Dickens Club Week 5 (Sketches by Boz) and a Week 4 Wrap-up

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!

General Mems

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!)

If you have been reading along with us but are not yet on the Member List, I would love to add you! Please feel free to message me here on the site, or on twitter.

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.”

sketches wk 5 yvonne comment 1And 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.)

Sketches wk 5 Icona commentIcona 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!”

sketches wk 5 rach comment
Rach’s comment on “The Last Cab-driver…”

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.)

ruth comment wk 5And 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!

sketches wk 5 chris commentAnd 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!

christian l comment

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…

dan and lenny comments

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!!!!)


  1. Can we talk about how funny the openings of some of these sketches are? “‘Are you fond of the water?’ is a question very frequently asked, in hot summer weather, by amphibious-looking young men.” “We never see any very large, staring, black Roman capitals, in a book or shop-window, or placarded on a wall, without their immediately recalling to our mind an indistinct and confused recollection of the time when we were first initiated in the mysteries of the alphabet.” I find them so funny. Dickens is a maniac.

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    1. Ahhh, Boze!!!! So thrilled to see you on WP! 👏👏 I agree, so many of his openings are hilarious…I keep wondering, what shenanigans will he be getting us into today…? 😂


  2. Rach: just a brief statement about how wonderful your wrap-up was for the last week. You’re right: as a group we really had things humming with great remarks and rewarding analysis. Many, many Kudos to you for your hard, hard work bringing this endeavor together. Just Remarkable. Good lord, and we’re really just getting started….

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    1. Aw, Lenny! Thank you so, so much ~ that means the world! It’s my pleasure, and I’m really enjoying the endeavor so much, and gaining such perspective that I wouldn’t have if I’d been reading on my own…it really is priceless! I agree…we are only getting started!

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      1. Oh my! Only getting started–after 4 weeks fun reading–of both the “Sketches” and other folks’ writings. Heavens, what other treasures and pleasures could be in store for all of us!? It all might get a little overwhelming, eh? But in a good way, of course!

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  3. “Miscellanies of every description” sum up the sort of Brokers shops which tell the story of so many individuals and families on hard times. On those near the King’s Bench prison: “How strikingly illustrative of the decay of some of the unfortunate residents in this part of the metropolis!” Desperate families like those of Amy Dorrit will find in a pawnbroker’s shop a last refuge for acquiring a few shillings from clothes and other items they’ve managed to hang onto.

    These lines, both sad, humorous, and relatable: “The goods here are adapted to the taste, or rather to the means, of cheap purchasers. There are some of the most beautiful *looking* Pembroke tables that were ever beheld: the wood as green as the trees in the Park, and the leaves almost as certain to fall off in the course of a year…”

    And here are door-knockers again! If I had a nickel for every time Dickens talks about a door-knocker…

    I love the theatrical character of Drury Lane & Covent Garden! “The errand-boys and chandler’s-shop-keepers’ sons are all stage-struck.” Then, the nautical Ratcliff Highway…what description! “Rough blue jackets, with mother-of-pearl buttons, oil-skin hats, coarse checked shirts, and large canvas trousers that look as if they were made for a pair of bodies instead of a pair of legs…”

    In Dickensland, of course, we’ll be meeting so many nautical characters and settings (Dombey and Copperfield come immediately to mind) and I’d like to explore more on the subject of Dickens and the sea and seafarers…

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  4. “Dickens and the sea and seafarers. ” Wren: Sounds like you’re getting into the “Romantic,” here. Are we nearing the “Rabbit-hole” again, as you called it earlier last week? In this regard, some lines from Byron’s CHILDE HAROLD:

    “Once more upon the waters! Yet once more!
    And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
    That knows his rider. Welcome to their roar!
    Swift be their guidance, wheresoe’er it lead….”

    These lines will probably be a good starting place for Daniel’s quest for the “Romantic” in Dickens! Yikes!

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      1. Yep. There are possibilities galore.
        In this case, realist vs idealist. But you and the other Dickensians on the list will know better than I.

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  5. Per Boze’s comment above…other misc funny passages from some recent opening paragraphs (but there are faaaar too many!):

    “At a political dinner, everybody is disagreeable, and inclined to speechify—much the same thing, by-the-bye…” (“Public Dinners”)

    (after a detailed description of the waggish cab-driver’s outerwear) “In summer he carried in his mouth a flower; in winter, a straw—slight, but, to a contemplative mind, certain indications of a love of nature, and a taste for botany.” (“The Last Cab-driver…”)

    “Besides, after the first twelve hours or so [in a long stage coach], people get cross and sleepy, and when you have seen a man in his nightcap, you lose all respect for him…” (“Omnibuses”)

    “We have often wondered how many months’ incessant travelling in a post-chaise it would take to kill a man…” (“Early Coaches”)

    From “Private Theatres”: …oh nevermind. The whole thing is juicy!

