Dickens Club Week 2 (Sketches by Boz) and a Week 1 Wrap-up

Wherein we take a glance back at the first week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23—with agenda items, including the Member List; With a look ahead to week two.

Friends, we’re at our final day of the first week of our Dickens Club, and the seventh Sketch of Sketches by Boz! Huge congrats, no matter where you’re at in the reading process, and a very Warm Welcome to all of our members!

First, a few notes:

  1. I’ve just put up a list of our members with links to a twitter or WordPress profile (when applicable). Please feel free to message me via the contact page or on twitter if I need to make any changes or additions. 😊 If you’re following along too, and you’re not on the list, I’d love to add you!
  2. Besides the intro posts to each new work, I’ll also be posting a weekly wrap-up and look ahead, with a link to an online source for those who don’t have a copy of the book, or if you’re waiting on one but would like to get going on the reading. I’ll try to make it a bit of a summary of what we’ve covered in the previous week, as well. For those who prefer to comment on WordPress rather than twitter, it will be a good place to comment for each week’s Sketches, so that the original intro post doesn’t have such a long thread that it becomes difficult to read through! 😊
  3. I also have added a calendar for the DCRC to the sidebar of the website in case you just want quicker access to what work/Sketch we’re on. I’ve updated it through January and will complete it shortly.
  4.  Just a few other reminders:
    1. My little Intro to Sketches by Boz can be found here. And if you need a reminder about the schedule overall, it’s in my intro post here.
    1. Feel free to comment below (on this blog post) about your impressions of Week 2’s Sketches, or on twitter using the hashtag #DickensClub. Every evening I’ll be looking up the hashtag in case I’ve missed any posts!
    1. I’ll make a point of sharing my posts on this site via twitter, but just to be sure you don’t miss one, please feel free to subscribe by email, located on the right-hand sidebar.

Week One Wrap-Up:

What a week it has been, reading (or rereading) some of Dickens’ earliest published works, and the humor and social satire that are already so noticeable. Many have commented on some of the “types” ~ seen here in earlier form or prototype ~ that will become recognizable and more fully developed characters later. In the first Sketch, we saw a beadle who might remind us of Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist; the poor schoolmaster who is something of a foreshadowing of the kindly schoolmaster we’ll meet in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Hints of the pathos that are blended with the satire and humor are already evident, particularly late in “The Broker’s Man”; some have remarked more on the pathos, some more on the humor—e.g. about the curate in the second Sketch. Laura S, Henry, Connie, Dana, Daniel, Oliver, Boze, Jessica, Yvonne and Christine (Chris) all had absolutely wonderful comments and quotes!

Henry and I had chosen a few favorites quotes that occasionally overlapped, and he pointed out the humor that is occasionally Wodehousian; Connie shared her absolutely glorious copy of Sketches with us; Laura describes Dickens using “his cleverness to show the terrible wrongness of things that people took (and in other forms still take) for granted” and “Dickens does mostly seem to save the sharper uses of his wit to skewer those who truly deserve it”; Boze felt the exuberance of the young man walking about London, eager to capture it for posterity; Dana mentioned some “types” that we would later see, e.g. the “small tyrant” of the master of the workhouse in the first; Daniel observes that Dickens has already placed himself as “Society’s Grand Jester” and gives us cautionary notes about our foibles. Yvonne discussed “The Ladies’ Societies” with a recollection to her own experience in volunteerism, and a nod to a particular volunteer with an obsession for dust mites ~ it was positively Dickensian! We discussed the satire, the wit, the pathos, and, as Chris pointed out, also the “immaturity” of Dickens here in lack of character development (also, however, satire of a “type” rather than a lack of development), and in the things he points out for us to reconsider: e.g. “spinsters,” of whom we’ll meet a good many during our journey. Loved this comment she made on the blog, on “The Broker’s Man”:

“Regarding the Leader of the Official Party’s complaint that ‘the daily journals . . . never give verbatim reports of vestry meetings’ speeches: during his time as a shorthand court reporter CD earned a reputation for speed and accuracy. He was often asked for by name by certain politicians to attend their speeches because they knew that if he took down their speech it could be printed, verbatim, in the next day’s newspaper.”

~Chris M.

That precision, that accuracy that made Dickens sought out as a court reporter is also what gives the Sketches that astuteness of observation. They are an occasionally painful mirror of societal and individual foibles, and perhaps make us more keenly aware of our own. Though we may not meet any particular character with the depth that we’ll encounter them in later works, our hearts might still be moved or our laughter awakened. (My heart is still with the poor schoolmaster, and I think Jessica, Laura S, and I are still with him in spirit as he walks up and down the courtyard at the end of the first Sketch.)

Members have also commented on some of the themes and subjects that would be so much more developed later in Dickens’ works ~ particularly summarized at the beginning of the first Sketch.

A Look Ahead to Week Two:

This week, we move on from the first section of Sketches under the heading “Our Parish” ~ with today’s, called “Our Next-door Neighbor” ~ and onto the beginning of the “Scenes.” Again, feel free to go more quickly or slowly! But if you’re reading exactly one Sketch a day as scheduled, here’s where we’re at, with links to individual Sketches via The Circumlocution Office, though the entire work can also be accessed via Gutenberg and elsewhere:

Tues, 11 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter One: “The Streets—Morning”

Wed, 12 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Two: “The Streets—Night”

Thurs, 13 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Three: “Shops and their Tenants”

Fri, 14 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Four: “Scotland Yard”

Sat, 15 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Five: “Seven Dials”

Sun, 16 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Six: “Meditations on Monmouth Street”

Mon, 17 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Seven: “Hackney-coach Stands”

54 Comments

  1. Dickensian Wren, this recap is invaluable! And the schedule for the coming week with associated links.

    Thanks much for so diligently and delightfully doing this labor of Dickensian love!

