Happy Birthday, Boz! ~ and a Look-Ahead to Week 6 of the Dickens Club

Wherein we wish a “Happy Birthday” to the Inimitable, with a reading from Peter Ackroyd; General Mems; We take a glance back at the fifth week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23; With a look ahead to week six.

Happy Birthday to the Inimitable, born on this day in 1812!

In celebration, I’m reading a very short passage (off-the-cuff…please forgive errors!) from Peter Ackroyd’s marvelous biography, Dickens. I highly recommend this book. I might read the whole Prologue in honor of his death day later this year ~ but it always makes me cry! But here’s the opening of Chapter One:

mile-end-dickensNo 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 Six’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 any 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. If you have been reading along with us (or if you’d like to start) 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 Five Wrap-up: Dickensian contrasts; Dickens in his “writing lab”; Dickens’ humor; Dickens’ Romanticism; Dickens’ Social Conscience; Dickens as “lay preacher”

thoughts about people sketches wk 5
“Thoughts about People”

And what a marvelous week it has been ~ thank you to everyone keeping up these conversations! I had to come back to really dive in later in the week, since I had fallen behind in the comments.

And we’re taking on or bringing up so many wonderful subjects that I’m going to need to start making sub-headings for the sub-headings!

sketches wk 6 Yvonne comment 2

The readings, I think we can agree, were generally heavier as we approached the end of the “Scenes” sequence, experiencing with Boz the places where poverty and distress have their refuges, supports, or endings ~ from gin shops to pawnbrokers’ shops, to Newgate, and death row. (And what an experience “A Visit to Newgate” was.) By the time we started the “Characters” sequence with the poor clerk making his daily rounds, Yvonne felt the relief, as I imagine we all might have after “Newgate” and “Criminal Courts,” in the contrasting brightness of “A Christmas Dinner.”

sketches wk 6 chris book

Chris has been sharing wonderful perspective from her Dickens reading. A few of us are very curious about her latest, Charles Dickens and “Boz”!

I recently bought a biography of Dickens’ close friend and biographer, John Forster, and am eager to learn more about the man who knew our Boz so well.

Cassandra has been reading some of the Sketches focused on travel and noting his lack of enthusiasm for public transport, and can empathize!

sketches wk 6 cassandra comment

john forster bioLenny has been fascinated by Dickens-as-narrator/writer, trying to work out Dickens’ “process” as a writer at this young age, and seeing these Sketches as a kind of writing “lab,” and at the same time asking the question: Why do some of these Sketches ~ one, say, like “Brokers and Marine-store Shops” ~ work?

“For one thing,” writes Lenny, “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…”

sketches wk 6 yvonne comment

And Daniel agreed:

“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?!?”

Chris’ perspective on “Gin Shops” brought forward another idea re: the Dickens “writing lab,” to borrow Lenny’s phrase: how fascinating it would be (if it were even possible) to really read the Sketches in the order in which they were published! (She later follows this up with perspective from one of her reads, that suggests this would be a far more complicated endeavor than it first appears ~ I’d add, not unlike trying to read Dickens’ larger works, published serially as they were, with one overlapping another, as we’re doing here!)

Chris asks us:

“Is this [“Gin Shops”] 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!”

And a possible answer emerges with her current read. Chris continues:

“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.”

sketches wk 6 boze quote

Part of Dickens’ “writing lab” hook, of course, is his inimitable humor. Boze draws our attention to the hilarious openings of so many of the Sketches: “I find them so funny. Dickens is a maniac.” I responded with a few of our most recent ones.

sketches wk 6 rach quote funny openings

Lenny also points out, in response to my comment about Dickens’ fascination with the sea and seafarers and those who in some way make their living by or on the sea, that here we might be getting into that dangerously “Romantic” territory, as we started discussing last week! Daniel had first suggested the notion, and it has clearly been haunting Lenny:

“I’ve spent a ton of time in the last couple of days attempting to come to grips with YOUR [Daniel’s] 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????”

