Dickens Club Week 4 (Sketches by Boz) and a Week 3 Wrap-up

Wherein we take a glance back at the third week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23; With a look ahead to week four.

Friends, we’re about to begin Week Four of our Dickens Club, and our last week in January! We’ll be halfway(ish) done with Sketches by Boz by this time next week…where has the time gone? As always, no matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! And again, a huge thanks to the most marvelous, joyously Dickensian account, the Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these, and keeping us all in sync!

General “Mems”*

I’ll just start with the little reminders: feel free to comment below this post for Week Four’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.

And speaking of new members, a warm welcome to our newest! Sarah has probably been reading along with us longer than I realized…welcome! And also a warm welcome to Jamie and Phyllis! So glad to have you all reading with us. And I believe that brings our member count to thirty!

Week Three Wrap-Up

Laura Doctors Commons commentAnother fantastic week for discussion. We finished off Week Two last Monday, with “Hackney-coach Stands,” and from there we visited “Doctors’ Commons” ~ which, as Chris pointed out, is certainly remote prep for Bleak House! Then onto the charming (and often poignant, as Lenny particularly noted, and as Daniel, Chris, and I also commented on) “London Recreations.” On this note, Chris posted a wonderful piece about Dickens and Women’s Education here on our siteSketches wk 3 henry comment, with some passages from Michael Slater for further reference. Then we saw an early manifestation of one of Dickens’ running ~ so to speak ~ themes in “The River.” From there we visited the circus at “Astley’s,” and off to enjoy other recreations with “Greenwich Fair” and “Private Theatres.”

sketches wk 3 rach commentOn “Doctor’s Commons,” Chris points out, “I think if we look hard enough we could find many of CD’s novels, at least aspects or foundations of them, in these Sketches.”

Daniel writes: “Dickens’ essential belevolence shines through; but, he can also level human avarice, greed, willful stupidity in such a delicious way.” Laura S was surprised that there weren’t “any particularly heartstring-tugging moments included” here.

Boze H reflects, “One can almost imagine a world in which Dickens resisted the impulse to write novels and became a celebrated chronicler of London, in the way Joyce boasted that you could re-construct Dublin in its entirety from the descriptions in Ulysses.”

sketches wk 3 lenny commentI personally adored Dickens’ nostalgic, though tongue-in-cheek, testament to inconvenience in “Hackney-Coach Stands” from the end of Week Two, and which we’ll see such testimony again and again, especially about Tellson’s Bank. Lenny pointed out, however, as to “Doctors’ Commons,” that, “in the legal system, the rigidity and trappings of the past are almost insurmountable,” and “some things our dear author just can’t be nostalgic about!”

sketches wk 3 chris commentBut we were all feeling a bit nostalgic about “London Recreations,” I think; Cassandra found it an “oasis to read about the pleasant afternoons and evenings spent in the gardens,” and Lenny writes (on the little wooden plant labels “like epitaphs to their memory”): “This description of the beginning stages of planting the garden is so intimate–that it almost makes me cry. Are these seeds being treated almost as thought, ultimately they are or will, as autumn approaches, be a sort of burial ground! And the labels a sort of memorializing touch?”

sketches wk 3 daniel commentChris adds: “As for the retired couple, their garden stands in place of their lost son…There are so many layers to Dickens’ writing!”

sketches wk 3 cassandra comment 2Then, on the comedy of “The River,” the stunts here, writes Lenny, are “worthy of Chaplin and Keaton in their prime”! And Cassandra agrees with Dickens’ assessment about those who haven’t been down the river before. 🙂 Chris notes especially the masterful portrayal of “awkward young men,” of whom we will meet many more examples in the months ahead!

Chris found us a fantastic image of Astley’s (below) and wondered whether we might find our Boz in the crowd…? And Cakes & Ale found us a fabulous view of Seven Dials, a few decades after Boz’s Sketch…if you recall that very interesting area of London from late in Week 2…

sketches wk 3 - astley's

sketches wk 3 cakes and ale comment

sketches wk 3 yvonne commentYvonne has been a Sleuth Extraordinaire, and shared so many fascinating links on her #DickensClub twitter threads, for various things referenced in the Sketches, which may be obscure to us now…everything from a “shell game” to womens’ head-coverings, to Miss Woolford, the equestrienne! Brava, Yvonne!

sketches wk 3 cassandra comment 1And Cassandra is making a bullet journal for her Dickens readalong! But friends, these are just a sampling of the many, many rich, insightful, delightful comments here and on twitter! I hope you’ve had a chance to dive in…

A Look-ahead to Week Four

Today’s Sketch, the fourteenth in the “Scenes” sequence, is “Vauxhall Gardens by Day,” 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!

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, 25 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Fifteen: “Early Coaches”

Wed, 26 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Sixteen: “Omnibuses”

Thurs, 27 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Seventeen: “The Last Cab-driver, and the First Omnibus Cad”

Fri, 28 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Eighteen: “A Parliamentary Sketch”

Sat, 29 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Nineteen: “Public Dinners”

Sun, 30 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty: “The First of May”

Mon, 31 Jan, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty-One: “Brokers and Marine-store Shops”

*Note on “General Mems”: Dickens’ “General Memoranda” ~ the name for his notes about an upcoming certain serial number of his novels, utilized since around the time of Dombey and Son. (More on General Mems when we get to Dombey…)

39 Comments

  1. Another terrific recap of our reading, Rach! I love the way you bring it and us all together. TY!

    Chapter 14 – Vauxhall-gardens by Day – The first thing that comes to my mind here is Chapter 6 of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, entitled “Vauxhall”, wherein the a “bowl of rack punch was the cause of all this history” that is the novel. That Vauxhall episode took place at night, and is similar in many ways to the evenings our Boz fondly recalls and which cause him to recoil at the idea of Vauxhall being opened for business during the day. He fears, rightly, that the curtain of mystery will be drawn irrevocably back – the man behind the curtain will be exposed, or, as my grandmother used to say, if you love sausage you should never see how it’s made. It can only lead to disillusionment.