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  2. Just re-reading “The Streets – Morning.” Dickens is truly the Seer of the Largely Unseen–things we mere mortals miss! Such a keen eye and ready pen!

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  3. I just want to comment on Chapter 7 – Our Next-Door Neighbour before the day is out and week 2 begins.

    I love it when CD gives a treatise on a common, every day object with the purpose of giving it enhanced meaning as he does here with the door knocker. Objects as people, people as objects – it’s a style (treatment, form, characteristic?) that will become a hallmark of CD’s writing. Through analogy, parable, fable he gets at a greater thing by means of a lesser thing. Then he contemplates the shift from door knocker to door bell and is not convinced that this innovation is a good thing, certainly not for judging the character of the resident of the household because the bell is impersonal, generic, whereas the knocker had personality, animation.

    How easily CD shifts from comedy to tragedy in the story of the next-door neighbor’s lodgers. After the absurdity of the “roystering single gentleman” and his friends, the unexpected theft of “the shirt, the prayer-book, a teaspoon, and the bedclothes” by the “serious, well-disposed man, who abhorred gaiety, and loved retirement” gives us pause yet does not entirely prepare us for the jolt that is the ending of the sad story of the widow and her son.

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    1. Yeah, it’s quite uncanny how he manipulates these shifts. The reader is probably barely aware of what is happening psychologically to her/his responses, here, or the way Dickens is controlling the reader’s response. The writer drills us down through the soft, fluffy comedy to the bedrock of hardcore tragedy. He’s merciless with his control of our responses–especially when he’s so tragically graphic! Got to watch out for this guy, as he’s developing his fiction strategies!

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  4. Chapter 1 – The Streets – Morning: I hope everyone has a copy of the Sketches with illustrations. If not they can be found here: https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/. – The illustration for this sketch depicts an early 19th century Starbucks, complete with a drowsy patron and a very short line.

    This sketch is so quaint (meant in a strictly positive way) and evocative of the times. I wonder what a contemporary reader would have thought of it – would they have appreciated its documentary nature or simply thought it was a silly piece of fluff writing. As a historical document it makes it so easy to visualize the scene, it could be used to stage set a movie or play (see, e.g., Guy Ritchie’s 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” movie).

    I particularly like the sweet and saucy little vignette of the housemaids and “Mr Todd’s young man over the way”. I also appreciate the comment about “that odd feeling produced by travelling, which makes the events of yesterday morning seem as if they had happened at least six months ago” – timely for me because 3 days ago (feels like a month ago) I woke up at 4:15am to take a 6am flight from Florida to St. Louis, arriving at 8:30am which felt like noon.

    Note – Spontaneous combustion, mentioned here (1835) – will be put in CD’s hip pocket to be brought out again in Bleak House (1852).

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    1. Sweet and saucy…yes…but also sly sexuality. The writing definitely humanizes and individualizes these characters. And, of course, universalizes their behavior. This happens everywhere, all the time. I also enjoy the Democratic sense of mutual admiration that Dickens presents. The women are just as “interested” in the boy as he is of them. In other words the “gaze” goes both ways! Will this mutuality play out as our readings progress?

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  5. Got to my reading later today ~ I agree with Cassandra & Chris & thought instantly of Bleak House w/ the mention of spontaneous combustion! 😬 😄

    He really captured the slow awakening of the city, from the “stillness of death” over the streets, to the “rakish-looking cat” and the servants making eyes at each other as they collect the milk & take down the shutters. There is definitely that early-morning half-life that is so distinctive on walks before/at sunrise.

    And his poking fun at those who, when they do get going about their business, pass the same people that they’ve passed for 20 years, but pass them by unacknowledged ~ and that quote: “As to stopping to shake hands, or to take take the friend’s arm, they seem to think that, as it is not included in their salary, they have no right to do it.”

    And so another day begins!

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    1. Rach: yeah, a common theme again–social stratification. My god, “Sketches” is working like a writing lab for all that follows. He’s barely in his 20’s and the sociologist in him seems so we’ll developed and functional.

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  6. As I read all of the very insightful, helpful, illuminating comments, I was thinking about Dickens, the Alchemist. The secoind definition in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows: a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way.

    Amen. I rest my case. Dickens can take the most ordinary things and refashion them into mystery!

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  7. By the way, I was walking as I liistened to the plight of the widow and son . . . and the son’s death. Oh, Dickens! Heart-wrenching–especially after the fairly light-hearted description of the two previous renters.

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  8. Scenes – Chapter 2 – The Streets – Night: Whenever I read this sketch I think about CD’s long nocturnal walks and this as his stream of consciousness as he goes along. I also think about his 12 year old self, alone in London, working at the blacking factory, walking to & from his lodgings. Nothing to distract him but his observation, imagination, and insight. What a terrible, yet incredible, training ground for the future novelist.

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  9. I’m really caught up in The Structure of this “Night” sequence. At first it appears to set forth a traditional essay format, with an introductory paragraph announcing the topic of what follows, and then proceeds to give a number of examples to bear out the premise that the night time in the city is a beautifully wrought, gloriously lit place and time–even though there is a misty rain on the oily street, and that what follows is pretty equivocal as to its beauty and pleasantness. Maybe, in retrospect, it’s just a downright nasty time and place!