In her passage on “Gin Shops,” Chris compared Dickens’ perspective on them with what many of us feel about, to use her examples, the Lottery, or some of our other modern methods of gambling, and their “predatory nature.” So now, of course, we come to Dickens’ striking social consciousness, as noted particularly in the final Sketches of the “Scenes” sequence.

Lenny puts it out there:

sketches wk 6 lenny quote 2 themes“It seems to me,” Lenny writes, “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…”

And here’s a marvelous passage from Chris:

sketches wk 6 chris quote
Chris M. comment

And I agreed, when I wrote on the experience of reading “A Visit to Newgate”:

Rach comment

Which brought us back to Boz as a kind of “lay preacher,” as Lenny proposed:

Lenny H. comment


Perhaps we’ll finish the wrap-up with Daniel’s summary:

Daniel M. comment

Well, “Inimitables,” I hope everyone has a most marvelous week! Once again, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we’re not even into the novels yet! Wow…

Thank you, Boz, for the gift of your life and words!

A Look-ahead to Week Six…

Today’s Sketch is the third in the “Characters” sequence, “The New Year.”

Tues, 8 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Four, “Miss Evans and the Eagle”

Wed, 9 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Five, “The Parlour Orator”

Thurs, 10 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Six, “The Hospital Patient”

(Okay, folks, I couldn’t get our usually-trusty Circumlocution Office link to load, so I’m attaching a pdf here that I made from a copy at Gutenberg, along with a Cruikshank illustration!)

Fri, 11 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Seven, “The Misplaced Attachment of Mr John Dounce”

Sat, 12 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Eight, “The Mistaken Milliner: A Tale of Ambition”

Sun, 13 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Nine, “The Dancing Academy”

Mon, 14 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Ten, “Shabby-Genteel People”


  1. So, Dickensian Wren, you again capture the richness, the texture of thought and commentary so thoroughly and thoughtfully. Thank you for this splendid labor of love . . . of Dickens . . . and of all things Dickensian.

    The reading of the opening paragraph in Peter Ackroyd’s biography regarding Dickens’ birth was perfectly suited! I delight in the notion that his mother danced at a ball the night before, apochryphal though it may be! Wonderful “litany” of the inimitable characters Dicken’s “birthed” and gave us through his writing. Many are “more actual” than the people who populate our world.

    This puts me in mind of the tantalizing thought about Dickens as a Romantic (as a person, as an author). I will depart from any literary definitions for a minute, and merely share my own sense about this prospect.

    If “Romantic” suggests a way of being and of seeing . . . a sensibility, surely Dickens is a Romantic. Adventurous. Alive to life and its immense possibilities and challenges. Perceiving a Divine Hand in the unfolding journey. Questing for the “Holy Grail” of truth, goodness, and beauty.

    I fully recognize that I have no authority whatever to comment on Dickens as a possible Romantic, except to engage and encounter him through the world he creates and glean the elements of his Romantic spirit.

    It struck me in reading the various astute comments about Dicken’s acute social consciousness that he is like a film actor inhabiting a role, who suddently turns to stare directly into the camera. He breaks the “fourth wall” to rouse us from mental and spiritual slumber, imbued with a “righteous indignation.” As Lenny points out, a Lay Preacher on a mission.

    AMEN, Charles!

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  2. Happy Birthday, Charles!

    Chapter 3 – The New Year – I must admit, I was a little concerned that Mr Tupple would not comport himself appropriately by the end of Sketch (I will not say by the end of the party because we are not told what happens after midnight!). I was waiting for Boz to drop the other shoe and have Tupple drink too much, talk too much, step on his partners’ toes, spill coffee on the old lady, or come to blows with the other young men. But he does not. He is perfectly amiable, shows to great advantage, and will undoubtedly end up a son-in-law to “his friend Dobble”.

