My wife and I tonight watched the excellent new BBC production of Great Expectations on the ABC (see this piece on the “youthful” Miss Havisham). It reminded me of a program on Dickens on Rachek Kohn’s Spirit of Things a few weeks ago. In this program I heard for the first time about Dickens’ “Marian vision”. The story is quite remarkable, as is appears that Dickens – whose religion was more Unitarian than orthodox Christian – may have been attracted to Catholicism at some point in his life. Here is the story from the Catholic Herald:
“Let me tell you,” he wrote from Venice, “of a curious dream I had, last Monday night; and of the fragments of reality I can collect; which helped to make it up … In an indistinct place, which was quite sublime in its indistinctness, I was visited by a Spirit. I could not make out the face, nor do I recollect that I desired to do so. It wore a blue drapery, as the Madonna might in a picture by Raphael; and bore no resemblance to any one I have known except in stature … It was so full of compassion and sorrow for me… that it cut me to the heart; and I said, sobbing, ‘Oh! give me some token that you have really visited me!… Answer me one… question!’ I said, in an agony of entreaty lest it should leave me. ‘What is the True religion?’ As it paused a moment without replying, I said – Good God in such an agony of haste, lest it should go away! – ’You think, as I do, that the Form of religion does not so greatly matter, if we try to do good? or,’ I said, observing that it still hesitated, and was moved with the greatest compassion for me, ‘perhaps the Roman Catholic is the best? perhaps it makes one think of God oftener, and believe in him more steadily?’
“‘For you,’ said the Spirit, full of such heavenly tenderness for me, that I felt as if my heart would break; ‘for you it is the best!’ Then I awoke, with the tears running down my face, and myself in exactly the condition of the dream. It was just dawn.”
Quite remarkable, when you think on it. And a great pity that he withstood the “temptation”, for had he accepted this as a true vision of Mary rather than of his deceased sister (according to some accounts), he may well have been not only the greatest novelist in the English language, but indeed the greatest Catholic novelist of all time.
I had a Lutheran pastor friend who used to argue that he would believe in Marian apparitions if in fact Mary would appear to non-Catholics from time to time. Who knows? Perhaps she has and has not been properly recognised?