    “If the Parks be ‘the lungs of London,’ we wonder what Greenwich Fair is—a periodical breaking out, we suppose, a sort of spring-rash…” (“Greenwich Fair”)

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  6. Chapter 21 – Brokers’ and Marine-store Shops – I don’t mean to put a damper on the fun of the opening sentences, or CD’s comic-ness. In fact, I was just listening to the wonderful podcast called “Charles Dickens: A Brain on Fire” hosted by Dominic Gerrard – Episode 5 with John Mullan. Among many things, they were talking about CD’s ability to meld the comic with the tragic (or vice versa) and how it (the comic) helps the reader “see” the tragic – not see it as less tragic, or see it more clearly, but to “see” it. Give a listen if you can. Anyway, back to my damper —
    These next five Sketches are pretty bleak (Broker’s and Marine-store Shops through A Visit to Newgate). They show us the really dark, seamy, and sad side of the lower class and downtrodden of London’s population. There are some light, comic parts, but I think CD shows aspects of London life that most Londoner’s (I hope) were unaware of, or were reluctant to or disinclined to acknowledge or confront. By memorializing these places CD forces the issue, bringing these places to life in a way that is, at least on their face, non-threatening but still extremely realistic and informative. Once these Sketches are read one can no longer pretend these places and people don’t exist – the vividness of these scenes is penetrating such that, I suspect – indeed, I know – when such a place or person is encountered, the Sketch comes to mind as does the feeling or sentiment behind it. It’s CD daring his audience to “Read this Sketch and remain unmoved when next you see” a Broker’s shop or a Marine-store and the people who are forced to inhabit or make use of them.
    One line that struck me is this remark about the items for sale: “Our wonder at their ever having been bought, is only to be equalled by our astonishment at the idea of their ever being sold again.” And the very last line, about the trinkets in the pawn shop, is haunting: “There they are, thrown carelessly together until a purchaser presents himself – old and patched and repaired, it is true, but the make and materials tell of better days and the older they are, the greater the misery and destitution of those whom they once adorned.” I see Oliver Twist, Little Nell, Uncle Sol & Captain Cuttle, David Copperfield, Mr Krook, Little Dorrit, and Mr Venus all thrown together.

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    1. Yep, that last “line” is a stunner! So sad and visually a perfect way to end this sketch. It really gives this “Sketch” the stamp of realism, reminding us that there once was a real person who gave up this piece of their life maybe for food or some other thing to sustain her or him self.

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  7. Both Wren and Chris have written beautifully and comprehensibly about the contents of the “Brokers…” sketch, and the ways in which Boz’s brilliant descriptions symbolize the darker side of London and the sad desperation of its lower classes in the 1830’s . As they suggest, it’s an amazing essay/”sketch” that is so adroitly written and just seems to fall so spontaneously from the pen of its author. Yet I think that this is an extremely difficult piece to write, and I’d love to go behind the scenes to see how Dickens drafted this essay.

    For one thing, this kind of writing could easily devolve into a mere series of lists, and not have any real direction. In fact, as it comes to the reader now, I have the feeling that Dickens had to really work at keeping the comments meaningful and diverse. As we readers have seen in many of the earlier sketches, our writer just loves lists, or as I call them, catalogues of “things”–as a way of detailing and supporting whatever point or points he’s trying to make. But the risk, here, is that those details can just take over the entire piece and overwhelm and lose the reader. Maybe out of boredom or just sheer exhaustion–from trying to comprehend the huge load of descriptive details–the reader just opts out. In the essay we’ve been examining here, Dickens manages to keep our attention–or at least some of our attentions. I can’t speak for everybody. But I really do believe he’s walking a tightrope with the enormous amount of “stuff” he throws at us.

    But the essay works! And “how’ is the other thing. Now Boze has mentioned the beginning comedy of many of these “Sketches,” and I think that that is important in this one ALSO because “Brokers” opens with several paragraphs of ironic observations about some of the things the middle grade of used furniture stores sell. Boz is quite interested in the curious beds that the sellers are offering their buyers, beds, for example, that aren’t really beds, but some weird hybrid that appear to be useful, and maybe they are, but just seem to be ridiculous. and Boz goes on for some while in this comic/ironic vein. But then this part of the narrative comes to a screeching halt:

    “To return from this digression, we beg to say, that neither of these classes of brokers’ shops, forms the subject of this sketch. The shops to which we advert, are immeasurably inferior to those on whose outward appearance we have slightly touched.”

    And now he suggests that he is going to investigate another “class” of brokers that will be different from those he’s just mentioned. He’s here announced, then, that he’s going to give us a “classification” of the lower types of brokers. And that, will become the structure that will hold the rest of the essay together. So, he starts out by pulling the reader in with a humorous opening of several paragraphs–which we do find funny–but then, metaphorically, lowers the boom on us. He’s fully in control of the rhetoric and now he has us, so to speak, in the palm of his hands.

    But still, there is the risk of reader tedium, and he avoids this problem by breaking up the various lower class of brokers into a series of TYPES– many of which are related to the specific locale where they operate. And here is where he so cleverly keeps the readers attention . There are brokers who he labels the “maritime” group, others make up the “theatric” group–and so on. By using this formula, he keeps our interest because he sets forth catalogues of “stuff” belonging TO THAT PARTICULAR NEIGHBORHOOD. These lower class dealers sell “products” that would be familiar to those in their districts but which might seem strange to the everyday middleclass reader. And that’s what keeps our attention: there is the unusual, the exotic, or a question of just what IS this thing.