    But there is another “character” with whom I am more concerned, and that is Boz himself. He tells us “to see the old fellow [the year] out, and the new one in, with gaiety and glee” and yet he spends New Year’s Eve in his room watching the festivities of his neighbors through his window. He may claim complacency sitting by his “fireside on this last night of the old year . . . penning this article with as jolly a face as if nothing extraordinary had happened, or was about to happen, to disturb our equanimity”, but his last paragraph brings us to where his thoughts really are, that time is passing – perhaps HIS time is passing. It is another call to stop and smell the roses before they completely fade away. But I sense something more is unsaid.

    Which brings me to contemplate the notion of “Boz” being considered “a middle-aged, solitary, melancholy figure” by his contemporary audience (Patten 73), juxtaposed to the fact that Dickens was the complete opposite – young, popular with many friends, and happy at this period of his life. How to reconcile these diametrically opposed personalities/natures? Boz, who writes, “penning this article with as jolly a face as if nothing extraordinary had happened, or was about to happen, to disturb our equanimity”, seems to be alluding to a recent or imminent loss of a loved one, or to some other recent or impending disappointment. But for Dickens, 1835-36 was an extraordinary time and much had and was about to happen to him that would completely and enormously disturb his equanimity. 1835 saw him continuing his exhausting reporting duties while his Sketches and alter ego Boz were hitting it big, while 1836 would see the Sketches published in volume form, the beginning of “Pickwick” and Dickens’s rise to “rock star” status, his marriage to Catherine, and his first child on the way. Maybe those words of Boz’s betray some trepidation on the part of his creator who maybe didn’t want to tempt fate by thinking too positively about the new and exciting prospects before him.

    Time, indeed, does move fast and we don’t always have, or take, the opportunity to observe what is happening to us as it happens, and by the time we can look . . .

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    1. Chris, you give us so much to think about, here, especially your anxieties about Boz, our narrator–his apparent solitary life, writing to us alone on a New Year’s Eve–while his neighbors are celebrating the old and the new year. And the final paragraph is a reality sandwich that invites the reader to take heed and pay attention to what Boz is saying, that old bugaboo MUTABILITY is raising its ugly head, again. But more about the perplexities regarding that last paragraph in a bit. You also call attention to the contrast between Dickens the writer–in his early 20’s (amazing!) and the supposed age of Boz–perhaps in his 70’s, and your saying this gives a new wrinkle to the narrative. Dickens the author has had a banner year, writing many more Sketches and beginning his new endeavor, something called “Pickwick.” He probably IS celebrating his success during the year 1836. But his “alter-ego” this man Boz is not joining in the festivities of the New Year. He’s not celebrating, he’s closed his drapes to further isolate himself from the outside world, and, like an elderly person, seems content to sit by his fire and dream and imagine what it might be like at the party of his neighbor’s in the “house with the green shutters” across the way

      .”… here we are, seated by our fireside on this last night of the old year, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, penning this article with as jovial a face as if nothing extraordinary had happened, or was about to happen, to disturb our good humour.”

      But let’s back up a bit…. This “sketch” is a classic* “Frame Narrative” where Boz the narrator, in the first person “We” tells us a bit about New Years, how it’s a time worth our attention, both to acclaim the positives from the last year (1836) and to look forward to the wonderful possibilities of 1837. In this sketches’ structure, we readers are located very close to him, this time, almost as if we were sitting in the room with him. This “frame” part of the narrative works to give the moment a sense of immediacy and intimacy. The distance between Boz and us readers has all but diminished while he expounds on what the meaning of the new year is to him. So, Dickens the author, devises the frame in what has come to be a fairly classical manner, and then proceeds to the next stage:

      “We can fancy one of these parties, we think, as well as if we were duly dress-coated and pumped, and had just been announced at the drawing-room door.

