have said that they were truly happy; and without strong affection
and humanity of heart, and gratitude to that Being whose code is
Mercy and whose great attribute is Benevolence to all things that
breathe, happiness can never be attained. Within the altar of the
old village church there stands a white marble tablet which bears
as yet but one word: “Agnes”. . . . I believe that the shade of
Agnes sometimes hovers round the solemn nook. I believe it none the
less because that nook is in a Church, and she was weak and erring.
The final passage of the novel sums
up Dickens’s moral and religious vision. On the one hand, Dickens
considers a firm and true belief in God to be an essential prerequisite
of both moral rectitude and earthly happiness. On the other hand,
the novel has not been kind to characters such as Mr. Bumble, who
prattle on about Christian values, but whose behavior is notably
lacking in “Benevolence” and who are quick to condemn others as
sinners. The description of Agnes’s grave is an attack on puritanical
religion, which would consider adultery to be an unforgivable sin.
The novel’s faith in Christian values is as wholehearted as its
attacks on Christian hypocrisy are biting.