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I saw the phrase, “force himself” in the following sentence of Time (Jan 30) article titled “Charles in Charge.”:

Critics found these novels dreary and diffuse. Henry James, reviewing Our Mutual Friend for the Nation in 1865, wrote, "For the last 10 years it has seemed to us that Mr. Dickens has been unmistakably forcing himself. Bleak House was forced; Little Dorrit was labored; the present work is dug out as with a spade and pickaxe." But Dickens wasn't writing for the critics. His deft touch with comedy and pathos kept his loyal readers happy.

I think I can understand ‘force oneself,’ but I can’t understand (1) what Dickens has been ‘forcing himself’ to do, and (2) what Bleak House was a ‘forced’ work mean - Does it mean he was compelled to write though he didn't wish to write it? - , and (3) what ‘dug out as with a spade and pickaxe’ mean in the context of “forcing and forced”?

Would you be kind enough to enlighten me?

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Forced, in this context, means that the work wasn't written out of some burst of inspiration or the pleasure of writing, but out of necessity or contractual obligation. Dickens didn't want to write any of those books, but did so anyway - and their quality, the article implies, suffers for it. That's what forced novel means in this context: a piece of literature that didn't flow naturally, wasn't fun or enjoyable to write, but rather a chore, possibly even one involving hard labor, that had to be done.

The article's author then extends the metaphor further with the dug out as with a spade and pickaxe. If writing these books was such a chore, like digging in the mines, than adding more digging metaphors would stress the hard, repetitive nature and mindlessness of the task.

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