      Take the house with the green blinds for instance. We know it is a quadrille party, because we saw some men taking up the front drawing-room carpet while we sat at breakfast this morning, and if further evidence be required, and we must tell the truth, we just now saw one of the young ladies ‘doing’ another of the young ladies’ hair, near one of the bedroom windows, in an unusual style of splendour, which nothing else but a quadrille party could possibly justify.

      The master of the house with the green blinds is in a public office; we know the fact by the cut of his coat, the tie of his neckcloth, and the self-satisfaction of his gait—the very green blinds themselves have a Somerset House air about them.”

      This, then, is the transitional statement that gets the reader to the “real” (and imagined–“fancied”) narrative put forth by Boz while he’s sitting by the fire penning this very extraordinary piece of writing. And that is going to be the story of Mr. Tupple, a guest at “Mr. Dobbie’s” party. We see how exquisitely Dickens has arranged all this. The frame is rather solemn, as Chris has pointed out, but then the embedded story of Tupple at Dobbies is alive, vivacious and highly comedic.

      And after Tupple’s “story” the sketch moves back to the frame and we again hear from Boz, still ruminating over the meaning of “New Years.” Here’s the final paragraph:

      “We have scarcely written the last word of the previous sentence, when the first stroke of twelve, peals from the neighbouring churches. There certainly—we must confess it now—is something awful in the sound. Strictly speaking, it may not be more impressive now, than at any other time; for the hours steal as swiftly on, at other periods, and their flight is little heeded. But, we measure man’s life by years, and it is a solemn knell that warns us we have passed another of the landmarks which stands between us and the grave. Disguise it as we may, the reflection will force itself on our minds, that when the next bell announces the arrival of a new year, we may be insensible alike of the timely warning we have so often neglected, and of all the warm feelings that glow within us now.”

      We can’t help but notice the language here: “peals from the neighboring church,” “something awful in the sound,” “hours steel swiftly on,” “solemn knell,” “another of the landmarks which stands between us and the grave.” Oh boy, something HAS changed, here. It’s almost as though the veil from Boz has come off his face and we are seeing the man himself. More than ever, he has shown himself to be a “real person” with feelings that are pretty close to the bone. As Chris has alerted us, there is something going on with Boz, our friend, and it seems to be heightened by the New year’s Eve Celebration that he has just imagined taking place across the way.

      It’s interesting, then, that this “frame narrative” has given us not one, but two stories to read, to think about, and try to understand. Furthermore, it’s given us TWO characters, so totally unlike: one who is extremely introverted, another who is extremely extraverted. Once again, Mr. D has given us a lot to think about, much to work through.

      And there are many more riches to be had, here, if we continue to dig.

      *Some classic frame narratives you’ll probably recognize and which are some of my favorites: THE CANTERBURY TALES (Chaucer), THE HEART OF DARKNESS (Conrad), THE GREAT GATSBY (Fitzgerald), FRANKENSTEIN (Shelley).

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  3. Chapter 4 – Miss Evans and the Eagle – Cute little sketch. So typically Dickensian — especially as it pertains to the adage “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait” (variously attributed to Dickens, Charles Reade, and/or Wilkie Collins). Boz unceremoniously drops us, as he does Miss Evans, at our “respective abodes in . . . a state of insensibility . . . and excitement”. “What happens next?” I found myself saying out loud to the page, “You can’t leave us here!” So now I’m racking my brain to think of another similar situation in Dickens’s where this story is continued – maybe in one of the Sketches we haven’t read yet or one of the novels (Dick Swiveller & Sophy Wackles in The Old Curiosity Shop is the only one that comes readily to mind). Will keep an eye out!

    Also, some interesting information on The Victorian Web re this Sketch and its illustration(s): https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/cruikshank/boz22.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, so delightfully, whimsically, randomly Dickensian ~ and I did love that last line you alluded to, they “suffered a relapse every time they opened their eyes and saw their unfortunate little admirers; and were carried to their respective abodes in a hackney-coach, and a state of insensibility, compounded of shrub, sherry, and excitement.” So good. 🙂 And I do love the very Dickensian style of alluding to certain persons by their characteristic features or occupations. In this case, “the waistcoat and whiskers,” etc.

