Is the recent plight of embattled congressman Charles Rangel truly Dickensian? When House Ethics Committee member Peter Welch compared Rangel’s inability to mount a defense against charges of unethical conduct because his attorney had burned through Rangel’s legal fund to a similar situation in Dickens’s Bleak House, the New York Times asked two noted Dickens scholars to weigh in. The first was Joel J. Brattin, professor of literature at WPI.
Brattin concurred with Welch’s characterization of the story Dickens told in Bleak House and his portrayal of lawyers more interested in making money that seeking justice, but he also noted an important difference between Rangel’s case and the outcome of the legal case in the Dickens novel, which concerns a disputed estate. While Rangel broke off his defense when he ran out of money, the case in the Dickens story ends when the estate that has been fought over is itself consumed to pay legal bills.
Brattin has been studying the life and fiction of Charles Dickens for more than 30 years, and has discussed the great Victorian novelist frequently on radio, television, and in the print media. He has published a range of articles and reviews treating Dickens in such journals as The Dickensian, Dickens Quarterly, and Dickens Studies Annual, and has contributed articles to the Oxford Companion to Dickens. He has served as trustee, secretary/treasurer, vice president, and president of the Dickens Society and is curator for the Robert Fellman Dickens Collection at WPI, considered one of the finest such archives in New England.
Read the New York Times article.