    Naturally, no matter where we are from, socially, the quantity and quality of this junk is appalling. At this point, I think, the reader is not overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff but the meaning(s) of it all. And, of course, this is where the commentary by Chris and Wren come in:

    Chris writes: “They show us the really dark, seamy, and sad side of the lower class and downtrodden of London’s population.” And Wren concurs: ‘“Miscellanies of every description” sum up the sort of Brokers shops which tell the story of so many individuals and families on hard times.’

    In their eyes, and perhaps in the eyes of most of us readers, this “Sketch” works!

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      1. Hi Chris: so glad you liked this post. There was so much more I wanted to include (quotes from the Sketch and commentary on those quotes), but I realized it was getting way too long. Besides, you and Wren had both gotten to the crux of what CD was saying, and your remarks especially about Dickens wanting to bring the public’s sympathetic attention to these shops were so right on that I felt I might be moving toward mere repetition of what YOU guys were saying.

        Even so, don’t feel hesitant to expand on my ideas. They’re just a start, I suppose, of so many different ways to “take” this sketch.

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  8. Chapter 22 – Gin-shops – The illustration accompanying this Sketch seems to me to be quite different in tone from the Sketch itself. The Gin-shop of the illustration looks like a shabby but not so bad college dive bar. People are smiling and appear to be getting along, with the exception to the group around the man with his raised fist, but even they might be singing rather than fighting. There is really no hint, going into this Sketch, that it will turn out as dismal as it does.

    Is this the first Sketch in which Boz directly addresses an issue and directly suggests a remedy for it, as he does in the last paragraph? There is no clouding here, no sugarcoating, no hiding behind a sympathetic character – just straightforward editorial commentary. So,14 months after his first published piece (first published work, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk”, appeared in Monthly Magazine in December 1833; “Gin-shops” was published in the Evening Chronicle in February 1835) CD feels comfortable – or angry (?) – enough to speak his mind. [I wonder what a reading of his Sketches in PUBLISHED chronology would show in terms of CD’s editorial voice (in our reading of them as collected pieces, we are seeing them re-arranged and, to some extent, revised from their original appearance). I’m sure somebody has already done this – more research!]

    I don’t mean to offend anyone, but this gin-drinking problem CD’s talking about reminds me of the Lottery, or the relatively new online betting systems being advertised during TV sporting events, in terms of taking advantage of people who really don’t have money to throw away on quick-rich schemes [drink]. I realize there were people who could/can drink responsibly and there are people who can gamble responsibly. But just as CD points to the “half-famished wretch” who doesn’t or won’t stop drinking because he “seek[s] relief” from his/his family’s poverty “in the temporary oblivion” of drunkenness, I think a lot of people today play the lottery or join on-line betting sites in hopes of instant millions. I mention this not to criticize those who drink or gamble but to criticize and emphasize, as I think CD is doing, the predatory nature of the lottery/betting boards who, like the gin-shop owners, profit off the misery-driven hope of the poor. And unfortunately, CD’s final assessment is correct – unless poverty can be eradicated these vices will remain with us.

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    1. Just another quick note to you regarding your great opening bibliographic notes regarding this sketch. That this piece was published some 14 months after his first published sketch lets us know that he’s got quite a bit of writing under his belt. But he is after all, at 23 (!), a very young writer and probably is still in the “writing lab” phase of his career. Yet, your very useful dating of this writing is very helpful to us, especially if we were to do some social research regarding London at the time . And you note, more importantly, that the “Sketches” were rearranged so as NOT to be in the chronology of their original publication. I wonder about this. I think as interpreters of these early writing, we might benefit from seeing them in their original publishing order/context. Do you folks out there think it would make a difference in our responses?

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  9. I am truly amazed at the depth and width of the commentary. Dickens certainly is smiling from his place beyond!

    Each of these extended reflections could be an essay! (Their completeness of thought suggests such to me.)

    Just extrapolating on the “stuffness” of lists and their reflection of the people in various neighborhoods, I can imagine another title for our Inimitable: Dickens, the Human Taxonomist!

    Does anyone list, classify, and categorize things human more deftly?!?

    Thank you all for your rich, comic-tragic perceptions and sharings. They are truly edifying!

    And, Wren, I fully echo Master Lenny’s tribute to you for the hard, hard work you do. You, too, are a taxonomist!

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    1. My gosh, Daniel, the thanks go both ways–as evidenced by this post of yours! You are ALWAYS suggesting the ways in which our group investigations might or will go. Case in point: I’ve spent a ton of time in the last couple of days attempting to come to grips with YOUR suggestions and questions about Dickens and Romanticism, or whether or not he is writing in the “Romantic Tradition.” Mostly, I’m just trying to determine what IS the tradition and how Mr. D might fit in. But I’ve not read enough of his work to really get to this issue. In my best Quixotic fashion, I’m tilting at windmills here! I’m thinking, though, that “Pickwick” might give us some answers. But who knows. Maybe you do????