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    1. Yeah, you three have nailed the ‘Dickens-ness” of this little comic sketch really well. “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry definitely highlights the direction Boz takes in “Miss Evens and the Eagle.” This was a nice general statement by Chris which sums up one of the motives of Dickens the writer as he puts forth this narrative to his audience, and was complemented by Wren’s quoting the hyperbolic statement in the final paragraph illustrating the “complex” reactions of the two young women after the fight scene. But Yvonne brought in another ingredient in this “skit” which really grabbed my attention, and that is the “gilt-knob” cane that Wilkins flashes while he and Miss j’mima begin their walk to the Eagle.

      This walking “stick” is part of the vast array of decorative garb that the diminutive Wilkins “dresses” himself with to impress J’mima when he first comes to her home. But then there is more. Our heroine, who is eager to go with her beau to the Eagle, really does it up big with some ostentatious finery of her own–“white muslin gown,” “red shawl,” “white straw bonnet trimmed with red ribbons.” and a “small necklace” that is joined by a “pair of bracelets.” and the list of colorful details goes on in such a manner that the text assures us that this young woman wanted to look very “ladylike.” Good Lord, what is all this finery about. Is this some kind of dress up contest between the two “lovers-to be”?

      However, I think this is just the start of an overall presentation that is basically VISUAL. Note that there is very little dialogue throughout the piece, short sentences, grumblings by the two young suitors near the end of the narrative before the fight, and some brief and terse shouts, as the suspense tightens up. And we don’t really get to see the fight, except for this “visual effect”: “The ferrule of the gilt-knobbed dress cane shone brightly upon it as it whirled into the air, cane and all.” That’s it! This very cinematic image (and I want to underscore CINEMATIC) IS THE SOLE IMAGE WHICH DENOTES THE FIGHT AS IT TOOK PLACE (and I will just say here, another use of synecdoche), and then the next “image” is this: “miss J’mima’s beau, And the friend’s young man lay gasping on the gravel….” This is experimental writing at its best…!

      This “sketch,” again, demonstrates extraordinary art, and is Dickens’ successful attempt to create a “story” primarily with VISUAL rather than verbal matter. As I reviewed it again and again, Dickens’ narrative reminded me of an earlier version of what what could have been a very comic silent film. In fact, one might see “Miss Evens and the Eagle” as a kind of “treatment” that film Producers and Directors use first to promote a possible film, but then which is used by the writer and director to form a “shooting” script. Shot-by-shot, Dickens uses visuals to designate character, character motivations, character gestures, sense of place–all of which build to the last third of the “film” ending in the glances, looks, facial expression, and the explosion that takes place at the conclusion. It’s about 90% VISUAL! The final “shot” of the girls leaving the scene is really something else, as it catches their complex and very intriguing response to the violent experience they have just had!

      That’s a WRAP! I’d put this baby on film….

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  4. Interesting that at the end of “The Parlour Orator” we have Boz breaking the fourth wall again, to explain to us his reasoning for Sketching this scene for us about these “red-faced men” (always passionately orating about something): “weak pated dolts they are, and a great deal of mischief they do to their cause, however good”. I know I’m missing some obvious examples, but it seems to me that Bounderby and Stryver are a few of these types, in some fashion.

