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Dickens's Little Dorrit, chapter 13:

Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue, through its process of reserving the making of man in the image of his Creator to the making of his Creator in the image of an erring man, this had rescued him to judge not, and in humility to be merciful, and have hope and charity.

What does "Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue" mean in the above passage?

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  • What do you understand of it so far? Is each word individually understandable, and it is just their combination which is difficult? Or are you struggling on the word level as well as the phrase level?
    – bobble
    Apr 17, 2022 at 20:51

2 Answers 2

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It helps to look at the whole context of this sentence:

He was a dreamer in such wise, because he was a man who had, deep-rooted in his nature, a belief in all the gentle and good things his life had been without. Bred in meanness and hard dealing, this had rescued him to be a man of honourable mind and open hand. Bred in coldness and severity, this had rescued him to have a warm and sympathetic heart. Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue, through its process of reserving the making of man in the image of his Creator to the making of his Creator in the image of an erring man, this had rescued him to judge not, and in humility to be merciful, and have hope and charity.

There are a series of sentences which follow the same pattern:

Bred in …, this had rescued him to …

What’s more, we note that in each of these cases, Arthur Clennan managed to, despite his breeding, become much the opposite of what he was bred to. Meanness and hard dealing? Honourable mind and open hand. Coldness and severity? Warm and sympathetic heart.

So what do we make of the creed to darkly audacious to purse? It must be a creed that is opposed to humility, mercy, hope and charity and we can see that in Dickens's demonstration of how the Biblical statement of man being made in the image of God has been inverted to God being made in the image of erring man. It’s not completely unambiguous about the creed too darkly audacious to purse, whether it’s the creed that was written but not followed by Clennan’s peers who preferred a God made in their image (and thus the creed that Clennan actually followed), or whether it’s the creed that Clennan’s peers did follow, that was exemplified by the preceding sentences. From the larger context, it seems likely that the creed to darkly audacious to pursue was the one that made God in man’s image and thus eschewed humility, mercy, hope and charity.

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    +1 I suspect, though, that the references to Clennam's breeding primarily refer to his mother, who certainly fits all the descriptions--mean, a hard dealer, cold, severe--and justifies all of it by believing that God is that way too (thus remaking her Creator in her own image).
    – DLosc
    Oct 11, 2022 at 22:19
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As seen from its opposite, "too darkly audacious to pursue" means "too judgmental, too merciless, too cynical, too malevolent"

In this case, "too darkly audacious to" is "too ready to", with "pursuit" what courts and police do, and "Audacious" because it is the usurpation of the role of God. It's "darkly" audacious because it assigns a dark role to their dark god.

And "Breed in the creed" means "Brought up by people who thought they were God-like in their pursuit of anyone they could find a reason to condemn"

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  • Hi and welcome to LitSE. Given your parsing of too darkly audacious to pursue, it would mean that the people who brought Clennam up did not pursue. How do you conclude that "they were God-like in their pursuit"? The answer seems self-contradictory. Can you clarify? And why is this parsing of the sentence preferable to the more obvious, where to pursue refers transitively to creed rather than intransitively, to engage in pursuit? Thanks!
    – verbose
    Jan 4 at 3:47
  • This meaning matches all the other clauses in the context - and makes sense stand alone. There is thesis and anti-thesis, text and contra-text, hyperborean and antipodean. In contrast, if you choose "following a creed" as your interpretation, the text makes no sense at all -- which is why we are here.
    – david
    Jan 4 at 22:30

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