    And speaking of Vanity Fair, that novel, in the chapter I’ve referenced above, holds one of my very favorite literary quotes. Speaking of the episode of the rack punch the author (another authorial “we”) asks: “Are not there little chapters in everybody’s life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?” This quote seems apropos to Sketches by Boz – not simply in that the individual Sketches can be seen as “little chapters in everybody’s life” but also, as Lenny pointed out in terms of Dickens both using and becoming popular culture, the Sketches as vehicle for changing the course of Dickens’ life.

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    1. Chris…just to let you know that I reread the Vauxhall chapter of VANITY FAIR and loved it. The comedy is wonderful and the narrator’s presence makes the writing even more complex and delightful. I think I’ll go back to the first chapter and chip away at it. BTW, what a contrast between CD’s Vauxhall by day!

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  2. Such a beautiful, exquisite really mosaic of insights and perspectives!

    Wren, that’s wonderfully done.

    In the opening of today’s installment, I was struck by the image of the early coaches and associated life inflicting tortures on a pagan soul, who is resisting conversion!

    “. . . positively refused to be converted to our faith, and then we would have booked him for an inside place in a small coach, which travelled day and night: and securing the remainder of the places for stout men with a slight tendency to coughing and spitting, we would have started him forth on his last travels: leaving him mercilessly to all the tortures which the waiters, landlords, coachmen, guards, boots, chambermaids, and other familiars on his line of road, might think proper to inflict.”

    Stroke of brilliant satire and description!!!

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    1. Wow, you three, you have really nailed the way in which Boz has made bookings and travel so relevant to us, today. Heavens, does the man have a crystal ball? I felt as though he had described the experiences my wife and I have had numerous times during our travels. I think this universality is one of the things that has made Dickens so popular over time. He gets at so many instances where the anxiety of travel hits, sometimes more intensely than others, and he does so with so much descriptive and comedic verve.

      The segment of this sketch that I “sympathize” with the most starts with this line: “If there be one thing in existence more miserable than another, it most unquestionably is the being compelled to rise by candlelight.” The minute I read this quote, I thought I knew exactly where the narrative was headed–the dreadful night before the trip is scheduled to begin. Here the material is so in synch with my night before experiences. I’m restless, I can’t get my mind off whether I’ve packed well enough, whether I have the right schedule, whether or not the wake up call will be too soon or too late, whether I’m going to get enough sleep before the call comes, and a thousand other worries–to the point that I rarely get more then a couple of minutes of sleep. And, if I do sleep, I do have weird “travel” dreams that are usually terrifying! Boz, here, has told the story almost completely, of my “night before” travel life.

      One thought that occurred to me as I was reading this “Sketch” made me wonder how it will be a part of our later reading, especially in the novels. This, among other things, is a “process” essay/narrative and shows how enamored Boz/Dickens is of telling how things work. In this case, the process of ordering tickets, getting clothes ready, trying to sleep the night before, awakening to the cold morning, proceeding to the coach, and getting on to the coach. The details are so exquisite and funny that we probably forget that this is a carefully structured piece of writing. But the chronological pattern is meticulously there, secretly holding this writing together. Even the paragraph transitions are worked out to let the readers know where the traveler, “Boz,” IS in this process….

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  3. Thank you both so much for your comments!!! And thanks for the kind words, Chris, it’s a delight to pull a few things together…but it really is just the tip of the iceberg as to these great threads/conversations we have going here!

    As to today’s, “Early Coaches”:

    “Who has not experienced the miseries inevitably consequent upon a summons to undertake a hasty journey?” Hence the torture of early coaches. What a description of the booking-office! Close, confined, rough—like a prison or torture-chamber! “You enter a mouldy-looking room, ornamented with large posting-bills; the greater part of the place enclosed behind a huge lumbering rough counter, and fitted up with recesses that look like the dens of the smaller animals in a travelling menagerie, without the bars.”

    What keen observation and a curious mind, as Dickens wonders what the booking-office clerks could have been before they found themselves in their current position ~ the one with his hands behind him, standing by the fire, “like a full-length portrait of Napoleon”—the other provokingly cool, and whistling to the irritation of the customers. (Or, at least, to Boz.) I have a feeling that waiting in such a booking office is now equivalent to waiting in one of the interminable Monday-afternoon lines at the post office. (I used to work at the post office, so I can well imagine that, short staffed as we were, video monitored by the central Portland hub who would email our Postmaster—literally!—as soon as the line became too long or someone was seen to have been waiting for a certain length of time, having to ask all of these provoking questions (“Does your package contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, potentially hazardous…”) over and over again, that we clerks must too have possessed “no sympathies or feelings in common with the rest of mankind.” I think I should not have particularly liked to have been on the clerk side of the counter when someone with all the energy and delightfully merciless observation of a Dickens was on the other side of it!