    I particularly liked how he self-consciously spoofs the stereotypical response:

    “If we had followed the established precedent in all such instances, we should have fallen into a fit of musing, without delay. The ancient appearance of the room—the old panelling of the wall—the chimney blackened with smoke and age—would have carried us back a hundred years at least, and we should have gone dreaming on, until the pewter-pot on the table, or the little beer-chiller on the fire, had started into life, and addressed to us a long story of days gone by. But, by some means or other, we were not in a romantic humour…”

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  5. Chapter 5 – The Parlour Orator – Nothing like a loud man who likes to hear himself talk, believes himself always correct, insists on proof of statements from other people, and pompously and indignantly deflects any request to prove his own statements. The red-faced man leave such a bad taste in our narrator’s mouth that even the romance of the old pub cannot wash him out. And, sadly, this race of men – and women – continues to thrive.

    Other examples to add to Rach’s – the three P’s – Pecksniff, Pumblechook, and Podsnap

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    1. The Parlour Orator” strikes me at first as being SO different from the “sketch” that goes before–“Miss Evans and the Eagle”–because it relies less on imagery and more on dialogue. The Red-faced man is a kind of automaton that once put in motion will never stop talking. In fact, the one “fear” I have about him is that he might drop dead of a stroke! That would be much to the dismay of his fellow sycophants who seem mesmerized and by him and everything he says. But I’m really struck by the presence of “Tommy” the Greengrocer who is really the “voice in the wilderness” in the piece, and the only one who counters Mr. Rogers with a display of erudition as he actually parodies with Roger’s language the points (as generic as they are) that he (Rogers) is making while he argues against him. He objects to being called a “slave” and then goes on to counter, further, Rogers’ statements about the dire conditions of England. Mocking Rogers…. “Prove it,” he says.

      I mentioned earlier the contrast between this very “verbal” sketch and the more “visual” sketch that goes before it, but still, here, there are interesting visuals that seem to be significant that I’ll only mention. The so-called “Parlour”–it seems to me– is anything but, and appears to be more of a lodge room for men; it’s filled with spittoons, long benches and surrounded by pictures of Naval battles. All these fixtures–in and of themselves–seem to be important accoutrements and signify that this space is much more than what the little innkeeper, his little wife, and daughter make it seem to be. In fact, the bar room they inhabit is more of a parlor than the men’s room they all but force him to enter.

      And that brings up another question: why are they SO determined to get him to move into the parlor, when the real comfort he is seeking within which to slake his thirst is the warm, cozy bar? Instead…well you know the rest!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So enriched and intrigued by the observations and sharings above.

    I had to learn more about “frame narrative/story,” and found this description on the Purdue University website.

    Master Lenny, does this do justice to this concept/technique?

    FRAME NARRATIVE: A story within a story, within sometimes yet another story, as in, for example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As in Mary Shelley’s work, the form echoes in structure the thematic search in the story for something deep, dark, and secret at the heart of the narrative. The form thus also resembles the psychoanalytic process of uncovering the unconscious behind various levels of repressive, obfuscating narratives put in place by the conscious mind. As is often the case (and Shelley’s work is no exception), a different individual often narrates the events of a story in each frame. This structure of course also leads us to question the reasons behind each of the narrations since, unlike an omnicient narrative perspective, the teller of the story becomes an actual character with concomitant shortcomings, limitations, prejudices, and motives. The process of transmission is also highlighted since we often have a sequence of embedded readers or audiences, A famous example in film of such a structure is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

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  7. The Hospital Patient – Interesting that the incident chosen to be illustrated is the only comic thing in this sketch – detailed in a one sentence paragraph – the pickpocket who resisted arrest and was therefore taken to the station in a wheelbarrow. The rest of the sketch is just so sad. From the mere contemplation of the “gloomy and mournful scenes” taking place in the hospital to the actual witnessing of one horrible but all too frequent scene, the illustration gives no hint. I wonder what the conversation was between Dickens and Cruikshank regarding this – Did they think a comic illustration would smooth over the horribleness of the rest of the sketch? Why not choose to illustrate a caring nurse tending to a sick or dying patient? I’m lost here. This sketch is pretty graphic too in its description of the beaten woman. We’ll see this again in Oliver Twist and Martin Chuzzlewit. I find it interesting too that Box chooses to have “Jack” be remorseful, but is he remorseful because of what he has done or because he’s been caught? Maybe that’s the connection between the illustration and the sketch – the culprit is caught and brought to justice whether he wants it or not.