    What follows this ironic intro are a number of vignettes that display both the positive and negative attributes of nightlife in the city, with close-ups of neighbors sharing tea and muffins with each other, a series of vendors trying to sell their goods to afterwork commuters, a lone woman, half-dressed and sadly singing, with a sodden child on her hip, and tavern scenes filled with men becoming ever more boisterous in what might be termed a hellish male/macho rave.

    Through all this activity, the “beautiful” mist turns into a driving rain, so torrential that it sends everyone scampering for cover–all but the lone woman and her baby who, as the narrator hints, will probably die that night.

    But here is the interesting structural twist! At the end of this apparent “essay,” the narrator “pulls the curtain,” as though he’s just presented us with a “drama”! And, in fact, there are numerous references in the last half of this sketch that refer to theater, performances, a glee, etc. And these references along with the curtain pulling tend to make me reverse my earlier observation that this piece is a traditional essay. Isn’t it really a drama with a kind of master of ceremonies who sets out the various “scenes” –watches with us as they play out, and then becomes the curtain-closer as this play comes to its conclusion?

    I think this is Dickensian theater masquerading as a “sketch.”

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    1. Lenny, I loved these thoughts…and of course, “all the world’s a stage,” and particularly so to Dickens. It was interesting …I’ve been (very slowly) rereading my favorite bio of him, my beloved Peter Ackroyd bio (who, like my friend Boze has said, writes biography the way Dickens might) and in the bio we’re still in Dickens’ early haunts, e.g. Ordnance Terrace at Chatham near Rochester, where the 5-9 yr old Dickens spent 4 yrs, but Rochester was to have a huge impact on his imagination, for a place hearkening back to the past, as a cathedral town. (What Cloisterham is based on, in Edwin Drood, for example…) Anyway, what I meant to get at was that Dickens & fam were neighbors with a suspiciously-familiar sounding “old lady” and a “half-pay captain” (both of whom we meet in the first Sketch and a little subsequently.

      Somehow, it’s as though his vision of the London streets and its inhabitants, in all its theatricality, is morphing with or caught up in his own imagination and childhood recollections?

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  10. Oh yeah, I agree. The imaginative going back and recasting from the “dross” is exactly what we were saying about Dickens as alchemist yesterday! “Art and Alchemy” is a solid Jungian concept and no doubt Jungian critics have a field day with Dickens! Does your biographer make any references to Dickens in the context of Jung?

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    1. That would be pure gold! I don’t recollect Ackroyd making that overt parallel, but the very **way** he writes about Dickens ~ early memories, recurring themes, haunting motifs ~ **are** exactly that. Jungian and profound parallels. Even in Dickens’ novels structurally, there is a pattern of circularity, of things coming back round again, refined, anew. Or recast. Or even, redeemed. The whole of his writing, and the biography too, is saturated with these ideas ~ perhaps that is one of the many reasons Dickens is so…satisfying? It all comes round again, in some mysterious ebb & flow, like the sea that is always with him!

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      1. Yes, bringing “stuff” out of one’s shadow and into the light of day. Dealing with it rather than pushing it down and out of sight–maybe becoming ossified or suicidal! I feel like Dickens doing this so early on might have saved his life. The scars as you and others have put it were obviously indelible and traumatic. Hence, he needed to repeat the artistic journey repeatedly– in the manner of, say, Hitchcock or Howard Hawks.

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  11. Further to Rach & Lenny’s discussion:
    P. 97-98 Corrupt Relations by Barickman, MacDonald & Stark – “Basic patterns in character and situation persist throughout Dickens’ fiction because his psychological and thematic interests remain remarkably consistent throughout his career, much more consistent than various attempts to demarcate early, middle, and late periods, comic and ‘dark’ novels, may suggest. . . . In fact, the symbolic roles of characters rather than their manifest social roles give coherence to all Dickens’ novels.”

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    1. Thanks for that quote, Chris ~ that sounds like a fascinating read! I’ll have to add it to the wish list. I agree that though there is a different tone in various “periods” (which again isn’t so simple to demarcate) and Dickens enthusiasts had preferences (Forster thought Pickwick, for example, inferior to his later works, whereas Chesterton preferred the earlier, as I recall) yet…to use the motif in A Tale of Two Cities, there are “echoes” of all of these recurring themes ~ and even echoes of the tone ~ throughout. That “coherence” really is marvelous! Maybe certain themes were more developed here, or there ~ but they are all there in some form or other, throughout. I was thinking of that line of Mr Lorry’s, and how Dickens must have put something of his own mind in it, though he was still young at its writing (and too young at his own death): “For as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning.”

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      1. This may be getting ahead of ourselves, and this is certainly not an original idea, but it becomes clear that through his works CD strives to work through his demons – both good and bad – and never quite comes to terms with them – his relationship(s) with women, his feelings about his parents, his money insecurity, his thoughts on government, institutions, Christian charity, hypocrisy, to name a few. As we read through his works please keep an eye out for how his thoughts evolve – some change, others do not. It’s really fascinating.

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    2. Interesting, then, that we are seeing these patterns being introduced so early in these sketches. But already, it seems, that there are certain themes, characters, psychological and sociological insights even in these sketches that are beginning to repeat themselves. I don’t say this in a critical way, but they just seem to naturally happen, as though Dickens needs to get them out there. So as Chris and Rach suggest, we have a lot to look forward to in the works that follow, and we can see how well or often these patterns play out.