    Dickens mentions a dream of having attended a funeral “eighteen years ago”…I just would like to inquire what is it with Dickens and eighteen years? I have much to note about this number, once we get to A Tale of Two Cities…

    As to the early rising, perhaps I too am hardened by custom, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy with his woes here! 😊 As one who has often, for work, had to be up at 1am, or all night, getting up at half-past-four seems like regular sleeping in, to me! (Says this gal, who was up at 3:30am this morning!)

    How I LOVE Dickens’ description here: “the damp hangs upon the house-tops and lamp-posts, and clings to you like an invisible cloak.” Oooh, the atmosphere…! And, a little Pickwickian: “Curious case o’ breach o’ promise, ladies!”

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  4. Chapter 14 – Early Coaches – This Sketch easily translates to experiences today at either the airport, train station, metro station, bus station, where one is unaccustomed to the nuances of travel. How wonderful that many these Sketches simply need a change of costume to be current! The bit I enjoyed the most was the nonchalance of the booking-office clerks: “you wonder what on earth the booking-office clerks can have been before they were booking-office clerks . . . [t]hey are clearly an isolated race, evidently possessing no sympathies or feelings in common with the rest of mankind.” Today’s ticket agents and TSA personnel are of the same race! And the hurry-up-to-wait aspect of travel hasn’t changed either. Though I must say that no flight or train or bus – no matter how early or late – can be as miserable as having to sit on the roof, outside, of a 19th century coach in the dead of winter! What hearty folk these people must have been!!!

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  5. Chapter 15 – Omnibuses – This Sketch takes me back to my commuting days on the DC Metro from the Maryland suburbs to Metro Center in the city – an hour each way. It was during this commute that my love for Victorian literature in general and Dickens in particular was founded, and during which I first read the entire Dickens canon (not in order, however, that came later). I experienced the same routine CD speaks of, seeing the same people day after day, rarely going beyond nodding good morning/evening or pretending that we didn’t recognize each other. The character types CD speaks of are also universal, for they were there in my Metro. I agree with Lenny’s comment above, CD must have had a crystal ball!

    A note on the text – in the opening paragraph CD writes of “a small boy of a pale aspect . . . coming up to town from school under the protection of the guard, and directed to be left at the Cross Keys till called for.” A footnote in my edition says: “This may be a memory of Dickens’s own journey at the age of eleven when he came up from Chatham to the Cross Keys”. Peter Ackroyd fills in details in his biography of CD and leaves us with some interesting questions:
    “For reason or reasons unknown, Charles Dickens did not travel with [his parents]. He remained behind in Chatham, staying in the house of his schoolmaster, William Giles, for about three months. . . . [H]e went to Simpson’s coach office in Chatham and, while he waited there for the coach which was to take him to London, he had time to notice an oval transparency in the window of the office representing one of the coaches ‘. . . in the act of passing a milestone on the London road with great velocity, completely full inside and out, and all the passengers dressed in the first style of fashion, and enjoying themselves tremendously’. Once he saw something, with that quick glance of his, it was never forgotten. And then he was placed inside the coach, the ‘Commodore’, a ‘light coach’ with four horses which left each morning at nine-thirty; and the young boy was driven out of Chatham. Driven out of the place which had been the harbor of his infant imagination, where he had first gone to school. Driven away from the scenes which he had populated with the characters out of the novels he had read. ‘It was the birthplace of his fancy,’ his friend John Forster wrote, ‘and he hardly knew what store he had set by its busy varieties of change and scene, until he saw the falling cloud that was to hide its pictures from him for ever.’ He was the only passenger inside the coach. ‘Through all the years that have since passed have I ever lost the smell of the dame straw in which I was packed – like game – and forwarded, carriage paid, to the Cross Keys, Wood Street, Cheapside, London?’ And so he had left his infancy behind. He was on the road to London. ‘. . . and I consumed my sandwiches in solitude and dreariness, and it rained hard all the way, and I thought life sloppier then I had expected to find it.’ There is no knowing what other thoughts afflicted him on this journey away from home – anxiety, nostalgia, a longing for the past and fear of the future – but what else do we see in his fiction but that great divide between the country and the city, between the place of innocence and the place of poverty or hardship? And was it even now that the great myth of London which he was able to create – with its close-packed streets, its darkness, its mystery – first began to stir within him, as the open fields of his infancy rushed past and the city loomed before him?” (Ackroyd, Dickens, 54-55)

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    1. Oh Boy, this is sad stuff, indeed! Thanks so much Chris for including this poignant piece from CD’s past…. It leaves me breathless.

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    2. Oh man, I love Ackroyd so much! His biography of Dickens is my favorite…just one of my favorite books of all time. As Boze has mentioned, he does, in some ways, write biography more in the way Dickens himself would write it. Beautifully done

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  6. Probably my favorite “portrait” in the “Omnibus” sketch is that of the Cad. What I admire most about him is his resilience. He’s a busy workman who is constantly on the move, trying desperately to do his job under some very trying circumstances. His main nemesis is the “old gentleman”–who is constantly berating him for allowing the bus to stop, allowing more passengers to come aboard. To his credit, the cad exhibits his rather cool manner in response to the old man’s nagging. He ignores his nemesis and he fights back with his mouth. But what really gets me is his ability to “ignore” the constant physical prodding the old man gives him with his umbrella. Who knows how many blows this young man takes to his chest in a single day. He must have sores everywhere when he takes his shirt off at night. So, the abuse the cad receives is not only verbal but physical. He is, INDEED, the victim of the sadistic behavior of this nasty elderly passenger day after day!

