Sunday, January 4, 2009

TSS: Let the Dickens Begin

The Sunday
So, I started David Copperfield, and it's good! I knew it'd be good, of course. But I expected it to be good as in, "Look at me reading classic literature" good, and was pleasantly surprised to find it "Well...just one more chapter before I go to sleep" good. I'm on Chapter 9, page 123.

What I love: the way Dickens manages to give us a child's perspective with an adult voice.

I was shown up to a nice little bedroom, with DOLPHIN painted on the door. Very
cold I was, I know, notwithstanding the hot tea they had given me before a large
fire down-stairs; and very glad I was to turn into the Dolphin's bed, pull the
Dolphin's blankets round my head, and go to sleep.
I keep thinking of Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans, whose childlike narrative voice has received mixed reader reviews. Dickens successfully recreates the childish perspective--the thought, for example, that a dolphin inhabits a room because the word was printed on the door--but from the vantage point of an adult.

What else I like: When Dickens wants to pull the reader in to the character's sensory world, he shifts to present tense, as if to slip the reader inside his very memory.:

How well I recollect the kind of day it was! I smell the fog that hung
about the place; I see the hoar frost, ghostly, through it; I feel my rimy hair
fall clammy on my cheek; I look along the dim perspective of the schoolroom,
with a sputtering candle here and there to light up the foggy morning, and the
breath of the boys wreathing and smoking in the raw cold as they blow upon their
fingers, and tap their feet upon the floor.

What I don't like: the charicatured quality of some of the characters and their dialogue. It makes me think, "No one would ever say something like that!" and then, "Oh, yeah. He's doing that on purpose. It's satire." I have a hard enough time with satire in modern times; much of the humor in 19th century satire has probably whizzed right over my shoulder and is bouncing off my living room walls like a superball even now.

I took my son to the indoor skateboard park on Saturday morning and I couldn't quite see myself absorbed in Dickens with the Under-14 dudes zipping past and their parents discussing their canceled-due-to-snow winter break plans and the quality of the powder on Mt. Hood, so I brought Cracked Up to Be along with me instead. It's a new YA novel for older teens, with kind of a mystery running through it; it was hard to put down. Even for the sake of Dickens. So, with about 10 pages left to go this morning after reading it in the shower (just about), I took it to church with me this morning because I had to find out how it ended.

You know those bumper stickers that say, "My other car is a Porsche?" When I was reading Cracked Up to Be between services at church I wanted to be wearing a sign that said, "The other book I'm reading is Charles Dickens." Maybe I'll make myself a t-shirt.


  1. You are too funny. Glad for you that the Dickens book is so good!

  2. Charles Dickens could make weird characters very readable. I have always loved reading him. David Copperfield is one my favourite books. So is Oliver Twist.

    Sunday Salon readings