Quantcast

Commentary

Dickens in the Philippines

By

I began to read Charles Dickens two or three years after high school. I was out of school then without any great expectations.  I found myself roaming the streets of Manila with no particular direction, no sense of a future and subsisted, during these wanderings, on water and ten-peso-or-so bread.

I came to the capital city to look for my mother and get a university education on my own.  I was raised by my grandparents in the province my entire life and I wanted to remove from them the further burden of my concerns.

I found my mother and this prevented me from probably living a hobo’s life.  My mother could not afford to send me to college but she gave me a place, left to her for tending, to go home to at night.

The place was in a remote, depressed and almost rural part in Antipolo.  My room had a big window which not only ventilated the place but gave me a view, at night, of the lights in the lower parts of the city. No neighbors could be seen from my room.  There was only an open and empty space right before a sharp drop down to the foot of the hill, on which side the house was.

I had a good bed (rattan framed by solid wood), a rusty but working study lamp, a cassette tape of Chopin’s best compositions and a cassette tape player. With this orchestra, I met Dickens and his characters almost every night, and it began with “David Copperfield.”

Reading it was like conversing with a comrade from across time and continents.  It was a relief for me to know that I was not the first young person to find oneself in a dire spot.  If I felt particularly persecuted at least I was in the company of David, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Little Nell, Toots, Pip and a band of characters with such reeking personalities.

Dickens understood poverty with an understanding that escaped me until then. He understood not merely the substratum but, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, “even the subconsciousness of the substratum.”

Dickens had been poor himself.  Early in his life his entire family was in jail because of the unpaid debts of his father.  If you read “David Copperfield,” you will encounter a part of his father in the perennially-in-debt-but-always-brimming-with-possibly-profitable-plans Wilkins Micawber.

Dickens was uneducated and he worked as a child laborer in a shoe-blacking factory.  He worked there, according to Chesterton, “drearily, like one stunned with disappointment.”

It is unfortunate that Dickens is not much read in our country and not one of his works is translated into Filipino or other languages. We could find so much of ourselves in Dickens’s characters and world.

Dickens seemed to have written about the experience of the common Filipino.  He seemed to describe in his novels the streets of our cities and the experience of our people.  For although it was an empire where the sun never set, Victorian England was a developing country during Dickens’s time much like the Philippines now, where the sun always regally sets.

Dickens had one particular penchant which irked Chesterton, his best critic according to Harold Bloom, but which any Filipino would readily understand.  To resolve the perennial problems of Wilkins Micawber, Dickens shipped him to Australia where the character met with much success and even became the governor of one area. Pip’s great expectation came from somebody who made fortunes abroad, impossible to do in his own country. When he was stuck in writing “Martin Chuzzlewit,” Dickens moved the setting of the story from England to America.

Dickens, like many Filipinos, understood that to be poor in a particular place may have something more to do with the place and what is there in that place than with one’s efforts; salvation could lie elsewhere.

But it is not only because of what Dickens says about poverty, the poor and about the Filipino that we must read him.  It is what he does to us after reading him.

Roque, my octogenarian Jesuit friend, pointed this out to me when I asked him why he found Dickens good to read.  Roque got his realization from Chesterton.

Dickens sharpens the way we look at a person; when he presents a character in his novels, however despicable the character, we are made not only to love but reverence the character.  “Without denying one of the dreary details which makes us avoid the man,” says Chesterton, “Dickens makes him a man whom we long to meet.  He does not gloss over one of his dismal deficiencies, but he makes them seem suddenly like violent virtues that we go to the world’s end to see.”

And we, who meet such characters after every reading, could no longer be induced to pass any person by—especially those we do not find at society dinners and in places of power and opulence.  We could no longer be induced to pass persons stranded here and there, persons of unknown and unsuccessful positions, persons adrift, for we have already discovered (Chesterton again) “the great paradox of all spiritual things; that the inside is always larger than the outside.”

Dickens to British readers may be talking of an old world they can no longer find traces of except in historical monuments. But his world and his band of characters have already moved to our city streets for, yes, it is more fun in the Philippines.

I hope we do not pass any of Dickens’ characters by before the end of the first of his next two hundred years (a milestone which begins Feb. 7), or we simply will pass ourselves by, too.

Roberto S. Salva is the executive director of the Catholic Ministry to Deaf People Inc.  Contact him at babisalva@gmail.com


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=44935

Tags: charles dickens , column , Poverty , Roberto S. Salva



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Tagle: Christ’s resurrection a message of hope to faithful
  • Aquino vows to intensify anti-corruption drive further
  • Unease in Vatican over cardinal’s luxury flat—report
  • Nepal calls off search for missing guides on Everest—official
  • Pope’s Easter Message ‘Urbi et Orbi’
  • Sports

  • Rain or Shine grabs No.4, sends Ginebra to 8th
  • Red-hot Alaska rips injury-depleted San Mig Coffee
  • Pacquiao courtesy call to Aquino set for Monday
  • Nick Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk
  • Teague scores 28 as Hawks soar past Pacers in Game 1
  • Lifestyle

  • Angono petroglyphs in danger of disappearing
  • Britain’s baby Prince George visits Australian zoo
  • Noli Yamsuan, Cardinal Sin’s ‘official’ photographer: ‘I could smell the aftershave lotion of the Pope’
  • Simplifying and lightening life
  • Where to go for Easter night-out
  • Entertainment

  • Show-biz celebrities’ other choices of summer getaway
  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Business

  • Top-selling insurance agent opens her dream café
  • Connecting and transacting with one another
  • Building wealth for health
  • Why Mandaue Foam buys, rather than rents, space
  • A workplace of new possibilities
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Epiphany
  • Unpaid creditor vs distressed debtor
  • Moving on
  • From culinary desert to paradise
  • Response to China: ‘Usjaphil’
  • Global Nation

  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Aquino, Obama to tackle US pivot to Asia during state visit
  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats
  • Cesar Chavez movie sparks memories of Fil-Am labor leaders
  • Marketplace