    But there is some sense that our Cad does get his “revenge” on his nemesis in another way, by constantly stopping and packing the bus with a myriad of passengers:

    “We are not aware that it has ever been precisely ascertained, how many passengers our omnibus will contain. The impression on the cad’s mind evidently is, that it is amply sufficient for the accommodation of any number of persons that can be enticed into it. ‘Any room?’ cries a hot pedestrian. ‘Plenty o’ room, sir,’ replies the conductor, gradually opening the door, and not disclosing the real state of the case, until the wretched man is on the steps. ‘Where?’ inquires the entrapped individual, with an attempt to back out again. ‘Either side, sir,’ rejoins the cad, shoving him in, and slamming the door. ‘All right, Bill.’ Retreat is impossible; the new-comer rolls about, till he falls down somewhere, and there he stops.”

    Wow, a wonderfully comic scene and the actions of the clever cad must certainly get the goat of the sadistic old man. Of course, he (the cad) is naturally (and craftily) fulfilling his job, acquiring as many passengers the bus will hold to make more money for his company. But I bet he gets a lot of joy out of discombobulating the old man with each new “client” he pulls into the bus!

    And speaking of the “old gentleman”–here he is at the end of his journey:

    “… the old gentleman looks very solemn, and says nothing more till he gets to the Bank, when he trots off as fast as he can, leaving us to do the same, and to wish, as we walk away, that we could impart to others any portion of the amusement we have gained for ourselves.”

    I love the reflection of the author/bus-riding “Boz” that the “old gentleman looks very solemn” but I’m mostly struck by the beautiful self-referential statement Boz makes, wishing that he could tell about the “amusement” he’s experienced during this fascinating trip on the bus. And, of course he does–as the “Sketch comes full circle –so to speak!

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  7. Omnibuses/ The Last Cab-driver –

    Meant to post this early this morning ~ I just wrote on the two together ~ but it’s been a day, between childcare & staff mtg & training…can’t wait to catch up on the comments here this evening! 🙂

    “Commend us to an omnibus” as far as public conveyances go. “When you have seen a man in his nightcap, you lose all respect for him.” (Again, Pickwick comes to mind!) Love the focus on change, as opposed to other methods of travel, where passengers are so long together that they’re bound to get grumpy. In an omnibus, however, “the passengers change as often in the course of one journey as the figures in a kaleidoscope, and though not so glittering, are far more amusing. We believe there is no instance on record, of a man’s having gone to sleep in one of these vehicles.”

    As to the Last Cab-driver – I started getting *almost* fond of this ubiquitous red cab, and it’s botany-loving (haha) driver, “confident in the strength of his own moral principles, like many other philosophers,” and who “was wont to set the feelings and opinions of society at complete defiance.”

    Loved this passage: “If Mr. Barker can be fairly said to have had any weakness in his earlier years, it was an amiable one—love; love in its most comprehensive form—a love of ladies, liquids, and pocket-handkerchiefs. It was no selfish feeling; it was not confined to his own possessions, which but too many men regard with exclusive complacency. No it was a nobler love—a general principle. It extended itself with equal force to the property of other people.”

    Again here Dickens is mourning the loss, albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek, of a certain class of men, unperturbed and unflappable, who are scrappy and intelligent in their way, and unscrupulous, but who provide ample entertainment for the passengers of such cabs, and occupation for the police. Now, however, improvement has been setting in: “dirt and fustian will vanish before cleanliness and livery. Slang will be forgotten when civility becomes general: and that enlightened, eloquent, sage, and profound body, the Magistracy of London, will be deprived of half their amusement, and half their occupation.” I think of these gents as a (far) less-lovable sort of Sam Weller by way of the Artful Dodger. Something of the con man of a Jingle, without the pretense of being well-bred.

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  8. Chapter 17 – The Last Cab-driver, and the First Omnibus Cad – I think some of the humor of this piece is lost with the passage of time. These two fellows, the Cab-driver and the Cad, are not very likable or even very funny. They seem rather a nuisance to be borne as the price of getting a ride.

    This was my first impression. So I went to my personal Dickens library (I’m a sucker for used books) to see if I could find some information that might help me either see this sketch in a different light or confirm my opinion. I landed on Dickens at Play by S. J. Newman (1981), mainly because the cover of the book sports the illustration of the Last Cabdriver. “Chapter 2 Discoveries: Sketches by Boz” was so informative (though a little dense) that I wrote a blog post attaching it: https://wreninkpaper.com/2022/01/27/the-observer-as-the-observed-supplementary-to-sketches-by-boz/.

    I was most surprised to learn this almost throwaway NOTE ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS – “Just as Cruikshank slyly introduces Boz among the figures in his illustrations for ‘Early Coaches’, ‘A Pickpocket in Custody’ [see ‘The Hospital Patient’] and ‘Public Dinners’, so Dickens draws himself among his own creations.” (8) Looking at these three illustrations we do, indeed, see the same young man’s face which bears a striking resemblance to young Charles (in top hat at counter in ‘Early Coaches’, in center with hand on hip in ‘Public Dinners’, and again in top hat behind man pushing the barrow in ‘Pickpocket’). So much to discover even after many readings!!!

    I still think the Cab-driver and the Cad are not very likable, but I now have a better appreciation for why they are that way.

