We have been watching ‘Dickensian’, a very enjoyable BBC TV drama involving many characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. This inspired me to read some more Dickens; I’ve read less than half of his novels, and I don’t suppose I shall ever read them all. (This is somehow a happy thought; all that pleasure still left.) I have been reading ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and it has prompted me to write this brief piece in praise.
I am actually reading this on Kindle, depite my occasional misgivings about that device. It tells me that I am about a third of the way through, about 160 conventional pages. Imagine: 320 pages to go!
It is, at least as I see it, a typical Dickens novel. (Bear in mind that I am not a literary academic, but a common reader.) It’s a huge, sprawling work, bearing the traces of its original serialisation. I see that it was his last finished novel. It has an enormous cast of characters. I have made myself a little map of them, to help me remember who they all are. I’ve got 20 names on it and that’s nowhere near all.
The characters are widely varied: grotesque, upright, good, bad, rich, poor, humorous, tragic. Some are noble, some are reprehensible. I think I may have identified a heroine, but I’m still not sure of the main thread of the book; there are so many interweaving plots and sub-plots. The settings are detailed and varied, from the foggy Thames to rich dining rooms. Dickens does not hesitate to attack targets from the workhouse to the idle rich. This all makes for an involved and entertaining read.
One of the great pleasures for me is the language. He could really, really write. There are great, rolling sentences, sometimes taking up whole paragraphs; there are lists, there are parodies of speech.
I would not blame anybody who did not want to tackle Dickens. He is often hard for a modern reader. I suspect I am enjoying this so much because I now have time and energy to read at length. I have come to read some of his other work through seeing film and television adaptations. There have been some really good ones, not surprisingly often by the BBC. It does help to have an idea of what is going on! To anybody who wants to tackle Dickens but is daunted, I would recommend ‘A Christmas Carol’. It’s what we would call a novella, familar and readable.
I’m sure that there are endless criticisms that could be made of Mr Dickens. I’m not going to make them. I love the books and think he was a genius.