Wherein we take a glance back at the fourth week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23; With a look ahead to week five.
Friends, we’re about halfway through our reading of Sketches by Boz! And next Monday, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of the Inimitable himself. Time is just flying, isn’t it? No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! And again, a heartfelt thanks to the joyously Dickensian account, the Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these ~ making more readers aware, and for keeping us all in sync!
Little reminders: feel free to comment below this post for Week Five’s Sketches, or comment on twitter with the hashtag #DickensClub. (I’m trying to check regularly, I hope I haven’t missed any!) For any newer members or those who might be interested in joining: 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 a very warm welcome to our newest members (or those who I’ve only just found out about): Matt ~ wait for it ~ Carton, who will be joining us when we get to Dombey & Son! (He allowed me to post his full last name because, as a fan of A Tale of Two Cities, I found it utterly irresistible.) And a warm welcome to…Icona! (If you’re on twitter you probably know her marvelous account ~ and she is engaged to another magical Dickensian and our fellow #DickensClub member, Boze!)
Week Four Wrap-Up
Last Monday, we finished off Week Three by reading “Vauxhall Gardens by Day,” followed by several on various methods of transportation, from those aggravating “Early Coaches” and their more aggravating booking-offices, to “Omnibuses,” and our waggish “Last Cab-driver, and the First Omnibus Cad.” On this, our member, Chris, posted a wonderful piece highlighting some thoughts from S.J. Simpson’s Dickens at Play.
Then Boz accompanies us ~ as we feel quite certain he’s standing at our side pointing things out ~ as we experience his “A Parliamentary Sketch” from various galleries and perspectives. We attend a sample of those “Public Dinners” of which Dickens would attend a great number in his lifetime. Then, we reminisce about what “The First of May,” and chimney-sweeps, used to be ~ as contrasted with what they are. Finally, we end our week with today’s “Brokers and Marine-store Shops.”
And another fantastic week for discussion! Between classwork, writing projects, other work, a few members have had a crazy week or two and feel a bit behind, and I want to reassure you: No worries, friends!! Take your time, go at whatever pace works for you…we’re just so thrilled you’re in the community with us and on this Dickensian journey!
On “Vauxhall Gardens by Day,” Yvonne challenges Dickens’ dislike of seeing how the sausage is made: “for me, the magic is in the way the flat and ordinary turn into something else with light and music and shadow.” (And, as ever a Sleuth Extraordinaire, she found a recipe for how to cook turbot in proper Victorian style!)
Lenny and Chris were commiserating with Boz about the hassles of travel and early rising. (I, on the other hand, was showing my true colors, as one of the inhumanly callous clerks mentioned in that same Sketch, “Early Coaches,” as I found his complaints about rising “early” kept me entirely unmoved and unsympathetic!) We have all been marveling at how well he captures the details and captures a kind of universality of experience that transcends time; even now, how well we can relate to so much of it! (Lenny is certain that Boz must have a crystal ball.)
Icona too, reading the “Our Parish” sequence,” writes: “He understands people so well! You’d have to tweak that parish only slightly to turn it into a modern community.” And later: “We’ve all met the retired old man with too much time on his hands who gets *really* involved in the local election. Dickens is great at capturing universal, enduring little sketches of human nature!”
Lenny particularly noted that “the details are so exquisite and funny that we probably forget that this is a carefully structured piece of writing.” Also, he writes of Dickens’ fascination with the processes of things; some of these read like a “‘process’ essay/narrative.” And is he ever funny ~ using humor (sometimes dark humor indeed) to poke fun at pomposity, wrongheadedness, or the change in times and customs for better and worse.
Some jokes are clearly a bit lost in the temporal “translation,” but there are other things that, knowing Dickens’ work, we might also justifiably feel puzzled about. For example, where exactly does Dickens stand about the kind of fundraising dinners (and the organizations they support) that he pokes fun at in “Public Dinners”? He clearly supported a great many such organizations in his lifetime, and gave many speeches at these kinds of dinners, but from all we’ve seen in the earlier section on “The Ladies’ Societies,” and our current “Public Dinners,” there was also much to have fun with. (I have a feeling this question will be making a reappearance, particularly when we get to Bleak House.)
And speaking of our old friends ~ the ladies of the Societies aforementioned ~ Ruth was rolling with laughter about how well this captures the common experience of similar meetings in our own time!
And while we’re on meetings and Bleak House, Chris had fantastic comments about A Parliamentary Sketch. In a footnote in her edition: “Much of [the sketch] would be libelous today, since the originals of the characters were easily recognizable.” She adds that these “types” are “unfortunately, still with us–another indication of the timelessness of Dickens.”
On “The First of May” Sketch, the marvelous Dickensian Dr. Christian Lehmann (by the way, his current YouTube lecture series on David Copperfield is wonderful and I can’t wait to incorporate it into our reading!), gave us some fun facts about the illustrations: not only was this not Cruikshank’s first go-round with this Sketch, but Buss had done one first, for Library of Fiction!
Then Daniel asked an intriguing question, pointing out a huge rabbit hole that one could fall into: “Could Dickens be considered a ‘Romantic’…?” Maybe I’ll just put the whole comment here, along with a passage from Lenny’s reflection on it, but I have a feeling this could be the beginning of a beautiful thread…
But truly, friends…all this is only the tip of the iceberg! The conversations have been absolutely wonderful…
A Look-ahead to Week Five:
This week, we’ll finish off the “Scenes” sequence on Friday, and begin the section called “Characters.”
Today’s Sketch is the twenty-first in the “Scenes” sequence, “Brokers and Marine-store Shops.” (Illustrations can be found on the Charles Dickens Page, if you don’t have a copy with illustrations!)
Tues, 1 Feb, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty-two: “Gin-shops”
Wed, 2 Feb, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty-three: “The Pawnbroker’s Shop”
Thurs, 3 Feb, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty-four: “Criminal Courts”
Fri, 4 Feb, 2022: “Scenes,” Chapter Twenty-five: “A Visit to Newgate”
Sat, 5 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter One: “Thoughts About People”
Sun, 6 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Two: “A Christmas Dinner”
Mon, 7 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Three: “The New Year” (and…Happy Birthday, Boz!!!!)