      I’ve never read the “Sketches” before, so I’m just blown away by their professionalism: their the language, their structure, and the DENSITY of the prose! I mentioned the Men’s “Rave” section of the Night sketch, which to me is an amazing example of the density which I refer to. It’s a very complex series of ideas and details that are just piled up upon one and another–like a Jazz saxophonist just riffing in very fast and erudite fashion a complicated but delightful solo. Here Dickens is “riffing” to beat the band, as my father would say….

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  12. Day 10 – “Shops & their Tenants” –I did my reading earlier today. Here we have a whole summation of the Sketches, in the first line of this one: “What inexhaustible food for speculation do the streets of London afford!” I love how CD expresses his lack of sympathy for anyone who can walk up and down these streets without finding some amusement, some food for thought –those who are “plodding” and “linger listlessly past, looking as happy and animated as a policeman on duty. Nothing seems to make an impression on their minds; nothing short of being knocked down by a porter, or run over by a cab, will disturb their equanimity.” I take this not only as a testament to the sheer overwhelming *interest* of London, but really as a reflection on how we live our lives no matter where we are. Do we look, but don’t *see*? Do we see, really see, those around us? Not to mention, the natural wonders that meet our eyes daily? I’ve been trying to make a point of taking a walk daily, no matter the weather, and even if it has to be shorter than I’d like, largely for that reason—to see the wonder of it all. To paraphrase an oft-quoted idea of Chesterton, “the world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.” If that’s something we can take from these Sketches, it’s the renewed interest in those too-often-overlooked things and people, sights, sounds, smells, atmospheres around us ~ and not live as though we were sleepwalking through life.

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    1. Wren: What a marvelous opening sentence, eh. And all the seeing and not seeing that follows! It’s so fitting for all of us, anywhere, anytime. And, as usual, the narrator follows up with more unique, funny and ironic details! But then he gives the reader an over the top hyperbolic example of a house/shop/shops that he’s fixated on during his walks. And he personalizes this location as a friend (or friends?) while he continues with the descriptions of the various tenants and permutations and remodels of this space! More riffings, as I said in an earlier post, of a situation or object, much as he does with the door knockers. This anthropomorphizing of inanimate objects really intrigues me, and reminds me of the Lake poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, and friends) who did much the same thing with their natural surroundings. Will this be typical of Dickens’ later work?

      Also, and this is a bit far out: is Dickens becoming a kind of lay preacher????

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      1. I love that: “this anthropomorphizing of inanimate objects”. I’m intrigued by how layered his tendency to do this is. It’s partly that, and **places** themselves have a character, or even **are** a character. I read the Scotland Yard sequence early and will comment on it shortly, partly bc I have a long (32hr) shift ahead of me, but the Yard itself has a character; then, the old man comes to almost represent the Yard as it *was* ~ a personification of “*old* Scotland-Yard”. But then, Dickens will turn the tables as it were, and almost make characters into furniture! Like the four Miss Willis sisters in the earlier “Four Sisters” Sketch, comparing them to “a set” of chairs.

        Intrigued by the idea of Dickens as a lay preacher…certainly, already here he has so much to say, without sermonizing, on how we walk past so much, without *seeing.* Really seeing.

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  13. Chris brings up the question of “Demons,” and among them mentions women–maybe as a gender issue that our dear novelist is working through. Any ideas about how this woman/women/gender issue surfaces in the “Sketches” so far???

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  14. I’m quoting at some length the “Rave” section I keep referring to from the “Night Sketch’; the density of detail in such a small space of time just amazes me. Detail which is picturesque (could be painted, and photographic (could be a wonderful short film). Enjoy:

    “In a lofty room of spacious dimensions, are seated some eighty or a hundred guests knocking little pewter measures on the tables, and hammering away, with the handles of their knives, as if they were so many trunk-makers. They are applauding a glee, which has just been executed by the three ‘professional gentlemen’ at the top of the centre table, one of whom is in the chair—the little pompous man with the bald head just emerging from the collar of his green coat. The others are seated on either side of him—the stout man with the small voice, and the thin-faced dark man in black. The little man in the chair is a most amusing personage,—such condescending grandeur, and such a voice!

    ‘Bass!’ as the young gentleman near us with the blue stock forcibly remarks to his companion, ‘bass! I b’lieve you; he can go down lower than any man: so low sometimes that you can’t hear him.’ And so he does. To hear him growling away, gradually lower and lower down, till he can’t get back again, is the most delightful thing in the world, and it is quite impossible to witness unmoved the impressive solemnity with which he pours forth his soul in ‘My ’art’s in the ’ighlands,’ or ‘The brave old Hoak.’ The stout man is also addicted to sentimentality, and warbles ‘Fly, fly from the world, my Bessy, with me,’ or some such song, with lady-like sweetness, and in the most seductive tones imaginable.

    ‘Pray give your orders, gen’l’m’n—pray give your orders,’—says the pale-faced man with the red head; and demands for ‘goes’ of gin and ‘goes’ of brandy, and pints of stout, and cigars of peculiar mildness, are vociferously made from all parts of the room. The ‘professional gentlemen’ are in the very height of their glory, and bestow condescending nods, or even a word or two of recognition, on the better-known frequenters of the room, in the most bland and patronising manner possible.