      Oh my, and you’ve thrown another word at us: Taxonomist!! Yikes!

      A lovely and inspiring post, Daniel.


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      1. Chris: I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of this “Sketch.” Dickens obviously loved Christmas and thought it represented a positive antidote for negative happenings during the year. In this case, for sure, he’s presenting a positive exemplum! But there are darker suggestions at work in this piece that could undercut this sketch’s optimistic viewpoint. It brings up this conundrum for me: Christmas joy is pretty transitory. Can it really “cure poverty” or curtail alcoholism?

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  10. Chis: The opening sentence of your second paragraph sets forth an interesting question that I, such a Dickens’ novice could not hope to answer. But maybe others more well-read in his works could. Has he offered solutions to social and personal problem prior to this sketch or, I propose, in later sketches? The problem(s) of Parliament, charity dinners, women in distress, children suffering, general starvation everywhere, and more, are not just suggested in these writings but are written about in some depth! It seems to me that the author wants to inform us–often through comedy, sometimes with direct tragic illustrations that really pierce our hearts and minds, that ever provoke our tears–where and when these problems appear. He seems to say, ” these are social evils writ large.” These are both social problems and personal /individual problems that need and cry out for solutions–he implies. But you’re right in asking. Has he proposed, directly, solutions?

    And this is an important question as we look forward to the remaining “Sketches” and ultimately, the novels. And as I mention this final genre (the novel), there is another question: Do novels that present “problems” need to propose solutions??? Is this the job of a good novel? Or in our more recent context, the job of a good essay? Or story? More stuff to ponder….

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  11. First – Lenny & Daniel – Welcome to the world of Dickens scholarship – so many questions, so much yet to be explored! Each one of the questions, issues, topics you/we raise makes me want to dive deep into my books and find answers. I have an extensive Dickens-related library (lots of used books), but unfortunately I didn’t take very good notes when I read the books (an oversight which I am very much regretting). I recall things, but I don’t recall where I read them or that I have the information correct. I truly want to dive into these questions – research of this sort is like candy for me – and give you all the best information I can.

    Dickens is not shy about editorializing – that is, stepping out of his assumed narrator persona and speaking directly to the reader, as he does in the last paragraph of “Gin-shops”: “. . . and until YOU can cure it . . .” (my emphasis). In using the pronoun “you” rather than saying, e.g., “until it can be cured”, Dickens, I suggest, not Boz, is speaking – he becomes an intrusive narrator (I’m trying to find the book that first used this term to describe this). Dickens does this in some of his novels, Bleak House comes to mind, but I don’t recall him doing this in any of the Sketches we’ve read so far. This was the point I was trying to make – that of the intrusive narrator. But I love the fact that questions lead to more questions – the beautiful, vicious circle of “Dickens”!

    Anyway, in terms of The Pawnbroker’s Shop, Boz is certainly laying it on thick. He stays out of this one, directly, but is certainly paints a picture that cannot, morally, be ignored. Can we read about these poor people and not feel? Feel for them; feel guilty; feel culpable; feel the need to do something; feel at a loss of what to do, and on and on. To feel is exactly what Boz wants us to do. As Lenny suggests, there is no solution, but awareness of the problem, feeling that something must be done, is perhaps the first step towards coming to, if not a solution, maybe, at the very least, some help or assistance for these folk.

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  12. Quickly, further to our discussion of the chronology of the Sketches, I’m reading Robert L. Patten’s “Charles Dickens and ‘Boz’: The Birth of the Industrial-Age Author”, and came across this on p. 65: “The chronology of the Sketches is, however, so complicated; the pressures on [Dickens] to produce were so irregular and at times acute; the competition between reporting and sketching was so continuous and intertwined; and the revisions over time were so extensive and different for each entry in the collected volumes; that linear development, even if it could be minutely tracked, is unlikely to be the paradigm of Boz’s artistic trajectory.” Just FYI.

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    1. This just caught my eye for its importance: “The Birth of the Industrial-Age Author.” That book title implies so much, and we as a group are right in there working away, uncovering the various implications of this “statement.”

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  13. Since I’m so into narrative structure these days, it seemed natural that I’d make a brief comment about the sleight-of-hand structure of “Gin-Shops.” Other than the title, there is very little in the opening paragraphs that would suggest that Boz is keeping to his implied subject. Incredibly, the essay opens with a discussion of dogs and elephants. Say what? The reader must feel at least a little perplexed about this beginning. Elephants that are going crazy, need to be shot. Dogs running freely in the streets with their tongues hanging out ought to be muzzled! Well, I guess, as I read, this seems true enough. We ought to be able to control our elephants and dogs–even with the unlikely prospect that we’ll ever encounter an elephant running wild in OUR streets. But maybe in 1835 London that was a real possibility. Who wouda thought….

    But then, the sketch takes an unexpected turn and starts to talk about the various retailers who are remodeling their properties. As Boz puts it, this is a sort of fad that is, again, “running wild” throughout London. There is a bit of nostalgia in this set of details, where the old buildings are being elaborately redecorated with new frontage and a lot of glitzy additions. It’s an extravagance, however, that over time, just sort of peters out–as fads are wont to do. But what of the reader’s response to THIS new information? I doesn’t seem that we are any nearer to the discussion of gin-shops than when we were when reading about dogs and elephants! What gives?

