My First Dickens

July 27, 2009 at 12:00 am 9 comments

By some odd twist of fate, I somehow managed to escape both the public and private school systems without ever having to read anything by Mr. Charles Dickens. For someone so prolific and so culturally significant, it’s hard to believe I managed to go 23 years without ever personally encountering Dickens. And it is doubly difficult to comprehend considering my personal affection for anything Victorian, my fellow blogger’s love of Dickens himself, and my adoration of run-on sentences. This summer, compelled to address this lapse in my education as well as feed my current random desire for nineteenth-century classic literature, I finally became personally acquainted with Dickens through his classic A Tale of Two Cities.

I think there are a few stereotypes out there about Dickens, mainly being that he is long-winded because he was paid by the word, that he is therefore unreadably dull, and that his stories are too moral or too obviously pit the undeniably evil against the impossibly good.

While I can’t combat these stereotypes on any kind of academic level (I leave these battles to KT), I can at least share my personal knowledge and reactions. As a fact, Dickens was not paid by the word so apparently his verbosity is just his natural style, and while that may not be everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, after the initial section, I actually really it. The first chapters, giving the history of Dr. Manette, I admit were rough-going, but the rest of the book was extremely readable and even exciting at times. Dickens is prone to high drama and even melodrama, but it definitely works for this book. It is the story of the French Revolution. If any era deserves some melodrama, it is the French Revolution. Take it away Dickens!

In terms of the other criticism (too moral, etc.) I actually very much liked this about Dickens. I’m sure it could get out of hand in his other books, but as a concept and in Two Cities I liked it. This may well come from watching too many Disney movies in my youth, but I expect and deeply enjoy the good to live happily and the bad to end ignobly (a little schadenfreude if you will). My firm belief that everything will work out and that everyone will get what they deserve honestly gets me through the day and, while this is debatably how the world actually works, Dickens panders to my belief excellently. The good end up in bonnie England and the bad end up shot in the chest in France. As it should be!

Anyway, to sum up, I’m actually really glad I got to miss out on Dickens in any kind of formal education way because it let me experience him for myself, at my own pace, and when I was ready rather than at the behest of a syllabus. Most of the people I know who were forced to read Dickens in high school hate him with a passion and, judging by how high school ruined everything but Shakespeare for me, I suspect Dickens could have easily gone that way, too. Having now discovered him on my own, I got to enjoy a new (for me) part of Victoriana and finally compare the real Dickens with the stereotype.


Entry filed under: Classics, Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  July 27, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Yay Dickens! How can anyone hate him?

    Yeah, he wasn’t paid by the word. That’s just his style, and, actually, the style of the day, I think. And he’s certainly not dull! He relied on exciting, several-fold plotlines to keep his readers intrigued over months, sometimes years, depending on the story — if he was dull, he wouldn’t have sold anything after David Copperfield, that’s for sure.

    Dickens is totally one of those authors that you can read on your own and enjoy, like his contemporary readers would have, but he only gets better after academic study! Well, some academic study…since he’s been around so long, there are some really wacky theories out there that have developed over the years.

    Any ideas for your next Dickens?!

  • 2. Corey  |  July 27, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Well, my main source for hating Dickens is Emily, who just irrationally hates everything from before the 19th century, so she isn’t super-helpful in terms of pondering “why?”

    Ooo! Do tell about these wacky theories? Was he secretly Queen Victoria’s penname? Because that would rock.

    And I don’t know what’s up next. I’m actually thinking of trying Little Dorrit! What do you recommend?

    • 3. Corey  |  July 27, 2009 at 12:20 pm

      Sorry, I meant before the 20th c., not the 19th! That made little sense otherwise…

  • 4. KT  |  July 27, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Oh, I have friends like that — anything before 1900, actually before 1920, is just not okay ;)

    Hmmm. Recommendations. I haven’t read Little Dorrit, but I’m sure it’s good…didn’t Sonia like The Old Curiosity Shop? My first Dickens was Oliver Twist, a pretty decent choice by my professor, in my opinion, but Great Expectations will always and forever be my favorite :D

  • 5. Corey  |  July 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Why 1920? They don’t like the Great War? I’m basically anything before 1910 and then I’m happy to pick it up again in the U.S. after c. 1960. And I suppose the 1920s are okay if we really must…

    I’ll have to really think about these Dickens choices! Great Expectations seems to be a good choice because it is so widely known, although the high levels of morality in Dorrit and Nicholas Nickelby appeals to me, too. I’ll let you know what I end up going with!

  • 6. KT  |  July 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Aw, there are LOTS of morals in Great Expectations! Namely, don’t be a jerk to your friends, don’t apply fairy tales to real life, and don’t assume you’re better than everyone else. :P

    But I enjoyed David Copperfield, too, and that has a more straightforward morality to it, so that might appeal to you as well.

    As for 1920, anything from Hemingway and Fitzgerald on, I believe, is acceptable, but much before that is not. I’m not sure of the exact criteria, honestly. While I enjoy Fitzgerald, I have to say most of the modernists just don’t appeal to me.

  • 7. Corey  |  July 29, 2009 at 8:04 am

    I have currently moved into the classic female authors phase of my summer of classic literature, so dear Mr. Dickens (and the decision of which to read next!) may have to wait a bit! :D

  • 8. KT  |  July 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Classic female authors? Yay! I seem to have a modern female authors thing going, actually. This would be a particularly appropriate time to sign up for the BlogHer waiting list, I suppose… ;)

  • 9. Corey  |  July 29, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Synergy! Which ladies are you reading?

    And yes! Let’s join BlogHer! I didn’t even know about it until now, but it seems great. :)


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