    The little round-faced man, with the small brown surtout, white stockings and shoes, is in the comic line; the mixed air of self-denial, and mental consciousness of his own powers, with which he acknowledges the call of the chair, is particularly gratifying. ‘Gen’l’men,’ says the little pompous man, accompanying the word with a knock of the president’s hammer on the table—‘Gen’l’men, allow me to claim your attention—our friend, Mr. Smuggins, will oblige.’—‘Bravo!’ shout the company; and Smuggins, after a considerable quantity of coughing by way of symphony, and a most facetious sniff or two, which afford general delight, sings a comic song, with a fal-de-ral—tol-de-ral chorus at the end of every verse, much longer than the verse itself. It is received with unbounded applause, and after some aspiring genius has volunteered a recitation, and failed dismally therein, the little pompous man gives another knock, and says ‘Gen’l’men, we will attempt a glee, if you please.’ This announcement calls forth tumultuous applause, and the more energetic spirits express the unqualified approbation it affords them, by knocking one or two stout glasses off their legs—a humorous device; but one which frequently occasions some slight altercation when the form of paying the damage is proposed to be gone through by the waiter.

    Scenes like these are continued until three or four o’clock in the morning; and even when they close, fresh ones open to the inquisitive novice. But as a description of all of them, however slight, would require a volume, the contents of which, however instructive, would be by no means pleasing, we make our bow, and drop the curtain.”

    Of course the “drama” idea I mentioned in my earlier analysis of the structure is present here at the end with the final sentence, but as I was reading this again, it suddenly struck me that maybe the writer, viewer, master of ceremonies was just fed up with this wild and crazy spectacle, especially when juxtaposed with the other elements of this “sketch.” He drew the curtain with some disgust!??

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  15. Scenes – Chapter 3 – Shops and their Tenants: CD opens with a plea to “discontented” listless, unimpressionable men and “thoughtless females” to open their eyes and observe – but in singling out these two CD is really imploring, encouraging everyone to do so! His sketches give us the blueprint to do so. As Lenny points out, nothing escapes CD’s notice – such detail in such confined spaces. This tells us there is much, much more to be seen than what we see.
    I am also intrigued by CD propensity to follow the downwardly mobile – perhaps because that was his early experience and because he wants to keep these folk and their trajectory in the public eye, to not be overlooked or forgotten as is so easy to do. His message is one of charity – not so much in terms of giving alms but in just being kind – to SEE each other – again more to be seen than what we see.

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    1. Oh man, Chris, that’s so well said. You’re so right; again and again the poor and down trodden are set either in the foreground, the background or in the shadows. Almost buried in the night Sketch is the wet lonely woman singing for SOME kind of recognition or help! Folks pass her by as though she doesn’t exist, even though her suffering includes a poor baby held by her no doubt weakened arms. Finally she has to sit! I’m sure Dickens could have foregrounded this character and built a story around her. He has the talent. But that’s possibly another potential narrative.

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      1. Thanks, Lenny. Thinking quickly, and I’m sure there are a lot more, CD does revisits the poor woman and her baby in Bleak House in the character of Jenny, the Bricklayer’s wife, whose child dies while Esther, Ada & Richard accompany Mrs Pardiggle on her “philanthropic” visit. Esther does indeed see these poor people, unlike Mrs Pardiggle.

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  16. Oh my, how sad! He just seems to drop these poor women into such dreadful circumstances to, maybe awaken us, the readers, to their plight?

    But as you also say to take measure of his characters Sympathies or lack thereof. I obviously have to prepare myself for this emotional experience!

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  17. Chris: as we consider women in Dickens (or how women are treated in his writings) how do we describe the women in these events? Women as victims–or some such thing?

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    1. Gee, what a question! A dissertation topic! And the subject of much scholarship already – see as a starting point Prof. Michael Slater’s fantastic book, Dickens and Women. But, since you ask for my opinion, I must first make this disclaimer: I am an autodidact Dickensian and this is just my opinion. I’d need a lot more time to cite sources.

      I don’t think, at this point, CD writes of these women to identify them as “women who are victims” but to identify them as “people who are victims” of bad or non-existent social systems. Here he is simply, I think, enumerating all the sad stories he sees, hence (it seems to me, correct me if I’m wrong) the time given to these unfortunate women in the sketches thus far is less than that given to unfortunate men.

      That said, however, CD is shrewd and grasps the value of good material. He knows that women in this time period (and children for that matter) are the most at risk personages because they have the least (i.e., no) rights. He will use them to emphasize his point of social failure. He will shortly shift to pointedly portraying “women as victims” (both the Nancy’s and the Little Nell’s) because he knows the contradictory truth that though “society” closes its eye to destitute females, it also loves them as tragic frail angels who tug at one’s heart (and hopefully purse and legislative) strings.

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      1. Chris what a marvelous reflection! And part of Dickens’ representation of the young, truly good, tragic women figures (Little Nell) which he has sometimes been criticized for since, comes from his experience of losing Mary Hogarth; but I agree that there is something also of intent here; to awaken the reader to the “social failure” as you put it, which causes these tragedies. Beautifully said!

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  18. Chris, A wonderfully complete answer to my question and gets to the heart of Dickens as a professional writing for an audience. And there is the very humane notion, shared by at least some of his readers, that women (as you say) are most at risk.

    At the same time, We readers see other women in the Night Sketch portrayed as wholesome house keepers, sharing muffins and tea with each other, perhaps a kind of ideal Victorian portrait of what women should be and do, also welcoming the one husband home after work with a buttered muffin. That picture is juxtaposed with the tragic figure of the woman with her baby. Is this contrast for effect purely, then, to gain emotional response from the reader, is it showing gender “types” without criticism, or is it merely realistic presentation? I know he’s a young writer dealing with material from the streets of London, but there is a conscious representation here.