    Well, what gives is the idea that all these opening remarks are strangely related. They are a kind of disease or madness that goes on at a fairly rapid pace, and that is either stopped or one which runs its course. Here’s an earlier statement by Boz that pulls these remarks together:

    ” But these trades are as eccentric as comets; nay, worse, for no one can calculate on the recurrence of the strange appearances which betoken the disease. Moreover, the contagion is general, and the quickness with which it diffuses itself, almost incredible.”

    So he sums up his strange opening with this brief remark which seems harmless enough in its content–that is, until we realize that he’s using some pretty serious words like “disease” and “contagion.” Moreover, somewhat later he describes this rebuilding process as a “mania [that] again died away and the public began to congratulate themselves on its entire disappearance….” and the reader thinks, suddenly, ok then, that’s good–until Boz finishes this very sentence with “..,until it burst forth with tenfold violence among the publicans, and keepers of ‘wine vaults.'”

    Oh…my; somehow he got here–to the subject we have been waiting for for several paragraphs! And man does he go for it, excoriating Gin shops and their like as they have permeated the poorer, downtrodden neighborhoods of London.

    But what an essay! The amount of planning, drafting and redrafting must have been tremendous! Once more, he sets out with a kind of humorous, but enigmatic opening, and gradually and strangely pulls us toward his very serious topic. At 23 years of age, young Charles is exhibiting some mighty impressive writing “chops.”

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Chapter 24 – Criminal Courts

    “There is a great deal of form, but no compassion; considerable interest, but no sympathy.”

    Again we are guided by Boz into a place we have “often . . . strayed” by, but “never pass[ed] . . . without something like a shudder”, and perhaps never did more than to “cast a hurried glance through the wicket”. Here we get another tour, like that we received in “Public Dinners”. Boz gives us first his experience which, at the same time, informs the uninitiated or elicits a similar personal memory. He next presents a scene meant to work upon our sympathy by putting a human face – the poor mother and her wayward son – on the heretofore described “heavy walls” “low massive doors” “fetters” “irons” “whipping-place” “dark” “gibbet” “dreadful” “gloomy mansion” “thick door, plated with iron and mounted with spikes” “immense key” -ness of Newgate. He finally ushers us into the Court itself, and, as he did at the Dinner, gives us both the play by play and the color commentary. In so doing, Boz does what the Courts themselves have failed to do, he has shifted our focus from the formality of and interest in the Courts as a privileged institution to compassion and sympathy for the underprivileged prosecuted and their relations.

    This Sketch revisits “Meditations in Monmouth-street”, though “Courts” was written almost 2 years before “Meditations”; it also anticipates at least one Sketch we have not yet read, and, per footnotes in my edition, to scenes in “Oliver Twist” – let’s keep an eye out for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Greetings, Fellow Inimitablists!

    Your observations about the Master Observer (CD) are wonderful–so enriching.

    I have, by the way, stopped “liking” comments, because I LOVE them all . . . and liking seems to be faint praise.

    Chris, thank you so much for drawing on your vast understanding of our beloved author, drawing on your “Dickens-related library (lots of used books).” Methinks you are a person after the Wren’s own heart!

    You, Chris, (to my mind) hit the proverbial nail on the head: “Can we read about these poor people and not feel?” Was there ever a writer with greater capacity to elicit heart-felt compassion for the plight of the marginalized, disregarded, neglected, unseen of society?

    And, Lenny, your keen description of Dickens’ “narrative structure” is most illuminating.

    “. . . he sets out with a kind of humorous, but enigmatic opening, and gradually and strangely pulls us toward his very serious topic. At 23 years of age, young Charles is exhibiting some mighty impressive writing ‘chops.'”

    I had forgotten that Dickens was just 23 at the time of writing and publishing these Sketches. (We are not all created equal after all!)

    I am, quite honestly, as delighted in reading your commentary as in reading the words of the writer who inspires them. Is that heresy?!?

    Thanks, All!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ditto to you Daniel. Your praise is much appreciated, as well as your input regarding these wonderful “Sketches.” Yeah, 23!! Too, too unbelievable….

      Liked by 1 person

  16. A few notes from this week’s reads so far…wow, looks like there has been WONDERFUL conversation here which I’m behind on! I’m heading to my long shift, but hopefully a few quiet night hours will allow for some catch-up time. My thoughts are not well organized…it was mostly taking notes on a few things that struck me particularly over the last few days of reading:

    On “Gin Shops”:

    Hmm…elephants and dogs right off! Dr Christian was just talking about Dickens and dogs (those “especially liable” to “run stark, staring, raving mad, periodically”) in the second part of his David Copperfield youtube series, and how often dogs are alluded to! And here’s another funny opening for Boze: “If an elephant run mad, we are all ready for him—kill or cure—pills or bullets, calomel in conserve of roses…” and the doubtful success of the muzzling of the dog…

    So fascinating, the contrast between the “Rookery” and the street just beyond. And oh, the misfire of attempts at flirtation with “Mary”!

