Dickens is 200, and I ramble

Happy 200th, Charlie!

I feel immersed in Charles Dickens’s world and awed at how productive he was because I am reading the new biography Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. Always short of money the first half of his life, Dickens took on an enormous amount of work writing and editing for newspapers and monthly serials with ever-looming deadlines. It makes me feel that one ought to just produce, produce, produce  without fretting too much over perfection. Sure, the deadlines, strain, and constant labor created some bad melodrama but also some wonderful characters. (What are the chances this could work for my writing?)

Dickens wasn’t all genius and light. Despite becoming a moral crusader publicly, I’m just getting to the scandalous part  of the biography when his personal life shows him as his worst: bullying, sacrosanct, and cruel. I have great sympathy with his wife between the constant pregnancies for over a decade and then being summonarily put aside and made fun of as fat to friends while Dickens took up with an actress. Of course, he died at 58 less than 10 years later, which shows what happens when you take up with actresses. The biography itself is excellent, but if you are feeling lazy, as I often do when staring at 400+ pages, may I recommend:

Also, I’m inspired to try a Dicken’s novel as it was meant to be read originally- in serial form. Or close to it. I could sit down every week and read one chapter of Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend or maybe The Pickwick Club! Any recommendations on which would be best?

For more blathering about Dickens:

6 thoughts on “Dickens is 200, and I ramble

  1. Oh jeez, I don’t know about all of them!

    Ive actually read all those except Barnaby Rudge (and you are the only one to say that was poor). Maybe The Old Curiosity Shop, which has been years….

    mmm, fun!

  2. Ravels,
    Since you’re getting into the scandalous part of Dickens’ life, you might want to look at HARD TIMES. In its portrait of a marriage becoming empty,it reminds me of a kind of rock ‘n’ roll equivalent, Bruce Springsteen’s early-warning signal that all was not well in his union with actress-model Julianne Phillips, TUNNEL OF LOVE.There are other advantages to this novel, too: 1) It’s one of Dickens’ shortest, if not THE shortest; 2) it’s another screed against the education system, like NICHOLAS NICKLEBY; 3) it’s the only time I know of in a Dickens novel where he examines the labor movement, then in its relative infancy in Britain; 4) it reveals something a bit surprising in someone we associate with being on the side of the oppressed–his fear of the mob (which also, in a way, manifests itself in BARNABY RUDGE and A TALE OF TWO CITIES.) Whatever book you decide, you can’t go wrong! I don’t know if you’ve had a chance yet, but you might want to hustle over to the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum before its Dickens exhibit closes Sunday.

  3. No, I’m sorry, that was a typo. I mean to say that you are not the only one to tell me that Barnaby was bad. I think everyone agrees on that.

    Mike, I did enjoy Hard Times, but I read it fairly recently. I might try the Old Curiosity Shop. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Morgan in time! Did you go? Was it good?

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