    Yes, as you say, some of the men here–the various vendors– are definitely suffering, probably at or near poverty. However, we have a huge segment of men who have mobility, go to taverns, sing and socialize and drink with each other–into and past the wee hours of the morning. What a contrast between the 2 genders. The mens’ roles seem sort of random and unfixed, with ALL kinds of freedom with lots of choices. I suppose the majority of Dickens’ audience would applaud and accept this behavior as only natural for men– perhaps the order of things as they should be. But I’m not so sure the writer sympathizes with this behavior, maybe because it’s just too drawn out, too excessive, too noisy, too rowdy. But it’s still hard to say for sure.

    Nevertheless, what a contrast between men and women in this sketch; so the ultimate question is–where does Charles Dickens morally, ethically stand, here? Even at this young age….

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Chris: I agree with Rach, here. The phrase “social failure” is quite a potent one. Seems applicable to these early sketches as well as the novels–at least the ones that I remember. But aren’t there some social “successes,” here, also?

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    1. Such a great question, Lenny. I’d like to know more, and reflect on this more ~ the idea of the social successes. Certainly, in individuals and organizations, there were successes, and Dickens was such a huge supporter of many charitable movements and organizations ~ we have the Jarndyces of the world in folks like him. When I was making my daily #DickensDecember posts on twitter, I came to realize just a little fraction of all the charitable work and speech-making (now too much forgotten) that Dickens did! His energy and efforts were truly amazing!! For the Ragged Schools, homes for women and the Great Ormond St childrens’ hospital, the widows and orphans of deceased Commercial Travelers, etc…the list goes on, it is astounding. Certainly, to make society aware of these things (the horrors of the workhouse, the Yorkshire schools, etc etc) was huge…did he have **hope** for real societal/governmental change? Hard to say…certainly, the new Poor Law was of very recent date, which Dickens was Hugely critical of, as it gave so much emphasis to “parish”-level administration (in other words…the workhouse, most dreaded of eventualities). I’d really like to know more on this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At least indirectly (or, maybe directly) in the sketches his sympathy for the poor and the outcasts comes through, and this is early during the writing of the “Sketches” where he’s young, and as far as I know, not contributing to or speaking about charities. But what a man, as you state, to be so involved with the plight of the underprivileged so directly as and when he realized his ability to do so. Wow! Feels like he accomplished an amazing amount of charity work!

        Also, I’m wondering about “social successes’ in the context of the “Sketches.” There are people living the “good life” in my favorite sketch (” Night”) as we see the group of women sharing muffins and tea and complimenting the “nice” muffin boy, and their sharing and good-natured community is certainly one of the fun positives in that piece of writing. And before that, Dickens briefly gives us images of the more prosperous behind doors, warmed by their fires and safe from the nastiness of the outside weather. I think we as readers might call these “social successes.” Domestic happiness is shown to be happy and probably fulfilling.

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    2. There are, indeed, successful people in Dickens – Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield spring to mind, but there are many others. Successful people are (again, correct me if I am wrong) usually successful because of their own hard work and their networking – Nickleby via the Cheeryble Brothers and Copperfield via so many people. Success very rarely, if at all, comes from “social institutions” – more often than not, social institutions are the cause of mis-placed ambition – Uriah Heep is the product of “a foundation school boys” e.g.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I have to get ready for my long live-in shift, but I wanted to just jump in quickly for Day 11 on Scotland Yard. Of course, I immediately think of the police force ~ which would have been of very recent date as of the publication of this sketch. I had to look it up; the London police force was established by Sir Robert Peel (hence the name “bobbies”) in 1829, and the police became somewhat associated with the name (due to its location) “Scotland Yard” as early as 1830.

    Here, the police is mentioned, but Dickens is giving us more of a sense of the *place* ~ of the old London, and the new. The old, with its heavy atmosphere of smoke and darkly-wainscoted public houses geared towards those in the coal trade; the glowing fire; the ever-present River with her ancient legends. Change came to Scotland Yard: “Improvement began to march with rapid strides to the very threshold of Scotland-yard. A new market sprung up at Hungerford, and the Police Commissioners established their office in Whitehall-place.” The eating-house keeper, however, who “manfully resisted the innovation of table cloths,” had a few staunch old loyalists to the old yard; “the old heavers still assembled round the ancient fireplace, but their talk was mournful: and the loud song and the joyous shout were heard no more.”

    Interesting, this mournful note in the change from old London’s little corner with its piers and its dark public house and its smoky atmosphere; this corner which is personified in the old man who appears at the end like the “presiding genius of Scotland-yard…brooding over the past.”

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  21. Scenes – Chapter 4 – Scotland-yard – This is very much a nostalgic piece. Pining for the old ways; looking ahead at the new ways with regret at what is being lost. CD does this a lot, which is not surprising given his history. I think he reluctantly embraces progress, and knows that the old ways are not sustainable. What he misses most is the homeyness of the old ways, the sit around the fire with a pipe and an ale or, if you are a lady, your mending or knitting and a cup of tea; the conviviality of the home or cozy pub. “And what is Scotland-yard now? How have its old customers changed; and how has the ancient simplicity of its inhabitants faded away!” Note, the second sentence is not a question but an exclamation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chris and Rach:

      This nostalgia and the idea of the old being replaced by the new, as you two point out so well, is something we all, or most have probably seen and felt. My wife and I used to visit many older haunts in Portland, and loved them so much, that we’d go up there alone or with friends at least a couple of times a month. Now we rarely go because so many fun places have disappeared, taken over by swanker places, demolished to make way for more expensive, “urban renewal” projects, or behemoth box stores. The shops (which seem to be special places in Dickens heart or of great concern and interest to him in the Sketches) have been replaced by boutiques specializing in stuff that we aren’t interested in or are way too expensive.