    But WOW does Dickens end with a bang: “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour. If Temperance Societies would suggest an antidote against hunger, filth, and foul air, or could establish dispensaries for the gratuitous dispensation of bottles of Lethe-water, gin-palaces would be numbered among the things that were.”

    On “The Pawnbroker’s Shop”:

    Pretending to consider the purchase of an item in the broker’s window, then hastily going in after glancing around; or going in through a discreet side door ~ struck by: the “drunken look of savage stupidity”

    Oooh….ouch and double ouch. The “slipshod woman” who berates the man striking the boy: “What do you strike the boy for, you brute?…Do you think he’s your wife, you willin?” ☹ And when the consumptive, “wretched worn-out woman” comes in with her child…oh God this is difficult stuff. And then the young woman with the forget-me-not ring, and her mother; the next woman who is the picture of “lost happiness never to be restored, and where the practiced smile is a wretched mockery of the misery of the heart.”

    And wow, so sad, so true: “There are strange chords in the human heart, which will lie dormant through years of depravity and wickedness, but which will vibrate at last to some slight circumstance apparently trivial in itself, but connected by some undefined and indistinct association with past days that can never be recalled…”

    On “Criminal Courts”:

    “There is a great deal of form [in the Courts at the Old Bailey], but no compassion; considerable interest, but no sympathy.” His description of the mental anguish of the man on trial is astounding.

    On today’s “A Visit to Newgate”:

    How well Dickens seems to challenge us here, so seeing things anew, making the familiar spring up with the life that it really has, and that we have failed to observe or appreciate, through the “force of habit” when he laments the “singular examples of the power which habit and custom exercise over the minds of men, and of the little reflection they are apt to bestow on subjects with which every day’s experience has rendered them familiar.”

    Aren’t all these Sketches really a challenge to shaking us out of the stupor of habit? The stupor of finding nothing new under the sun, as we go about our same daily rounds? I could quote the whole of the opening paragraph, in sheer amazement at what Dickens is doing here: shaking us out of our complacence, especially regarding the miseries around us.

    Here’s Pickwick, living in Boz, as he awakens to some of the sad realities in the Fleet prison ~ or in this case, Newgate. He’s not going to give statistics nor measurements—only his experience of **seeing**, really seeing: “we saw the prison, and saw the prisoners.” Wow. Besides the suffering of the young, I was so particularly struck about those awaiting execution. It’s a bit like he’s written a Victorian version of Dead Man Walking ~ the film made a huge, huge impression on me when I was very young. But I also thought how much, besides Pickwick, this experience would influence A Tale of Two Cities much later… “ghosts all” ~ “Buried how long?” ~ etc.

    Man, this one really packs a punch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, Rach, you’ve given us a huge batch of things to think and rethink about. I, too, was struck by the entire sequence involving the bar keeper Mary and the young man who arrogantly flirts with her and actually gets huffy with her as she stands her ground. Her responses to him are wonderful to see as she refuses to backdown. Nice to see a “portrait” of a STRONG WOMAN!

      Just as important, though, in your remarks and those many which Chris has written about involving women and children, are the various ways in which they are mistreated in these recent sketches. The abuses range from the verbal to violent beatings. Dickens the writer is underscoring how the “lives” and persons of women and children are scorned, belittled and absolutely bodily beaten, kicked and punched–literally to the ground. As Rachel remarks, “…oh God this is difficult stuff.”
      Sadly, in the various sketches so far, WOMEN AND CHILDREN ARE AT RISK!!!

      And as Chris writes in her essay on “The Pawnbroker’s Shop, “Boz is certainly laying it on thick. He stays out of this one, directly, but is certainly paints a picture that cannot, morally, be ignored.”


      Two major themes thus far stand out in these recent cogent observations by Wren/Rach and Chris: 1. THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND 2. THE VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN.

      It’s Interesting that we have only one really positive “portrait” of a woman and that’s the barkeep Mary in “Gin-Shops.” (Correct me if I ‘m wrong!) And then we have that wonderful moment in “NewGate” with the reconciliation between the mother and son. Are their other moments in these recent “Sketches” that show 1835 London society at large redeeming itself with regard to its treatment of women and children? I can’t recall….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Chris: the information from Forster and Collins is quite helpful. I’ve always thought that Dickens was a great reviser as the control he has over his writing really shines through. His use of language, his impressive sense of structure and his almost awesome awareness of his audience and how he can “move” them in so many ways–suggests a lot of trial and error, revision on top of revision. Love to get my hands on those manuscripts to see how his writing process unfolds.

        And we see all that sophistication and care operating in the essay on “Newgate.” The amount of organized detail is very pictorial as he knows he must orient his readers to the general schematic and aspect of the prison. He has to “build” his narrative, so-to-speak, around the very architecture that he has witnessed as he’s proceeding through the maze of hallways, huge doors and small rooms. He wants us to see what he sees–to experience it as closely as he. Once he feels he has us “comfortable” with the space he is creating, he can then begin to get to the specifics of the prisoners inside the “house.”

