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The Puzzle of Dickens's Last Plot by Andrew Lang
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THE PUZZLE OF DICKENS'S LAST PLOT




INTRODUCTION



Forster tells us that Dickens, in his later novels, from Bleak
House onwards (1853), "assiduously cultivated" construction, "this
essential of his art." Some critics may think, that since so many
of the best novels in the world "have no outline, or, if they have
an outline, it is a demned outline," elaborate construction is not
absolutely "essential." Really essential are character,
"atmosphere," humour.

But as, in the natural changes of life, and under the strain of
restless and unsatisfied activity, his old buoyancy and unequalled
high spirits deserted Dickens, he certainly wrote no longer in what
Scott, speaking of himself, calls the manner of "hab nab at a
venture." He constructed elaborate plots, rich in secrets and
surprises. He emulated the manner of Wilkie Collins, or even of
Gaboriau, while he combined with some of the elements of the
detective novel, or roman policier, careful study of character.
Except Great Expectations, none of his later tales rivals in merit
his early picaresque stories of the road, such as Pickwick and
Nicholas Nickleby. "Youth will be served;" no sedulous care could
compensate for the exuberance of "the first sprightly runnings."
In the early books the melodrama of the plot, the secrets of Ralph