      As Dickens presents these changing commercial endeavors in two of these sketches, we readers respond with nostalgia but also with the sense of change (progress) being inevitable. Hence, the mutability of things seems to be a major idea, here, and there is, too, the idea that “we,” generally, are unable to stop this timeless movement in the name of “progress.”

      Another key notion, and he is very specific about pointing this out, is the effect (most often dire) the various changes have on the shopkeepers. In Tenants, he gives so many instances of specific owners suffering because they can’t make a go of it with their various establishments. He really feels for these people, and makes the point that behind these closed doors there are many tragic failures that go far beyond the loss of capital, hard work and time. In one instance, he intimates that the slow downward closure of one shop will lead to the death of the proprietor’s daughter!

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Hey friends! Popping in during a quiet moment at work, and will go ahead and post thoughts about day 12 (Seven Dials) now, as things will get busy later and I won’t be home until late Sat night! Looking forward to catching up with comments!

    I did a bit of looking up about Seven Dials. Having the idea of it as a very impoverished area of Victorian London, I was surprised that the one who originally laid it out in the late 17th century (Thomas Neale, MP) “in a series of triangles to maximise the number of houses as rentals were charged per foot of frontage and not per square foot of interiors,” had intended it to become the most fashionable of London residences. (https://www.sevendials.co.uk/history) “Unfortunately, the area failed to establish itself as Neale hoped and deteriorated into a slum, renowned for its gin shops.”

    Sure enough, it’s the sadder Seven Dials that Dickens describes here, with their “half-dressed” residents ready to pitch into one another, and “buildings as ill-proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children that wallow in the kennels.” ☹ Misery, dirt, and “shops for the purchase of rags, bones, old iron, and kitchen stuff vie in cleanliness with the bird-fancier’s and rabbit dealer’s, which one might fancy so many arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them, would ever come back again.”

    What incredible, vivid detail Dickens gives in his “still life” of the place ~ hardly “still”! Poor Irish and English together, one floor battling another, with the cellar getting his moment, and the buildings themselves become the characters struggling for survival! Place-as-characrer again!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Chapter 5 – Seven Dials – Any social scientist or historian who wants to know what life was like for the poor in 1830’s London need go no further than this Sketch. The dirt and “unwholesome vapour” have so enveloped the Dials that “such fresh air as has found its way so far, . . . is too much exhausted already, to be enabled to force itself into the narrow alleys around”. The fresh air is, I think, a metaphor for things like ambition or drive. The unwholesome vapor of poverty has so pervaded these people’s lives that they are too exhausted to find or even imagine a different way of life.

    The manifestation of poverty is idleness. These folk are idle because they are at once overworked and underworked. What occupation they have is drone work – not calculated to stimulate their minds nor well-paying enough to stimulate their bellies. If they keep shops their neighbors are ill-equipped to patronize them in a sustainable way – perhaps the Brokers’ shop (pawnbroker that is) fares a bit better than the rest. The only distractions they have are each other and drinking. Without TV or social media they become entertainment for each other – comedy, drama, reality shows, crime shows. They all know each others’ business and react poorly when their business becomes the hot topic. They can barely take care of themselves, and often don’t.

    CD paints a colorful Sketch. We laugh at the squabbling housewives and the side squabbles; we recognize the listless pole leaners; we wonder that any people – even these people – can live in “streets of dirty, straggling houses, with now and then an unexpected court composed of buildings as ill-proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children that wallow in the kennels” (gutters). If the houses don’t make us ashamed of ourselves as a civilized society then the children should! But they do live in these houses because they have no option. And they take out their frustrations on – no surprise – each other.

    How many such places abound today in too many, many parts of the whole wide World.

    Today, Seven Dials is not quite fashionable but clean and accessible. I was there in 2012 for CD’s birthday and was not at all afraid to walk around the area. Shops, theaters, pubs, flats are there as well as the column in the center. It’s quite an interesting layout.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Chapter 6 – Meditations on Monmouth-street – Even though this sketch devolves for a bit into a dismal tale, I do love the imaginativeness of inhabiting clothing with wearers. CD’s talent for giving life to inanimate objects is unmatched. It brings such richness to his stories. In future he uses this as a way to illustrate an idea, emotion, institution, situation, etc. The shoes/boots, like the door knockers of “Our Next-door Neighbour”, describe their wearers in ways that simple description cannot. Since becoming immersed in CD over the past many years, I tend to see stories in people, things and situations that in a way that is most enjoyable and that fills otherwise tedious situations with great amusement (like waiting in line, or sitting at the airport or in traffic). There are stories all around us, we just need to look for them or, if that fails, we can just make them up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I loved that aspect of this Sketch too, Chris! Found myself so amused at the end, at our narrator wondering whether, this entire time, he’d been “rudely staring at the old lady for half an hour without knowing it”! I can so imagine Dickens, so caught up in the richness of his own mind palace that the images in his mind become more real than the “real” world he inhabits at any given moment. And speaking of mind palace, there is such a Sherlockian, though more fanciful, vibe about trying to “see” the histories of the clothing’s former owners, simply by observing in great detail the various marks of wear on them!