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    1. Chris…just to let you know that I reread the Vauxhall chapter of VANITY FAIR and loved it. The comedy is wonderful and the narrator’s presence makes the writing even more complex and delightful. I think I’ll go back to the first chapter and chip away at it. BTW, what a contrast between CD’s Vauxhall by day!

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  9. Chris: I agree with your first assessment of the cab driver. In my eyes, he’s really a mean, nasty, hurtful character who enjoys intimidating, fleecing and maiming his fares. If this is comedy, it’s surely dark comedy and maybe satisfying only to a certain sect of Boz’s readers.

    On the other hand, I believe we are meant to see this character as more of a villain, and that those bystanders who guffaw at the various ways he mistreats his passengers, are also being condemned by our narrator! They are of a lower order of citizenry who delight in the mishaps of others, especially those hurtful moments when the driver of the red coach is the responsible culprit.

    When I go back to the opening sentences, I reinterpret them to mean–sarcastically–that the author is merely illustrating, tongue-in-cheek–how the insolent and depraved behavior of some notorious cab drivers have raised havoc in the streets of London.

    That this is “merely” a sketch in its OWN context is fairly difficult to take, and presents the reader with an irony that the intelligent British reader at the time would see as all too similar to the writings of that master of irony– Jonathan Swift. “Swiftian humor”–one might say!

    But in a wider context, say that of a novel, I would wager we’d judge the driver as someone who well deserved to go to jail!

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  10. Chapter 18 – A Parliamentary Sketch – This sketch exhibits CD’s great familiarity with and great animosity toward politics, politicians, the government, bureaucracy, and their hanger-ons and satellites. Obviously he derives great pleasure out of making fun of them, exposing their pomposity and self-serving behavior which translates to ignorance and idiocy. A footnote in my edition states: “Much of [the sketch] would be libelous today, since the originals of the characters were easily recognizable.” While I am not at all familiar with the particular men portrayed here, I do recognize the “types” for these characters/characteristics are, unfortunately, still with us – another indication of the timelessness of Dickens.

    This from Peter Ackroyd’s “Dickens”, speaking of this Sketch: “Dickens never had a high opinion of the House of Commons, and even from his earliest days he treats it either as a pantomime . . . or as a savage farce. He became very well acquainted with it . . . and never ceased to mock or insult it.” (133); AND speaking of CD’s response to the government’s handling of the Crimean War in 1855: “There was [a] central stance from which [Dickens] never moved, his hatred of Parliament, and his disgust at a ‘rotten’ system of representative government. . . . the administration of the country was being arranged through varying alliances, deals and coalitions which owed less to a concern for national welfare than the need to satisfy various political interests. An unstable time; a difficult time; but in its way only an exaggeration of those characteristics of hypocrisy, self-interest and even bribery which Dickens always associated with the House of Commons.” (736)

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  11. Chris, I whole-heartedly agree with your two paragraphs above and the sentiments they express with regard, generally, to “The Parliament” sketch. The statement–“exposing their pomposity and self serving behavior which translates to ignorance and idiocy”–is beautifully stated. As a relative novice coming to Dickens, and as someone not familiar with the individuals that Boz is describing, here, I, too, can’t comment on how closely he captures their true personalities, but I do really get a sense of their vanities, their “pomposity'” as you call it, their arrogance, self-importance, and their ludicrous dress/apparel.

    But what chiefly impresses me are the glorious aesthetics of the entire piece. Wow and wow again, and kudos to this man’s genius! Here Boz presents us with what I’d call a “Descriptive Narrative” writ large! It’s a very complex piece of writing that gets at a particular time and place at/in the Parliament Building and its occupants just as they are taking up AT THAT MOMENT a specific “Bill.”

    And he does all this with his audience very much in mind. Again, he uses the “authorial we”–first person plural, as opposed to the more intimate “I”–first person singular, but still it works as a kind of homage to His 18th-century predecessors (Fielding, Smollett, etc) and it has much the same effect on the readers, his audience. It creates a sense of both intimacy and immediacy. He (Boz) invites the reader to COME WITH HIM (NOW!) as he wanders through the various “places” in the Parliament environs in order to show him (us, really) the space, its people, and–ultimately–its absurdities and huge and damnable shortcomings. In short, this long piece of writing starts with a kind of amiable narrator giving us more or less benign and sarcastic/ironic/”fun” “facts” and ends with an extremely horrific scene of dark and awful “gluttony.” I can think of no better way to describe the finality of this piece. (I ponder the other writings which deal often with the street urchins, the mothers and children who are starving, etc, and they put this later sequence in the “kitchen” in stark contrast to them):

    “If he really be eating his supper now, at what hour can he possibly have dined! A second solid mass of rump-steak has disappeared, and he eat the first in four minutes and three quarters, by the clock over the window. Was there ever such a personification of Falstaff!”

    wow, this is A man of Parliament??? Yeah, I know, this is meant to be a humorous observation, but underneath it is that ever-present possibility of irony and can always raise its ironic/sarcastic head in just about anything Dickens/Boz can write. “Dark humor”? We’ve sort of DESCENDED into a dark and reprehensible pit.

    But I want to go back to the sketches opening and reveal the way in which Dickens closes the distance between himself and his reader/s.

