"Dickens is hopeful. Even his saddest endings are uplifting." (Jarod, in "Under the Reds")
It began with a book left on a bus seat. Jarod picked it up and read it, and when the bus arrived at its destination, he went out and bought every other book by the author and read them, too. He had never heard of Charles Dickens before, had never heard of the Ghosts of Christmas, of Smike or Fagin or Little Dorrit. That was the first book by Dickens he read, Little Dorrit, and parts of it left him gasping with pain. A little girl brought up in a prison, existing only to serve, later released into the wide world, to discover delights and horrors together, only longing to find a place where she was loved.
Other parts made him smile with a sense of camaraderie. Mr. Clenam, brought up in strictness and coldness, refused to let his past dampen his goodness of heart and instead chose to reach out with kindness and help to others. And he, too, felt the cold shock of abandonment and rejection.
Still other parts made him laugh out loud. Was there anything like the way Mr. Pancks went after his scoundrelly employer and publically humiliated him? Mr. Pancks was a man after Jarod's own heart. Dickens could write comedy like no other.
It was the inner heart of the book that caught at him. It wasn't a romance or an adventure or a crime story. It was a public exposé of the rottenness at the core of a society, a ringing denunciation of the evil in the depths of human hearts. In his own way, Dickens did what Jarod was trying to do. He wished he had known him. In lieu of that, he bought all his books and sat down to make a thorough investigation. For several weeks he did nothing but eat, sleep, and read Dickens.
He discovered that Little Dorrit was no fluke. All Dickens' books, admittedly some better than others, were full of pathos and comedy, of crime and charm, and each one put a deft finger on some societal ill of the author's time. Jarod's heart thrilled with Sydney Carton, the man who had wasted his life, when he showed his worth for the first—and last—time by taking another man's place at the French Revolution's guillotine. He was kin to Sydney Carton, too, for he had spent the first three decades of his life in pursuits that injured himself and others, and now he found his redemption in giving his life for others.
He was kin to Oliver Twist, a little boy lost and alone in a harsh world, pursued by people who would exploit him, searching out his family and a home. He was kin to Esther Summerson, torn from family as a child, finding her mother only to lose her. He was kin to little Nell, fleeing the malevolence of the powerful. He was kin to Smike, locked up during his childhood, looking for one person who would give him a home. He was kin to all those characters who refused to shuffle through life taking what it gave them but chose to act, to expose and depose the evil around them, to make a difference, if only for one person.
What he liked best about Dickens was his hope. The man's life had been difficult. He had experienced horrors; he had witnessed the worst his society had to offer. But all his books said, There is hope. His suffering children found homes. His parted lovers found one another again. His villains were defeated. His ne'er-do-wells found possibilities and a chance to change. In his incessant pointing out of the deep ills in his society, he declared, "We can change this! If we only open our eyes and work together, we can bring justice."
Perhaps he said it best in A Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—" Exactly like the present period. Wonders on one hand; horrors on the other. Despair and hope, all mixed together. That was life as Jarod knew it.