      Liked by 2 people

  25. Wren and Chris: wonderful writing, here, about the “Dials” and “Monmouth” sketches. Very interesting Chris is your comment about visiting the Dials and finding your way through it as it is now, much more “gentrified” and safer-seeming than the place that Dickens wrote about, and this suggestion takes me back to the “Scotland Yard ” sketch and the mutability idea–that change is inevitable and that, at some point, one, in later years, might have forgotten what the early years were like. In this instance, maybe the Dickens’ nostalgia might not apply. The past “struggles” that he writes about in the early London of the 30’s would have lost their creative inspiration with the more advanced modernization that has taken place. That the conditions were so bad, then, that better situations for the people living there would make up for the loss of the picturesque which he so fondly needs in order to get his writing machine going. But maybe not….

    My overwhelming interest in these two sketches is Dickens love affair with Catalogues, Lists of Ideas, people and things, and activity, that he really enjoys putting on paper and in print! Here’s a brief example from the “Dials” sketch:

    “…in vessels as dirty as ‘the Dials’ themselves; and shops for the purchase of rags, bones, old iron, and kitchen-stuff, vie in cleanliness with the bird-fanciers and rabbit-dealers, which one might fancy so many arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them, would ever come back again. Brokers’ shops, which would seem to have been established by humane individuals, as refuges for destitute bugs, interspersed with announcements of day-schools, penny theatres, petition-writers, mangles, and music for balls or routs, complete the ‘still life’ of the subject; and dirty men, filthy women, squalid children, fluttering shuttlecocks, noisy battledores, reeking pipes, bad fruit, more than doubtful oysters, attenuated cats, depressed dogs, and anatomical fowls, are its cheerful accompaniments.”

    What is so notable is his tendency to let the string of details just run freely, as though he could list these items indefinitely–just for the purpose of letting these words roll off the tip of his tongue or the lead of his pencil. This man is in love with language and will riff with words like a good musician does with notes. It reminds me a bit of a Robin Williams monologue, where he seems to be caught in some mind/space , in some kind of trance , letting words and ideas just spill out so rapidly that he hardly has time to think about what he is saying. Just a pent up , dammed up mind that has to let go.

    And, speaking of Trance, as Wren has suggested in her analysis of the Monmouth sketch, here is another catalogue –more in the form of a very imaginative dream narrative–that is more typical of this very incredible sketch. It originates from the narrator while sort of locked into a specific mind set he is largely unaware of:

    “A very smart female, in a showy bonnet, stepped into a pair of grey cloth boots, with black fringe and binding, that were studiously pointing out their toes on the other side of the top-boots, and seemed very anxious to engage his attention, but we didn’t observe that our friend the market-gardener appeared at all captivated with these blandishments; for beyond giving a knowing wink when they first began, as if to imply that he quite understood their end and object, he took no further notice of them. His indifference, however, was amply recompensed by the excessive gallantry of a very old gentleman with a silver-headed stick, who tottered into a pair of large list shoes, that were standing in one corner of the board, and indulged in a variety of gestures expressive of his admiration of the lady in the cloth boots, to the immeasurable amusement of a young fellow we put into a pair of long-quartered pumps, who we thought would have split the coat that slid down to meet him, with laughing.

    We had been looking on at this little pantomime with great satisfaction for some time, when, to our unspeakable astonishment, we perceived that the whole of the characters, including a numerous corps de ballet of boots and shoes in the background, into which we had been hastily thrusting as many feet as we could press into the service, were arranging themselves in order for dancing; and some music striking up at the moment, to it they went without delay. It was perfectly delightful to witness the agility of the market-gardener. Out went the boots, first on one side, then on the other, then cutting, then shuffling, then setting to the Denmark satins, then advancing, then retreating, then going round, and then repeating the whole of the evolutions again, without appearing to suffer in the least from the violence of the exercise.”

    Here, Dickens just opens up the floodgates and things, activities, people, ideas–just pour out in one fluid, very creative set piece of imaginative writing, while staring at one particular woman, a barrel-organ playing at his back. Is this surreal, or what? In the cinema, it WOULD be a piece of surreal filmmaking!

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  26. Here is Shelley’s take on the inevitability of change:

    Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mutability” (1814-15; 1816)

    We are the clouds that veil the midnight moon;
    How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
    Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
    Night closes round, and they are lost forever:
    Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
    Give various response to each varying blast,
    To whose frail frame no second motion brings
    One mood or modulation like the last.
    We rest.–A dream has power to poison sleep;
    We rise.–One wandering thought pollutes the day;
    We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
    Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:
    It is the same!–For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free:
    Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; 1
    Nought may endure but Mutability.

    All of the poem is of particular relevance to the notions and creative manifestations of change we see in some of Boz’s sketches, but the last four lines, here, especially catch the tone of Dicken’s idea/s…. Of course, I’m really looking forward to how these “concerns” will play out in the novels! Or won’t they?

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  27. Lenny – Thank goodness CD wrote these things down – now, in one sense at least, they will never change because they will always be on the page. And I often think how much MORE we could have had – CD’s word output was huge with quill & ink, imagine what it would have been if he had had access to a laptop!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mr D with a laptop, yikes and double yikes? How many words per day would he have written?? And would they have the same intensity and density as they now have?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. … agreed!!! and if he’d lived longer. 💔 He just wore himself into the ground. But the more I think & read about Edwin Drood, the more I lament the loss of all we might’ve looked forward to…💔

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