        His descriptions of the various prisoners, visitors, and officers in Newgate is as dismal as we might expect. He does move, here and there, to more explicit descriptions of incarcerated individuals to drive home his points about how inhumane this place is and how horribly treated these inmates are. One fact is glaringly obvious: there is practically nothing on offer for these inmates to do. As far as I can see, no effort is being made to rehabilitate any of these prisoners except in a very primitive and transitory religious fashion. As we’ve seen in the structures of his other sketches, Boz eventually closes in on particular persons, the essay beginning to individualize the broad spectrum of this prison’s inhabitants. One moment early on captures the sad conversation between the caring, impoverished, imploring mother and her convict daughter who seems to be nastily–almost sadistically, ignoring the overtures of her mother. This poignant scene brings the reader more in tune with the “reality” of the lives embedded in Newgate. There is something terrible about this “conversation” that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How can I “feel” for this young woman who treats her mother in this terrible, hurtful way. I’m really conflicted by this encounter!

        But I’m not conflicted by the sketch’s last several paragraphs devoted to the man who is about to die in just a few hours. At this point in the writing, Boz moves into a decidedly less realistic mode as he IMAGINES the dreadful psychology of the man about to be executed:

        “Conceive the situation of a man, spending his last night on earth in this cell.”

        And then he continues on with several paragraphs marking the hour-by hour thoughts this theoretical prisoner must be having. The writing, here, is absolutely stunning and really does draw the reader in with its detail and its empathy with this individual. In the earlier segments of this Newgate sketch, the reader is pretty much left on his own (with some “prompting”) to IMAGINE the plight of these condemned women and men. But here Boz probes fully into this man’s consciousness and imagines for us the horror of the man about to be killed.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sorry folks, I misspoke, here. The “reconciliation scene” appears in “Criminal Courts.” Just the opposite happens in “Newgate.”


    2. Wren: a subtitle or name for this particular group of “Sketches” could be “Admonitory Exemplum”–as Chaucerian critics do call many of THE CANTERBURY TALES. This gives a kind of “Christian” ring to Boz’s and Dickens’ sketches and fictions. Again, as I said many weeks ago, I’m beginning to think of CD as a kind of Lay Preacher…. To support this idea, I refer to you: “I could quote the whole of the opening paragraph, in sheer amazement at what Dickens is doing here: shaking us out of our complacence, especially regarding the miseries around us.” Many a sermon I’ve heard are designed to make us see, to make us hear!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Chapter 25 – A Visit to Newgate – Where to start??

    Footnote in my edition: “Specially written for the first collection of Sketches in volume form, the First Series (February 1836).” Dickens and two colleagues visited the prison specifically for Dickens to get material for a piece to help round out the soon to be published volume, “Sketches by Boz”. Written quickly from memory (he took no notes while at the prison), he took three weeks to revise & edit. And it shows; the finished product was highly praised by his editor and colleagues as a piece that “would ‘make’ any book” (Collins, Dickens and Crime, 27).

    In his book, Collins devotes an entire chapter to Newgate and Dickens’s feeling about and relationship with the prison. In his critique of “A Visit to Newgate” Collins says, among other things, that Dickens and his colleagues were decidedly NOT given the executive tour. Rather, they were “doubtless steered clear” and “bamboozled” by their guides who sought to hide the true nature of the “prison’s laxity, inefficiency and corruption” which more “experienced and perceptive amateur observer[s]” would not have missed. (36) But I think this is a little harsh. While Collins is probably not wrong, in essence he’s saying “yeah, but . . .”, which has the effect of invalidating Dickens’ opinions, or lessening their impact which I think does a disservice to them. I think this Sketch is pretty powerful even though it may be naive. And, Dickens clearly states his intentions in the Sketch (in the 2nd & 3rd paragraphs), ending with “We saw the prison, and saw the prisoners; and what we did see, and what we thought, we will tell at once in our own way”. This is echoed by John Forster’s assessment of the whole of the Sketches: “The book altogether is a perfectly unaffected, unpretentious, honest performance.” (The Life of Charles Dickens. 1872. Vol 1, p. 93). (Forster was Dickens great friend, 1st biographer, and personal editor, among other things.)

    The power of this Sketch comes from its authenticity of experience, of observation. As Forster goes on to say, “Things are painted literally as they are; and, whatever the picture, whether of every-day vulgar, shabby genteel, or downright low, with neither the condescending air which is affectation, nor the too familiar one which is slang. The book altogether is a perfectly unaffected, unpretentious, honest performance.” This is why the reading public loved Boz, because they felt, from their own experience and observation mirrored in the Sketches, that he could be trusted to tell them the truth, to not sugarcoat, to not patronize or lecture. This is why I love him, too.

    Side note re the reference to “the casts of the heads and faces of the two notorious murderers, Bishop and Williams” (in the 4th paragraph) – please see Sarah Wise’s brilliant book about them called The Italian Boy. It’s fabulous!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Characters – Chapter 1 – Thoughts about People – Or maybe, to keep with the Dickens & Women theme, it should be called Thoughts about Men, for the only mention of women in this Sketch are of the landlady who has a little boy and when the cross old fellow indignantly declaims about “the worthlessness of a wife”. Be that as it may, this is a bittersweet little sketch, which, for a nice change of pace, ends on a happy note. We will meet all three of these types throughout Dickens’s novels. Some will be happy, some will be gruff, some will be heroes, some villains, some will be major players while others will simply be present for effect. It will be interesting to see how Dickens uses these types as we move forward; how he changes them and melds them to serve his plots.

