Love's Old Sweet Song

I once had the privilege of hearing Professor Polhemus deliver some of these pages as a lecture—the passage on the terrible end of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, which I have found as superb to read in 1990 as it was to hear in 1986. I also once heard—and watched—him do a number on The Old Curiosity Shop, in which he not only recited a passage from Dickens but came close to acting out all the parts. When he is in this vein, we might say of him what Betty Higden said of a foundling in Chapter XVI of Our Mutual Friend: "'You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.'"

Professor Polhemus can be a very funny man. He ought to be. After all, he is the author of Comic Faith: The Great Tradition from Austen to Joyce (1980), in which he argued that there was promoted in a certain continuum of fiction a comic sense that served as a uniting faith—a special religion of the humorous dispensation. That argument stands on its own merits; but I think that the earlier book's case was a more sustained exposition of a narrower thesis.

Nevertheless, the brilliance of Polhemus's free-wheeling, vigorous, and exhilarating textural forays, commentaries, analyses, and speculations in Erotic Faith cannot be denied. No one who cares about Dickens can afford to miss "The Fixation of Love,"...

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