from John Keats: A Biography
W. Jackson Bate
For a century and a half we have prated of folklore, tried to resurrect it, moaned the loss of its simplicities, and condemned our own lives as humdrum in comparison. We have praised the psychological clairvoyance of the traditional myth, and appeared to rejoice over its complex use, and reuse, in fiction, while, for all our talk, we have not seriously appeared to match it in real life; and indeed, if we do encounter it there, we may even feel embarrassed for a moment unless we can put it at arm's length while we get our bearings: we ourselves are genuinely moved, but fear that others will think us simple. Dickens, whose own early life is something of a counterpart to that of Keats, understood our divided natures. The affectations by which we complicate life for ourselves and others, feel that we ought to shun the familiar, and mince (in our approach either to art or social life) into what Johnson calls "the habitual cultivation of the powers of dislike," and "elegance refined into impatience," all appear on the large comic stage of Dickens. Against this plays the simple motif of the orphan of folklore, and we respond to it.