from the sea and Florence's flight from home seem to apply mimetic criteria at a too superficial level, for in the deepest sense the novel is mimetic, about life and offering a wisdom about it, albeit with a stylisation that it takes no trouble to conceal.

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