One of my indulgences, when on annual holiday, is to read one of Charles Dickens outstanding works. Whilst you have to interpret them against the ways and manners of the day, they are wickedly funny at times, contain some of the most poetic prose and wicked characters, who, most tellingly, are knife sharp in their observations on human nature.
What is more, the truths expounded in the tales are ever relevant. This year’s read has been Our Mutual Friend, a tale which contrasts and yet bridges two worlds. On the one hand there is an affluent group who make their money in trade and spend their leisure socializing to make useful connections and to impress. On the other, a world of poverty and graft, mostly based around the Thames, from its upper locks to its lower docks and wharves.
One of the key themes is Dickens’ view of upward mobility, reflected best in the voice of young Bella Wilfer who, early in the novel, raises a smile with the reader when she opines:
“I have made up my mind that I must have money, Pa. I feel that I can’t beg it, borrow it, or steal it; and so I have resolved that I must marry it.” But then, when circumstance gives her the lifestyle of high society and posh frocks, ends up seeing an emptiness in it and ends up pleading: “O! Make me poor again, somebody, I beg and pray, or my heart will break if this goes on! Pa, dear, make me poor again and take me home! I was bad enough there, but I have been so much worse here. Don’t give me money.”
This has much to say to us today, whether to those young souls who yearn for celebrity status and the lifestyle it brings, and so look to be discovered on X Factor or Big Brother, or to those who sell their souls to the trading floors in the City, or just to those for whom doing something worthwhile in life is no priority at all compared with making money at any cost.
For those who work in our voluntary sector, that will never make us rich. For those who volunteer in our sector, there is no money in it at all. But, for all of us, it is rewarding time, well spent.
Surely, making a mark in the world is about getting around and not moving up?