Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dickens...love him or hate him?

I admitted recently in a world-wide forum, as opposed to dinner party truth or dare moments, that I don't like Charles Dickens, or more precisely his work. And if we are talking about his novels I still don't, with the notable exception of A Tale of Two Cities. I particularly dislike the way in which characters almost miraculously transform themselves from the worst possible creature into a paragon of Christian virtue. It is irritating and very against human nature - people can change but not to that extreme. It also goes against the 'rules of good writing.' You should not con your reader this way. Dickens does and he gets away with it. How can readers put up with such cheating in a book? It's like a murder mystery where half the clues are kept from you. Of course you're not going to know that it was old Mother Hubbard if you did not know that she had a cupboard, let alone a dog. Anyway, I have discovered another side to Dickens and I quite like it.

As part of my research for City Chronicles: A Little Bit of Italy, I came across Dickens' Pictures of Italy, one of his travel writing pieces and I liked it. I liked the description of the places and people he came across. I have even quoted from it. That led me, through the wonderful Project Gutenberg, to American Notes and...I laughed. Out loud. American Notes was met with some rather barbed remarks from the American press when it was published. They took umbrage over Dickens' portrayal of American society, and if you read the book you could understand why. He was speaking as he found; he quite obviously did not have a very enjoyable trip. He summed up his desire to get home brilliantly in the first paragraph of the last chapter 'The Passage Home,'

I never had so much interest before, and very likely I shall never have so much interest again, in the state of the wind, as on the long-looked for morning of Tuesday, the Seventh of June. Some nautical authority had told me a day or two previous, 'anything with west in it will do;' so when I darted out of bed at daylight, and throwing up the window, was saluted by a lively breeze from the north-west which had sprung up in the night, it came upon me so freshly, rustling with so many happy associations, that I conceived upon the spot a special regard for all airs blowing from that quarter of the compass [...]'
Okay, he does go on a bit, but the sentiment cannot be missed. I've felt that way. Not to do with westerly winds necessarily, but for leaving certain shores, yes. Sometimes the urge to get home can be quite overwhelming. And because I've finally found something of the man that I like, can relate to, I don't mind him quite as much anymore. I just wish he hadn't written Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, David Copperfield...

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