ABC Wednesday – D is for …

… Charles Dickens

What follows are merely my thoughts on the few Charles Dickens’s books that  have read.

The first book of his that I read as a child was A Christmas Carol. It was a small book with the original illustrations and I read it many times. It has a great opening paragraph:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. the register of his death was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to, Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

It’s clear and to the point and it has to be because this is a ghost story and unless you are certain that Marley was dead, as Dickens goes on to say: ‘nothing wonderful can come of the story’. The story is well structured with Scrooge visited by the three Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Yet to Come. The pathos of the story of Tiny Tim has stayed with me over the years and the transformation of the miserly Scrooge into a jovial, kind and happy man seemed to me a perfect Christmas story.

Following on from that I didn’t read any more of Dickens’s books until I read A Tale of Two Cities for ‘O’ level GCE, but I knew of so many of his books from watching them serialised on TV. In my mind Sunday afternoon tea time was the classic storytime, but I could be wrong. In any case Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations and David Copperfield come to mind from that period.

A Tale of Two Cities has one of the most memorable opening sentences:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

and a unforgettable ending when Sydney Carton goes to his death on the guillotine:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

I remember very little more about the story except that it was a wonderful love story set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. I’m thinking of re-reading it soon – I’ve downloaded it onto my Kindle – to see how much of it I remember and if I still think it as good as I did when I was 15!

Skip forward a few years and I read Hard Times whilst taking an Open University course. By that time in studying Hard Times I was more aware of Dickens’s social criticism than I had been before. There are some powerful scenes and characters portrayed, although to some extent I think of them as caricatures – Gadgrind and Bounderby – whose personalities are described by their names.

More recently my reading of Dickens has been after watching TV adaptations. I read Bleak House a few years ago, after being captivated by Charles Dance as Mr Tulkinghorn, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock and Dennis Lawson as John Jarndyce.  It was a most impressive performance and cast, so many well known actors, not forgetting Johnny Vegas as Krook who was almost unbelievably good in the part.

This post is getting very long, so I’ll just add I’ve recently read The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Holly-Tree Inn (the links go to my posts on those books).

See Margaret’s Miscellany for a painting by the Scottish artist William Dyce and ABC Wednesday for more illustrations of the letter D.

22 thoughts on “ABC Wednesday – D is for …”

  1. I love the Christmas Carol (the Doctor Who Christmas Special last year was a wonderful, if slightly eccentric version), but I can’t really warm up to the rest of Dickens. The beginning of Tale of Two Cities is one of the best beginning paragraphs ever, though.

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  2. nice post, I enjoyed it. It’s funny because at this very moment I am reading a biography of Dickens. I wasn’t sure it would interest me that much but I am quite enjoying it.

    I haven’t read the Mystery of Edwin Drood but , although you weren’t that fond of Drood, I loved it ! I have a few Dickens books here to read but just haven’t gotten to them.. i’m sure i will sooner or later.. i love reading of England in that era.

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      1. keeping with biographies (or autobiographies).. is there no biography written on Wilke Collins? It’s hard to know of Dickens without knowing of Colllins but I can find no biography (book) on him. There’s plenty of bio’s on him ON the web but I was looking for a book on him.

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      1. after reading this comment I would love to find that book but a search in amazon using the name Leon Garfield shows me nothing about edwin drood. what is the name of the book?

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        1. Deslily, it is called ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’. Put that in with Garfield and you will bring up four secondhand copies. It has obviously gone out of print.

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  3. I read Hard Times at school too and enjoyed it. It’s one of his shorter novels. Yes Dickens is a great writer, though I find classics better ‘read’ as audio tapes as I have gotten out of the habit of reading old fashioned styles of voice. Many of Dickens ofcourse have been dramatised on TV and I begin to get confused about which I’ve read and which I’ve seen, which sounds awful I know.

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  4. I haven’t read any of the books written by Dickens. I think, I should start looking for some.

    Nathalie
    ABC Wednesday Team

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  5. I have not read all his books, but Dickens is a wonderful writer. I also remember those first lines of “Two Cities” though my favourite is “Our Mutual Friend” (an early crime novel :D)

    I have downloaded “Edwin Drood” and plan to read it, but I don´t know when I´ll get round to it.

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  6. A Christmas Carol is a tradition in our home every Christmas. And this year I was honoured to tutor a student who was studying it and I helped him put together an essay on how Scrooge changed from being a selfish, mean ogre to a kind and jolly fellow.

    Leslie
    ABCW Team

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  7. Wonderful post–I go through phases when I like Dickens and phases when I don’t. I like David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, both of which I read numerous times in my youth, and I like Nicholas Nickleby. I loved Bleak House in college, but didn’t care for it when I reread it. I loathed The Old Curiosity Shop, and want to read Hard Times to see how it compares to Gaskell’s North and South.

    Now you’ve gotten me excited to take up with Dickens again!

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  8. David Copperfield is one of my favorite tales. It only took me 20 years to get beyond the first few pages. And, when I did, oh my! What finally helped me was seeing a TV movie of it, which gave me a sense of how people looked and talked and the time. The novel was of course 10 x better than the movie.

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