I know that I’ve written about Dickens a few times now – my first ever post was about the dinosaur at the start of Bleak House – but, well, posts about his work pretty much write themselves.
I’ve talked specifically about Nicholas Nickleby before, and I still maintain that the bit about The United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company is my favourite thing he’s ever written.
But there’s more stuff in that novel that I wanted to share with you folk.
So, an MP receives a visit from a group of his constituents, who are dissatisfied with his conduct. He waffles at them a bit.
The general impression seemed to be, that as an explanation of Mr Gregsbury’s political conduct, it did not enter quite enough into detail; and one gentleman in the rear did not scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather too much of a ‘gammon’ tendency.
“The meaning of that term – gammon,” said Mr Gregsbury, “is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark. I AM proud of this free and happy country. My form dilates, my eye glistens, my breast heaves, my heart swells, my bosom burns, when I call to mind her greatness and her glory.”
Nicholas Nickleby was first published in 1839 and gammon meant something like nonsensical talk or ideas, absolute rubbish, in Victorian slang. This is the meaning behind Dickens’s use of the word here but the word has developed a new meaning in the last few years.
Politically left-wing people – specifically in the UK I believe, but please let me know if the idea is used elsewhere – gammon is used as an insult for middle-aged, right-wing white men. Some people consider this a very offensive term.
That is absolutely not what Dickens was talking about here, but it does add and interesting extra layer to the description, hey? To me, Mr Gregbury’s speech sounds a lot like a comedian doing an impression of Boris Johnson (current UK Prime Minister) and I suspect he’s been referred to with that insult numerous times.
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