Of all of the Dickens scenes that we read this semester, one in particular stands out—Nancy Sikes death scene. In fact, in all of the subsequent works by Dickens, there was never anything quite as shocking or grotesquely, vividly depicted as that particular murder. As Bill confronts Nancy, his blood is boiling. Her blood runs cold. She pleads against his anger for her life—but he simply bludgeons her. Again. And again. And again. And as the sun rises to reveal the horror of Bill’s actions—the blood of death drips from the ceiling, sunlight dancing as it reflects and refracts.
But why? What is the point of such vivid horror? Theories abound on the internet that it was modeled after an actual murder, and Dickens himself loved the scene so much that he often acted it out on stage with so much energy that his close friends blamed it for his early death. It is perhaps most interesting, because 19th century England did not have the same sort of fascination with violence and murder that a modern audience would. We spend our time watching CSI and Law and Order re-runs—or even the serial-killing work of Dexter—soaking up the blood like sponges, reveling in both justice well served, and crime well committed. But why would Dickens have felt compelled to include such a scene in his own novel? I won’t pretend to have an answer to that question, but it’s interesting to think about all of the ways in which Dickens was ahead of his time—perhaps his bloodlust was too.