Wherein we take a glance back at the second week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23; With a look ahead to week three.
Friends, we’re about to begin Week 3 of our Dickens Club. Again, a huge congrats, no matter where you’re at in the reading process, and a “thank you” for reading along with us!
A very warm welcome to any new members that have joined in, including Ruth (on twitter), and my dear friend (I can blame him more than a little for my Dickens obsession), Lenny!!
Little reminder: feel free to comment below this post for Week 3’s Sketches, so that our threads in previous posts don’t get so long that they become difficult to find ~ or comment on twitter with the hashtag #DickensClub. For any newer members: 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.
Henry (he and I have been marveling over some of the same quotes) has mentioned it’s still helpful to have The Circumlocution Office’s link to the daily Sketch on twitter, so I’ll continue that tradition—with a huge thanks to the most marvelous, joyously Dickensian account, the Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these ~ it has brought a sense of fun & camaraderie and has not only made more people aware of our group read, but has sent at least one person not currently reading with us to the library this week with the desire to read/reread these gems! 😊
Week Two Wrap-Up:
This week, starting with the first in the “Scenes” sequence (“The Streets—Morning”), we’ve seen London in its pre-dawn half-life, as the “bustle and animation” of the streets begins anew along with the sun, to the “dark, dull, murky winter’s night, when there is just enough damp gently stealing down to make the pavement greasy” (“The Streets—Night”). We’ve seen the servants flirting with each other as they take in the morning milk and open the shutters, to the enthusiasm of the prospect of buttered muffins at night. (What is it with Dickens and muffins?!) Then the heart-wrenching image of the “wretched woman with the infant in her arms, round whose meager form the remnant of her own scanty shawl is carefully wrapped,” trying to sing out a popular ballad against the rain, and her own tears. We’ve glimpsed old Scotland-Yard as it used to be, and Seven Dials as it is in the 1830s, and as it was never meant to be. We’ve seen, in Dickens’ imagination, so teeming with life, clothes in secondhand shops tell stories of their former owners.
What a fantastic week it was for discussion! Yvonne, Chris, Cassandra, and I all thought of Bleak House with the first mention of spontaneous combustion, and the “Morning” Sketch had Yvonne singing “My Time of Day” from Guys and Dolls. Laura S, after reading the “Night” Sketch, finds herself longing, like the Londoners, to have “a convivial gathering after some sort of entertaining performance” in the midst of this seemingly never-ending pandemic. Laura S and Yvonne both reflected on how Dickens, so gifted at rousing our sympathy for individuals in desperate situations, seems to have a less sympathetic view of the seedy culture of Seven Dials as a whole ~ “raffish and disreputable and faintly dangerous” (Yvonne) ~ with “no moment of deep concern for any particular person” (Laura S). And the three of us were put off by the opening antisemitic comment in “Meditations in Monmouth Street,” though it was followed by a very fanciful, almost Sherlockian (Yvonne added, Mr Bucket!) touch, as our narrator fancifully deduces the histories of the clothing’s former owners by observing them with the closest
detail. Can’t you just see Dickens himself getting so caught up in his mind palace that the characters he is daydreaming about are more real than those he’s around in our comparatively mundane world? Including a lady in one of the secondhand stores: “in the depth of our meditations we might have been staring at the old lady for half an hour without knowing it.” (On this note: Yvonne tracked down an image and info about a boy’s “skeleton suit” mentioned in this Sketch.)
Plex has noted how well Dickens captures that strange sense of time that one experiences when traveling ~ and Chris commented on this too!
Cassandra loved “Shops and their Tenants”: “Dickens could’ve written a whole book about a cursed building and I’d read every word of it.” Certainly, buildings in all his works become not only haunted by the spirits of their inhabitants, but the buildings seem to become characters too!
Daniel calls Dickens “the Seer of the Largely Unseen-things we mere mortals miss”; he is the “Alchemist” ~ as he takes “the most ordinary things and refashions them into mystery.” On that note, Chris loves 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 [in “The Streets—Morning”].”
Lenny reflects on Dickens-as-storyteller/craftsman; the way “Dickens is controlling the reader’s response. […] Got to watch out for this guy, as he’s developing his fiction strategies”—and, “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 well developed and functional.” He reflects also on the theatricality and the images of theater/drama in the “Night” Sketch particularly:
“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.’” Lenny has been enamored of the “Night” Sketch in particular. Lenny also asks us about gender roles in Dickens, even as early on as the Sketches, and how his thoughts develop. Chris suggests in her remarkable responses that he will use some of these characters ~ e.g. a Nancy or a Little Nell and other “at risk personages” in order “to emphasize his point of social failure.” What does Dickens think of the comparative freedom of the men we encounter, versus the more constrained lives of the women? In the midst of the whole crowd of people that we fail to really “see,” Lenny asks what we make of the women in particular: is Dickens calling our attention to them as victims? What are we to make of it all?
We’ve chatted about the circularity of Dickens’ interests/themes/motifs, and Lenny brought up the Jungian elements and Dickens’ recasting from the “dross” of childhood. I was reminded of my Ackroyd rereading recently ~ e.g. When Dickens lived near Rochester as a child, he was neighbors with a suspiciously familiar-sounding “old lady” and “half-pay captain.” It’s also one of the reasons, perhaps, why Dickens is so satisfying: as I mentioned, he writes in “a pattern of circularity, of things coming back round again, refined, anew. Or recast. Or even, redeemed. […] It all comes round again, in some mysterious ebb & flow, like the sea that is always with him!” Chris reflected on the importance of seeing how Dickens develops over the course of his work and life.
And friends, how cool is this: one of our members, Plex (on twitter), is reading Dickens in English for the first time! Isn’t that marvelous?
A Look Ahead to Week Three:
Today’s Sketch, the seventh in the “Scenes” sequence, is “Hackney-coach Stands,” and can be found here. Thank you, Chris, for the reminder about the illustrations that can be found on the Charles Dickens Page, if you don’t have a copy with illustrations! Since her reminder, I’ve been trying to include an illustration with the daily twitter link when there is one.
This week’s Sketches, if you’re continuing with one per day, would be as follows, with links to individual Sketches via The Circumlocution Office, though the entire work can also be accessed via Gutenberg and elsewhere:
Tues, 18 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Eight: “Doctors’ Commons”
Wed, 19 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Nine: “London Recreations”
Thurs, 20 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Ten: “The River”
Fri, 21 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Eleven: “Astley’s”
Sat, 22 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twelve: “Greenwich Fair”
Sun, 23 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Thirteen: “Private Theatres”
Mon, 24 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Fourteen: “Vauxhall Gardens by Day”