Friday, June 09, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1870 ~ Charles Dickens, 58, dies at his home in Gadshill, and is buried in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. Two days later, Queen Victoria writes in her diary, "He is a very great loss. He had a large loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes."

I must admit that I have read only one book by Charles Dickens. In a class on the British novel, I read Hard Times, and, at the risk of sounding corny, I had a very hard time indeed getting through that book. I also had a professor for another class (History of England) who declared Charles Dickens to be a first-rate propagandist, which certainly didn't do much to improve my inclination to pick up another Dickens novel. So I have not read another Dickens novel since that time, even though I have at least three on my shelves, a fact that leaves me feeling somewhat guilty and sheepish. I have, though, seen several movie adaptations of Dickens novels which I have loved: David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend, Nicholas Nickleby. And Bleak House is currently in my Netflix queue.

So I'm not entirely sure why I'm somewhat frozen when I stare at the rows of those hefty novels in a bookstore. I'm always drawn to pull one off the shelf, gaze at its cover, and contemplate the possibility of actually reading it this time.

But then I sigh, and put it back.


Blogger Christa said...

I would suggest you start with one of his shorter and probably most familiar stories, A Christmas Carol. I've taught it twice now, and I enjoyed even more the second time. (Of course, I must confess though, I haven't read many of his other works either...not yet anyway.) I've just started a biography of him by Jane Smiley that I picked up last fall. In her preface, she makes this interesting statement, "Among English writers, Dickens's only peer, in terms of general fame, worldwide literary stature, and essential Englishness, is William Shakespeare, and the two authors are alike in several ways. Both peopled the imaginative landscape in a manner almost superhuman, pouring forth characters of such number, variety and vividness that it seems impossible that they could be the products of a single mind." Perhaps reading this biography will give me the extra motivation to read more of his works.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

Hmm...well, I guess I can see the similarities. I think of Shakespeare and Dickens as two completely different kinds of writers with different purposes. Could be just me. :-)

Andrea, A Christmas Carol is fantastic and easy to read. So is Great Expectations, which had an unusual, modern adaptation made by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron back in 1998. Anyway, the Story itself is worth reading for. Wow! It's my favorite Dickens novel.

And a propagandist? Certainly! But must that always be a fault? Without brave men like Dickens we'd be on the opposite swing of the pendulum from OSHA, working in fear of our health or even lives under the machinery of modernism! OK, a little purple prose, but you get the idea. :-)
For a different kind of Dickensian story -- one that similarly confronts a machinist culture and lack of proper regard for humanity in all its shapes and sizes -- check out The Elephant Man, an excellent film. Every time I watch it I think, "Dickens could have written this."

2:04 PM  

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