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