My blood is still boiling. My breath seethes. I may look like I am smiling, but really my teeth are on edge. For over a week, the conversation– that began innocently enough– has run an endless loop in my brain. With each new loop comes a swift kick to my butt. I had had a rebuttal, but I didn’t give it. Now it jabs, bobs, and weaves in my mind, waiting to be let loose on my opponent. It screams for justice, for victory, for the declaration of “I AM RIGHT!”.
What was this conversation that got my panties in a bunch? That has had me on edge all week? Alright, I’ll tell you. It will be a relief to declare my evidence– so unwillfully withheld and stewing in my cranium: “Of course Charles Dickens had class consciousness! His dad was sent to a debtor’s prison, and he was pulled out of school to work in a factory to pay off his dad’s debt! Dickens would have to be a complete knucklehead to NOT have class consciousness! AND it was this experience that drove him to be rich and successful! Jane Austen lived a life of relative comfort and wanted for nothing! It’s not like there was an Occupy Steventon or Occupy Bath when she was growing up!”
Whew! That was like cutting open an infected wound and letting all of the puss slide out. Oh, the relief! And in case you’re wondering, yes, this is what my friends and I argue about.
Why didn’t I give my rebuttal when I had the chance? A variety of factors: I haven’t thought of Dicken’s childhood in a very long time and didn’t have that information right at the tip of my tongue; I was exhausted and recovering from a headache; the conversation moved quickly; I think associatively, and my rebuttal at the time was, “Comparing Austen to Dickens is like comparing Dickinson to Whitman: both lived during the Civil War, but one wrote about it and the other didn’t. Should we fault Dickinson for not writing about soldiers and battles? She wrote about private stuff and her home life, as did Austen.” I think, also, I felt a bit personally on the defensive. In defending Austen for not being class-conscious, I was defending myself for liking her novels and gleefully watching Downton Abbey. So the class structure was awful in England. People were butlers and second lady’s maids. There were rich people and middling rich people. It’s how it was. Should I not watch Gone With The Wind because it has slaves? Should I not watch Dead Poets’ Society because the prep school didn’t admit girls?
How did Dickens get in the mix? I was agreeing to the fact that Austen is not very class-conscious in regards to the lower class, but was for people who were just below her station, at her station, or above her station. However, her way of life didn’t really call on her to be aware of those far beneath her. My friend retorted, “Dickens did, and he lived at that same time. This is just as bad as saying the Founding Fathers didn’t know that slavery was bad. They knew.” You can imagine how that got steam coming out of my ears. This is why I wish I had said what I wanted to about Dickens. It would have nipped that line of thought in the bud.
But I am serious when I say that I’ve been stewing over this for a week. It has become my internal soundtrack. All it does is make me mad. And frustrated. Why is it so important that I get the last word on this one? Why have I been unable to let it go? Why do I have to rehash all of this all of the time? I have tried to end the discussion in my head, letting myself know that I can take quiet joy in the fact that I am right and that she doesn’t know that much about Dickens’s life if she’s going to make that hasty comparison. I have killed many negative conversations in my head before, because, really, there’s nothing that can be done about them. The conversation is done and over with. To go back and say, “Um, Dickens grew up in poverty…” makes me petty, holding onto something that has fallen off everyone else’s radar. This conversation, however, will not die.
Part of the reason I think it remains on life-support is that my friend is very intelligent and confident. I constantly feel like I need to prove myself. She is also very quick with a retort, while I need time to process my information, to weigh the validity and veracity of my response. She has passed start and collected her $200 a few times while I’m still on St. James Place. I kind of feel like a dunce. The thing is, I don’t think she realizes she does this. I also think that she probably doesn’t see me as a dunce, but it’s how I feel. My little nugget about Dickens is my redemption, my “Get-Out-Of-Jail Free” card, but unlike that card, Dickens’s childhood will not get played.