    NOTE – For those of us who are interested in Dickens’s writing process, there is no better place to start than John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson’s terrific little book, Dickens at Work, first published in 1957. It’s very thorough and insightful and takes the reader through Dickens’s process using his manuscripts, notes, letters, and final texts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Mr. Smith”: This is the name Boz gives to the sad portrait of the elderly working-class clerk in the “Thoughts About People” sketch. It’s a unique signature, in this sketch, that this man has a name, whereas the other “types” of men in this “classification analysis” have no names, are rather amorphously detailed and who are not given the same immediacy or proximity that the reader has with this individual. And the opening paragraph of this sketch seems to relate more particularly to “Mr. Smith’ than to the other two types:

      “It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a man may live and die in London. He awakens no sympathy in the breast of any single person; his existence is a matter of interest to no one save himself; he cannot be said to be forgotten when he dies, for no one remembered him when he was alive. There is a numerous class of people in this great metropolis who seem not to possess a single friend, and whom nobody appears to care for.

      I understand, however, that this naming is more on the ironic side than the realistic, as the name “Smith” is about as common as any name in 1835 London. And that the mere naming of “Smith” stands for something ubiquitous in British society. He’s everywhere and stands for thousands of men. Yet, that fact that he’s been given a name still counts for a lot and personalizes him. The sketch follows him through a specific night after work, watches him eat, alone, with no attempt to speak with the other customers at the restaurant and tells us what he will eat, or what slight adjustments he’ll make to his menu at that particular time.

      And there is more: that night, after he has his dinner, he still receives the company mail and delivers it to his Boss. It’s late , and he’s no doubt tired–but he still feels compelled to get the mail to its rightful owner. There is something very poignant about this gesture. He’s a company man and feels that he must do his duty, no matter how servile that might be.

      This particular portrait really interests me because it functions in two distinct ways: it presents us with a PARTICULAR protagonist while hitting at the GENERAL type. The artistry here is magnificent and is a wonderful example of SYNECDOCHE–where the artist designates a “part” that, in a parallel manner points to a “whole.” The artistry is inherent in Dickens’ ability to create at once the sense of both. We get extremely and intimately close to the part but simultaneously realize that this part stands for a whole–an entire group or category of men who, as Boz suggests in his opening paragraph “are a numerous class of people.” So, the equation: PART = WHOLE…. The question, then, coming out of this sketch, pertains to the idea of synecdoche and the extent Dickens has used this already in the “Sketches” we’ve read and commented on, and whether he will later use this device in his novels?

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Inimitables,

    I rest my case: the commentaries are on a par with the text!

    So much richness of thought and perception among you. Thank you.

    Wren’s observation: “Aren’t all these Sketches really a challenge to shaking us out of the stupor of habit?” That is my experience throughout reading the Sketches–as though gaining fresh eyes.

    Chris: “. . . he took three weeks to revise & edit.” This underscores Lenny’s insight that these Sketches are anything by dashed off.

    Chris (quoting Forster): “The book altogether is a perfectly unaffected, unpretentious, honest performance.” A resounding AMEN! And, “there is no better place to start than John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson’s terrific little book, Dickens at Work.”

    Okay, Master Lenny, Chris has sounded the call: Time to tackle “Dickens at Work”!

    Blessings, Inimitables!


  20. Chapter 2 – A Christmas Dinner – It is such a positive portrait of the season. I can only imagine that young Charles’ experiences of the season, and thus his associations with it, must have been so thoroughly positive – as opposed to his experiences with, say, prisons and schools – as to allow him to be so effusive in his praise of it. Again per my edition’s notes, this is “the first instance of Dickens’s enthusiasm for the festival” of Christmas. The Charles Dickens Page website has a page devoted to Dickens & Christmas and provides a really great overview: https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/charles-dickens-christmas.html

    And, Lenny, the last line in this Sketch speaks in reply to your comment of 2/6 re Admonitory Exemplum – “And thus the evening passes, in a strain of rational good-will and cheerfulness, doing more to awaken the sympathies of every member of the party in behalf of his neighbour, and to perpetuate their good feeling during the ensuing year, than all the homilies that have ever been written, by all the Divines that have ever lived.” To which I apply a hearty “Amen!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Chris: I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of this “Sketch.” Dickens obviously loved Christmas and thought it represented a positive antidote for negative happenings during the year. In this case, for sure, he’s presenting a positive exemplum! But there are darker suggestions at work in this piece that could undercut this sketch’s optimistic viewpoint. It brings up this conundrum for me: Christmas joy is pretty transitory. Can it really “cure poverty” or curtail alcoholism?

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I’m so enjoying reading these comments! As the risk of reiterating what everyone has already said, what an intelligent, insightful group I’ve joined! You all give me so much to think about, and add so much to these readings. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

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