Category Archives: Martin Chuzzlewit (Dickens)

Bathtime at the Pecksniff Hotel

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 22.29.39Ne sutor ultra crepidam

Entering his hotel room, Dalrymple finds an

unctuous, mendacious, and mildly hectoring and even bullying notice on the towels in the bathroom.

It reads:

You care, we care, we all care about our environment and carbon footprint. Please take care and only have towels washed when needed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 22.51.56Yet it was necessary only

to step outside the hotel to prove that ‘we’ do not all care about the environment. Many of us drop litter; many of us tread our chewing gum into the ground; many of us make unnecessary noise; many of us render the world slightly more ugly than it need be by our careless appearance in public. Many, indeed most, of us consume vastly more than we need. Many of us take unnecessary journeys because we cannot think of anything else to do. Many of us would not even be able to define our carbon footprint, let alone care about it.

Seth Pecksniff, shield of virtue

Seth Pecksniff, shield of virtue

The very word ‘care’

now has a Pecksniffian ring to it, thanks to its use in this kind of canting message. ‘Let us be moral,’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘Let us contemplate existence.’

The notion that ‘we’ of the hotel chain

do and ought to care more about the environment than, say, about reducing the chain’s laundry bill and thereby increasing its margin of profit (a perfectly respectable and reasonable thing for ‘us’ of the chain to do) is absurd and to me repellent.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 23.31.26

A worthwhile movement

We despise

the Victorians for their habit of dishonest moralising,

but ours

is an age of ultracrepidarian hypocrisy in which everyone claims to care deeply for everything except that which concerns him most.

Choked to death on his vomit

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.12.55Ha! That’ll teach him to have been raised so far above us (by our election)

Celebrity, writes Dalrymple,

is conferred on people almost, though not quite, at random: their talents are minor and their appearance pleasing, but they must not otherwise be remarkable or too far removed in their tastes and manner, at least in public, from those who give them fame.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.10.36The contract between celebrities and those who confer celebrity upon them

Celebrities must

allow their lives to be examined and reported on, truthfully or not, in all the media. They must agree to be in the public eye as an old-fashioned family doctor was always on duty for his patients.

Mrs Todgers

Mrs Todgers

How the cult of celebrity is a form of self-worship

The eyes that are cast upon the celebrities

are simultaneously adulatory and sadistic.

Those eyes remind Dalrymple of the eyes of Mrs Todgers in Martin Chuzzlewit:

Mrs Todgers meant by this that she must embrace them once more, which she accordingly did with great ardour.

Mrs Todgers and 'Kim'

Mrs Todgers and Kim

But

the house being full with the exception of one bed, which would now be occupied by Mr Pecksniff, she wanted time for consideration; and so much time too (for it was a knotty point how to dispose of them), that even when this second embrace was over, she stood for some moments gazing at the sisters, with affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other. (from ch. 8)

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.15.23At a news-stand, Dalrymple leafs through some magazines

devoted to the pseudo-private-lives of celebrities of whom I have never heard.

He notes headings concerning the celebrity known as ‘Kim’:

KIM’S HUMILIATION

KIM DUMPED ON HER ANNIVERSARY

KIM’S BIG LIE

KIM’S WIG

STRESS MAKES KIM’S HAIR FALL OUT

Dalrymple comments that

the sadism is all too evident. How the celebrity-conferring and celebrity-worshipping public will have relished her suffering! It serves her right for having the fairy-tale life that we conferred on her, and that we should so like to have.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.33.50Accounts of alcoholism, or alleged alcoholism, are a

favourite way in which the magazines, on behalf of their readership, take their revenge on those upon whom celebrity has been conferred.

The onetime idol’s

descent into rehab should preferably be repeated, and the supposed battle lost in advance.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.53.06Once the celebrity has reached the alcoholic stage,

his function is to be a template for the readership’s inexhaustible Schadenfreude.

He must never recover, and the course of his life should be a downward spiral into utter sordor. A happy ending is when

he chokes to death on his own vomit at a comparatively early age. That’ll teach him to have been raised so far above the rest of us, even if it was only by our own election.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 09.52.23Celebrities are inhabitants

both of a fairy-tale world and our own rather sordid reality. We set them up and we pull them down, enjoying the pleasures both of hero-worship and of cruelty.

The cult of celebrity

is a form of self-worship, both because celebrities are not threateningly different from ourselves, and because we have the power of fame and ignominy over them.

Mrs Todgers and Mr Moddle

Mrs Todgers and Mr Moddle