    “We hope our readers will not be alarmed at this rather ominous title. We assure them that we are ‘not about to become political, neither have we the slightest intention of being more prosy than usual—if we can help it. It has occurred to us that a slight sketch of the general aspect of ‘the House,’ and the crowds that resort to it on the night of an important debate, would be productive of some amusement: and as we have made some few calls at the aforesaid house in our time—have visited it quite often enough for our purpose, and a great deal too often for our personal peace and comfort—we have determined to attempt the description.

    So he addresses us directly, wants us by his side, more or less, as he peruses Parliament, pointing out people, incidents and, physical spaces. Here is one of my favorite passages that illustrates the “position” that Boz wants to hold vis-a-vis the reader:

    “Retracing our steps through the long passage descending the stairs, and crossing the Palace-yard, we halt at a small temporary doorway adjoining the King’s entrance to the House of Lords….Take care of the stairs, they are none the best; through this little wicket–there. As soon as your eyes become a little used to the mist of the place…you will see that some unimportant personage…(to your right hand)…is speaking….”

    Ah yes. He makes sure that we have his attention, as we stand and walk next to him, descending the nasty stairs, peering through the mist and on OUR RIGHT HAND, looking toward the “personage.” As he has done many times before in these “sketches” he wants us to think/know that we are right WITH him as he experiences these wonderous, sometimes funny, often dark, episodes which he relishes talking to us about, inviting him to experience them with him as closely as possible!

    But here, in The Parliament, he wants us to see with him these things NOW with a kind of urgency in this important writing!

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  12. Sorry I’m a bit behind, both on reading and on posting here! Let me back up…

    On A Parliamentary Sketch: I love the vivid “tense” in which Dickens writes this sketch—no, it’s not that man, it’s the one behind him; you are curious about the young man in the rough great-coat? Etc—as though we are, quite literally, sitting next to him observing a House full of characters, leaning over to Boz to ask for clarification on who’s who, and what’s what. I’d very much love to be his companion on such an adventure! He really pulls us in; friends and co-conspirators and fellow observers of human nature and human folly! Love it! He’s even telling us to mind our steps—“Take care of the stairs, they are none of the best; through this little wicket—there.” “Before we ascend the staircase, however, we must request you to pause in front of this little bar-place with the sash-windows…”

    Nicholas, the butler at Bellamy’s: “some men change their opinions from necessity, others from expediency, others from inspiration; but that Nicholas should undergo any change in any respect, was an event we had never contemplated, and should have considered impossible.”

    On Public Dinners:

    Whether Dickens took such a preeminent part in speeches at Public Dinners at this time as he would later, I don’t know or don’t recall (John Forster hasn’t focused on them, certainly, in my current read)…but without question, he would attend many of them in his career, supporting wonderful organizations with names at least as long as the one he mentions at the outset of this Sketch.

    I love how there is such a sense of old-usage in every bit of dinnerware & other items, and how “the musicians are scraping and grating and screwing tremendously—playing no notes but notes of preparation.” The poking fun of all of the toasts and pledges and applauses is all done in good humor, and he begs us not to imagine “that we are at all disposed to underrate, either the excellence of the benevolent institutions with which London abounds, or the estimable motives of those who support them.”

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  13. First, Lenny & Rach – re the Parliamentary sketch, I agree with you about the sense of being next to Boz as he escorts us around Parliament. It’s as if we are being given not just a private tour, but the “executive tour” with special access to restricted areas and inside information. This talent CD has, even at this early stage, for establishing and maintaining closeness and rapport with his audience is one he will take very much to heart and nurture throughout his career.

    Regarding Public Dinners – Throughout his life CD was a great friend to many charities, and spearheaded campaigns to help friends who found themselves in need (widows of friends, actor friends who were down on their luck, e.g.). He also worked closely with Angela Burdett-Coutts, the wealthiest woman in Britain, assisting her with her charitable contributions, and establishing with her the Urania Cottage Home for Fallen Women.

    The very last sentence of this piece is confusing – “We can only entreat our readers not to imagine, because we have attempted to extract some amusement from a charity dinner, that we are at all disposed to underrate, either the excellence of the benevolent institutions with which London abounds, or the estimable motives of those who support them.” It is ambiguous because of the word “estimable” – my first take was that he’s saying the institutions themselves are good, but the supporters are another matter (i.e., they have “estimable motives” meaning their motives can be calculated, as opposed to “inestimable motives” which would mean their motives are “too valuable or excellent to be measured”. (dictionary.com)) However, when I read further in the dictionary, definition #3 of “estimable” is “worthy of esteem” – so maybe CD isn’t being facetious here. It’s so hard to tell sometimes! My initial thought – of his being facetious – comes from my familiarity with his later treatment of “benevolent institutions” wherein he sees them as little more than vehicles for people to make themselves important and do next to nothing to help those they claim to support. But maybe he hasn’t come to this conclusion yet because in 1835 he isn’t as familiar with institutional charities as he will be later on (and when he is more sought after for his celebrity and patronage). Perhaps I’m reading too far ahead, so to speak. Thoughts?

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    1. “The executive tour”–what a wonderful way to put it. Makes the reader feel important, almost as though a colleague or a good friend of the Great Boz.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Chris: I’m feeling similar confusion with this “sketch”–and I think some of my perplexity comes from its close proximity to “The Parliament” narrative that comes before. That one is so hard hitting that it just begs to be discussed and pondered, and this one is just the opposite–more low key and quite subtle.

