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Fruitful Exactitude

In 1906 G.K. Chesterton summed up the spirit of Dickens’s Christianity as “rowdy benediction”, a phrase that respects both the seriousness and the vitality of Dickens’s “popular religion”. As the twentieth century wound its secular path through war and depression, Dickens’s critics found his religion increasingly unpopular, too easily reduced to conventional piety; so much so that in 1940 George Orwell, card-carrying Dickensian that he was, wrote a substantial essay on Dickens that sidestepped religion altogether. The tide turned dramatically in 1953, when Lionel Trilling read Little Dorrit as a search for ultimate religious truth. Since then, this novel has…

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