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Monday, August 29, 2011

Henry Gowan

Henry Gowan is the fiancé of Pet Meagles, whom Arthur realizes he loves after her engagement (Arthur is quite flexible in love).  The Meagles do not like Gowan personally, though they embrace the match due to the connection it provides to the Barnacles, the corrupt ruling family in the Circumlocution Office.  Nevertheless, the Gowans, though well-connected, are poor themselves, forcing Henry to earn his living.  Henry expresses disappointment that his distant relatives do not give him money so that he doesn't have to work.

'Why,' returned Gowan, 'I belong to a clan, or a clique, or a family, or a connection, or whatever you like to call it, that might have provided for me in any one of fifty ways, and that took it into its head not to do it at all. So here I am, a poor devil of an artist' (Book 1, Ch. 34).

Gowan's choosing art "partly to grieve the souls of the Barnacles-in-chief who had not provided for him" (Book 1, Ch. 17) shows he has no love for art and that he is lazy and wants an easy way to earn money. 

He appeared to be an artist by profession, and to have been at Rome some time; yet he had a slight, careless, amateur way with him—a perceptible limp, both in his devotion to art and his attainments—which Clennam could scarcely understand (Book 1, Ch. 17).

Gowan proves careless not only in his vocation but also in his words.  He repeatedly exhibits "dexterous impudence" through insincere praise.

It appeared, before the breakfast was over, that everybody whom this Gowan knew was either more or less of an ass, or more or less of a knave; but was, notwithstanding, the most lovable, the most engaging, the simplest, truest, kindest, dearest, best fellow that ever lived. The process by which this unvarying result was attained, whatever the premises, might have been stated by Mr Henry Gowan thus: 'I claim to be always book-keeping, with a peculiar nicety, in every man's case, and posting up a careful little account of Good and Evil with him. I do this so conscientiously, that I am happy to tell you I find the most worthless of men to be the dearest old fellow too: and am in a condition to make the gratifying report, that there is much less difference than you are inclined to suppose between an honest man and a scoundrel.' The effect of this cheering discovery happened to be, that while he seemed to be scrupulously finding good in most men, he did in reality lower it where it was, and set it up where it was not; but that was its only disagreeable or dangerous feature (Book 1, Ch. 17).

Though Gowan does not have evil intentions, one learns quickly not to trust his judgment of others.  Dickens furthers this perspective by Gowan's friendship with Rigaud and Sparkler, as well as his relation to the Barnacles.  Rigaud is a murderer and Sparkler is weak-minded and undistinguished.  If a man is defined by the company he keeps, Gowan is bad news.

His relationship to the Barnacles shows he shares sentiments with them.  His opposition to progress is illustrated in the following quote:

'Painters, writers, patriots, all the rest who have stands in the market. Give almost any man I know ten pounds, and he will impose upon you to a corresponding extent; a thousand pounds—to a corresponding extent; ten thousand pounds—to a corresponding extent. So great the success, so great the imposition. But what a capital world it is!' cried Gowan with warm enthusiasm. 'What a jolly, excellent, lovable world it is!'

'I had rather thought,' said Clennam, 'that the principle you mention was chiefly acted on by—'

'By the Barnacles?' interrupted Gowan, laughing. 

'By the political gentlemen who condescend to keep the Circumlocution Office' (Book 1, Ch. 26).

If one impedes progress, one avoids obligation to others for that progress.  Gowan does not believe in work and has no problem impeding the work of others.

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