      But I truly think your statement, “little more than vehicles for people to make themselves important,” actually says it all. Keep in mind that this charity is being held for ORPHANS, but in this context, the “dinner” REALLY revolves around a huge group of men who are there to socialize, to drink, to sing to applause, and to toast each other ad infinitum! I’m surprised that the whole group doesn’t break out a several choruses of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”–singing to each other and to themselves. Because, really, this is what the dinner is all about. They see themselves as “Jolly Good Fellows.” (With Boz the exception?)

      On another note, Boz, who shows SOME closeness to the reader here, remarks that the assembled orphans are brought in to circle around the men at the tables. When I first read this, I thought there is something “off” here. It’s like I’m at the zoo and looking at animals behind cages, or a a fair eyeing a freak show. This parading of the orphans just feels wrong. But the capper is when the narrator hints that the boys look as though they might want to partake of some wine. I thought, “yeah, I bet they do” (to drown their sorrows or embarrassment). But now I think that quote goes beyond my earliest thought. It suddenly occurred to me, last night while I was lying in bed that the children were hungry and wanted FOOD. Might they not have been starving? A more humane treatment would have been to allow the orphans to break bread with their supposed gentlemen charitable “providers.” But this doesn’t seem to happen, and when the plates come out, loose change is thrown on top of them, and then the singing and toasting is begun. Now the orphans are off stage and the charitable ones can begin the real “business” of the “dinner.”

      In retrospect, maybe this sketch isn’t so different than the one before it. It’s just an example of really controlled anger through satire and irony. Could this be right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lenny – The orphans are paraded through the dinner no doubt so that the dinner can be “written off” so to speak – their presence justifies the “charitable” nature of the dinner which, as you say, is really for any purpose other than charity. And I do agree that the children are most likely hungry – I hope they got fed in the kitchen after their showing. I think that CD would agree that while these charity dinners have merit in that they raise awareness of the charity at hand and they raise funds to support the charity, they often miss the mark in actually reaching the hearts & minds of the attendees and thereby making a real difference. And, they – the dinners or functions – too often become themselves the main focus while the target of the charity (orphans, homeless, abandoned pets, etc.) gets pushed aside as simply window dressing. Like the Parliamentary sketch, the focus is shifted away from the real issue(s) and becomes, as I said above, a “vehicles for people to make themselves important and do next to nothing to help those they claim to support”.

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  14. I hereby confer on you all an honorary doctorate in Dickens, the Inimitable Boz!

    The level of reflection and insight, with an earnest effort to grasp the meaning and intention of this incomparable observer of the human condition, is splendid! I experience Dickens much more richly through your commentary.

    I wonder you might think about Dickens, the Romantic.

    Merriam-Webster gives these two meanings:

    (1): a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural
    (2): a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious

    Could Dickens be considered a “Romantic” in the above sense?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Daniel – Dickens is certainly influenced by the Romantic, and many indeed do see him as one. You can google “Dickens as a romantic” and get lots of hits. Or, please see these books: Lawrence Frank “Charles Dickens and the Romantic Self”; Dirk denHartog “Dickens & Romantic Psychology; and Nina Auerback “Romantic Imprisonment”.

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  15. Daniel: love these possibilities. They definitely give we Dickens’ readers much to think about. #2 strikes me as the more important of the two, certainly as regarding the “Sketches ,” and later “1 when we get to the novels–many of which I haven’t read. The experts in the group would have a better perspective than I with regard to #1. Let’s see what they say!

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  16. Daniel & Lenny – I’m not with my books at present, but I’ll look when I get back to them (next week) and see what they have to say at least with regard to the 2 options specified by Daniel.

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  17. Just a quick thought about the aspect of Romance in Dickens.

    It seems to me that Dickens is able to simultaneously depict real people with whom we can fully relate (and sometimes hate!) and suggest “overtones” of nobility of being (and conversely depravity of being).

    That seems “romantic” to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daniel: Your2nd paragraph is wonderfully stated. From your EARLIER quote, “chivalric love and adventure” is quite an exciting formula–and is also very Byronic, and may well extend to the heroes of Dickens work. This is just a guess, but I wonder if we will see these kinds of characterizations in the “Tales” segment of the “Sketches.” Can you relate this notion to any of the “Sketches” we’ve read and analyzed so far?

      Average people with “Romantic” nobility and chivalric undertakings. When I think more about this, I revert back to some of my “past” reading of the famous novels in the “picaresque” tradition–starting with the Seminal work, DON QUIXOTE. The Don, himself, is an “AVERAGE GUY” tilting, metaphorically and actually at windmills–and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, is the salt of the earth REALIST and together they make up a kind of mock medieval “psychodrama.” Then, naturally, we move, historically, to the great works of Fielding (TOM JONES and JOSEPH ANDREWS), and Smollett’s many quest narratives like RODERICK RANDOM and HUMPHREY CLINKER. These novels all play variations on the Cervantes’ model. Based on what we’ve been reading so far about Dickens and his earlier literary encounters in various places (British Library, etc.) he would have loved and even studied these classics. Adventure stories not just for adults, but for kids, too, I suspect.

      One more note: I mentioned Byron, and in doing so I think of Dark romantic figures in cloaks reveling in a world of moody Darkness and Mystery. Makes me want to go back and read some of his more medieval-like works to gain more perspective on how they fit in with this romantic pattern we are trying to get at. Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE fits this Byronic dimension quite well, as I remember. Dickens and Bronte–now there is quite a pairing, eh?

