Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

It’s Dickens’ Bicentenary this year and it’s being celebrated with various events in England and also in such diverse places as the Kolkata (India) Book Fair.

I’d read a bit about this and decided it was time I actually read some Dickens.

Well, I’ve read David Copperfield, Hard Times and Tale of Two Cities –  oh, and  Oliver Twist -but that was enforced and long ago, and the occasional attempt since then has been unsuccessful. He was a prolific author but also prolix. Each instalment had to be a certain number of words and the Victorians seemed to enjoy detailed descriptions and long digressions. I’ve got used to books being 250 pages long and am prone to complain that they haven’t been edited properly if they run to 500 pages.

I thought it was probably time I pushed my aging mind (I’ve just celebrated my 70th) and read some Dickens without an exam looming. Inspired by dovegreyreaderscribbles, a newsletter I enjoy, I chose Bleak House. Sure enough, it has over 900 pages. And it has detailed descriptions (more than a page on rain in Lincolnshire!) and long digressions which may or may not turn out to be relevant later. However, bearing in mind that it was originally published in serial form, I decided to read only one (maybe two) chapters an afternoon and keep on with my normal reading at night.

As it was published in twenty monthly instalments In 1852/53), I should still finish reading it in less time than the original readers. Maybe that’s the secret of tackling these Victorian books – split them up into manageable chunks.  The writer of the Newsletter mentioned above, has a group reading Middlemarch  that way – and she chopped one of her seven (!) copies up into eight parts.. I had to go out and buy my copy of Bleak House – or drive Fish Hoek Library mad by renewing it month after month! – so I’m not prepared to chop it up physically. But I am enjoying it, reading it this way.

Fish Hoek Library has the BBC Bleak House DVD and it’s very enjoyable. I’m hoping to watch a chunk at a time as I finish reading that section. I started with the first CD the other night and loved it.

Maybe you’re ready to tackle Dickens again?

There must be some reason why his books are constantly reprinted.

Incidentally, David Copperfield is probably his most autobiographical novel and its beginning is well-known –

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”

But the best-known beginning has to be “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”.

Do you have a favourite Dickens? Or a comment on him?

Let us know.

Jenny Strickland