Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy 200th, Mr. Dickens!

It's rare to see so much publicity around a literary anniversary, so I'm fully enjoying the attention Charles Dickens is getting today. From the fun tribute on Google to informative articles like this one from NPR, he seems to be everywhere.

I've not read enough Dickens. Besides A Christmas Carol (which I so love) I'm only perfectly sure that I've read two novels in full -- Hard Times, and A Tale of Two Cities. I've read memorable parts of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. I've always been intrigued by The Pickwick Papers because of my love for Alcott's Little Women. And not long ago I picked up David Copperfield at a library sale. Knowing now that Dickens considered that one of his favorites, I think it might be my next Dickens book.

I first read A Tale of Two Cities about six years ago, and I found it truly inspiring. It had been a long time since I'd read Dickens when I picked that book up, and it took me a while to find my way into his prose again. But I'm glad I persevered. As I wrote in my review of the book at the time:

If like me, you haven't read Dickens for a while, you may have to discipline yourself to push through the first two or three chapters of the novel. His long, complex sentences are like an old-fashioned kind of music that our contemporary ears aren't used to hearing. After struggling a bit through the first few chapters, I got attuned again --I found my feet and felt as though I was waltzing or skating along to a wonderful tune.

This is not a "plot driven" book, which is what we postmoderns are used to. Dickens doesn't mind taking detours to describe, in huge amounts of detail, landscapes or scenes that are important to the story in symbolic or metaphorical ways, although they don't advance the storyline in a linear cause and effect way. One thing you can almost be sure of is that when he lingers, it's not just for the pure enjoyment of writing such masterful prose (though no doubt he felt that way too) but because the scene is important to the heart of his story.

I ended up loving A Tale of Two Cities. I don't know why I haven't made more room/space in my life for Dickens in recent years.

So tell me, what's your favorite Dickens? I'd love to hear what it is and why you love it.


Will Watcher said...

A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist are my favorites! Tale of two Cities follows right behind.

Beth said...

Such great choices. I never get tired of A Christmas Carol!

Janet said...

I'm torn between Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House (which isn't bleak at all!), but I love, love, love Mr. D., as you well know, Beth. Thanks for contributing to the fun of his birthday! The reference to skating was very appropriate. I look forward to reading about whichever novel you choose to read next!

Beth said...

Janet, I have heard such good things about both those titles...I really don't know why I've not read more Dickens. Must remedy this!

I do know how much you love Mr. D. -- I've been thinking of you today for just that reason!