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  18. Oh man, now we’re about to fall into a couple of potentially dangerous rabbit holes for me…Romanticism and Quixotic tendencies!!?? Yikes, I can’t comment in full now, but I just wanted to bounce back for a second to the charitable dinners and his doubtful (or at least conflicted) stance about such organizations and their fundraising efforts. Yes, he was involved in so many!!! And yet he created (or discovered ~ surely such vivid characters couldn’t be CREATED?) characters like Mrs Pardiggle and Mrs Jellyby!! Clearly, it depends on the nature of the charitable act and intention. Like the ladies’ societies that we met with earlier. Are we engaging in this activity to: look good, acquire husbands, be thought well of? Or do we really SEE the person in front of us? Mrs J was engaged in fantastic endeavors (presumably) for those at a far distance, while letting her own children practically fend for themselves and have no end of trouble. There is a balance…charity/love are also personal, and engaged with the welfare of *that person* rather than for oneself, or for the good opinion of others, or for some distant ideal that isn’t person-focused. (Hence the growth/realization in Mr Jarndyce, who came to have a sense of his own mixed motives perhaps, and overcame the selfish tendencies, and we love him for it?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SO…:

      We’re back, here, also, with the Christian doctrine of CHARITY vs CUPIDITY. Not so much a rabbit hole– as “The Dinner,” it seems to me implies both. Maybe an expectant but false impression of one but the real and maybe unexpected enactment of the other. As we can see, the possibilities for interpretation of this lone Sketch by Boz” offers seemingly endless discussion.

      And we haven’t even mentioned the women in the sketch who seem isolated and SEGREGATED from the men! Say what???

      And, at the opening of the sketch, Boz loses his “ticket”: incidental comedy or significant symbolic act? In a Chaplin or Keaton film, the latter interpretation would apply.

      As Wren/Rach says: “Yikes”!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Wren: I can see that in the larger context of CD’s life and work, many of these charitable “dinners” and their doners were looked upon favorably. And kudos to him for his involvement in such events and their benefits, but this particular sketch contains a pretty unfavorable impression. Young Dickens, here, is critical of this particular event. Not caustically so, but very subtly so….

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  19. SO…:

    We’re back, here, also, with the Christian doctrine of CHARITY vs CUPIDITY. Not so much a rabbit hole– as “The Dinner,” it seems to me implies both. Maybe an expectant but false impression of one but the real and maybe unexpected enactment of the other. As we can see, the possibilities for interpretation of this lone Sketch by Boz” offers seemingly endless discussion.

    And we haven’t even mentioned the women in the sketch who seem isolated and SEGREGATED from the men! Say what???

    And, at the opening of the sketch, Boz loses his “ticket”: incidental comedy or significant symbolic act? In a Chaplin or Keaton film, the latter interpretation would apply.

    As Wren/Rach says: “Yikes”!

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  20. Chapter 20 – The First of May – Not quite sure what to make of this, as I’m not familiar with the particulars of the action. It did, however, make me think of Bert from “Mary Poppins” and how that portrayal of a sweep is so different from the portrait Dickens presents in this and in Oliver Twist – Dick Van Dyke is decidedly too large to be a sweep! But the idea that Sweeps could be “very good fellows in their way, and moreover very useful in a civilized community . . . [who] got dancing to themselves, and they kept it up and handed it down”, or that they could be noblemen either unknown or in disguise, or – at the extreme – that the mystery of the sweeps lay in “the doctrine of trans-migration of souls” – What? I’m not sure – May Day ushers in Springtime and the rebirth of Nature – how the Sweeps fit in, other than their celebration of the holiday/festival, I’m not sure – except that as we, today, change the filters in our furnaces or the batteries in our smoke detectors or turn the clocks forward or back, the Sweeps would clean chimneys on a regular basis. They took over the Spring festival because few other occupations – in the city at least – marked the change of seasons with as much regularity as the Sweeps. The Victorian Web suggests that the Sweeps were prohibited from announcing their presence in the streets as other street vendors were allowed to do and thus used the First of May as a fundraising opportunity. I am at a loss here: The Victorian Web offers this critique of Dickens’s piece: https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/cruikshank/boz18.html

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  21. “What man is there, over whose mind a bright spring morning does not exercise a magic influence—carrying him back to the days of his childish sports, and conjuring up before him the old green field with its gently-waving trees, where the birds sang as he has never heard them since—where the butterfly fluttered far more gaily than he ever sees him now, in all his ramblings—where the sky seemed bluer, and the sun shone more brightly—where the air blew more freshly over greener grass, and sweeter-smelling flowers—where everything wore a richer and more brilliant hue than it is ever dressed in now! Such are the deep feelings of childhood, and such are the impressions which every lovely object stamps upon his heart!”

    It seemed worth quoting the whole of this ~ Dickens (as in the Parliamentary sketch) both somewhat believes, somewhat pokes fun at how we look back on former times as being better, simply because **we** ourselves were better and fresher and more disposed to idealism, perhaps; but he really does capture the vibrancy of the youthful spirit, and how one sees the world with such freshness at a younger age (“magic scenes indeed; for the fancies of childhood dressed them in colours brighter than the rainbow, and almost as fleeting”), and I loved this passage.

    Interesting about the mystery-air surrounding chimney-sweeps; how anyone you meet might be the displaced son of a nobleman, as though a soot-covered changeling. Such a romanticized (I, like Chris, thought immediately of Mary Poppins) but ultimately sad and unhealthy existence for a child—almost unfathomable!

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