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    1. Chris, I agree about the heaviness of this Sketch, and confusion as to why the illustrator would choose that glimpse among all of them…

      I love the opening, setting the scene of an outsider passing by after evening has set in, looking in and musing about the goings-on inside the hospital. (How often I’ve thought the same thing…wondering about people in various places—workplaces, hospitals, homes—when walking by at night, when the day has grown quiet and the light seems to be all within.) I so relate to both the sadness and the gratitude about the hospitals (or nursing homes or rehab centers): the crucial need of them, and yet the sadness that those in life’s most acute crises have to be cared for and tended by strangers.

      Then Dickens takes a detour: “Somehow, we never can resist joining a crowd,” and he follows the pickpocket and the officers…That insatiable ***curiosity*** of Dickens! How must that curiosity have made him in large part the chronicler of the times that he was!

      And that sad commentary on the tragic **commonality** of the “grossest brutality” that had been inflicted on a woman by the “ill-looking young fellow at the bar who was undergoing an examination.” Here we go again, as per Lenny’s earlier comment about the violence against women and children being so rife…and then, the dying girl at the end. Yikes, it’s as though he’s drawing our attention to the fact that this is altogether too common; we’re altogether too complacent about it…it’s to be expected…

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      1. I’m in total agreement with you two about this sketch. It’s truly a sad commentary on the “condition” of England at the time. In fact, are we not seeing more “synecdoche” at work, here? The country and London, as a whole, is really just one large hospital. Even Boz suggests that the hospital INSIDE is paralleled by its mirror image on the outside–except those “patients” on the outside aren’t being cared for at all.

        But worst of all is the situation Boz presents us with of the woman brutally beaten by her man; it’s SHE who is apologetic and will let him off the hook for her murder. We can only assume that he’s been a serial abuser and that this is the final time for the two of them. She’s dead and he’s filled with remorse. God, this brutality is so predictive and has got to hit us all as being SO familiar to the many examples of violence brought upon women by men we read and hear about in the media daily. I’m so reminded of Liane Moriarty’s great novel BIG LITTLE LIES. And, thus, we read of the same horrible tragedy in this little sketch by Dickens….

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  8. This, Daniel is a dandy description of the complexity of the frame narrative. And it fits quite well the “psychological” aspects of “The New Year” sketch that both Chris and I have commented on. In these more complex frame narratives, both the main narrator of the fiction as well as the “teller(s) of the interpolated/embedded “tales” can undergo scrutiny, psychologically, sociologically, historically, and so forth. And, as we’ve seen in the Dicken’s sketch, the narrator (Boz) is the teller, but he isn’t involved in the “fantasy” he relates to us. But many other “frames” show the narrator as a character in the story he or she tells. This would be the case with the narrator of THE GREAT GATSBY, who is the Narrative Voice of the novel (in the first-person “I”) but is also one of the main actors in the story he tells. In DON QUIXOTE there is A narrator and then the Don and Sancho who are figures in the novel’s adventures but who also tell interpolated “tales” about other adventures–so many times that the “main” story literally grinds to a halt. So that, in THIS novel, the many stories that are told within the “embedded” narrative tend to reveal as much about the characters themselves as the principle actions of the novel…. Another consideration in QUIXOTE is the problem of RELIABILITY. And this gets the reader into a lot difficulty as to what he or she should believe. And I believe we see that as the case in the new year’s sketch–where Boz hasn’t quite leveled with us readers about his “real” or “mixed” feelings regarding celebrating the new year.

    There is also a further point I’d like to make because of its importance. And I sort of hint at it in my earlier words discussing this sketch. In many cases, the the various “characters” in the different levels of a particular narrative help us understand more about them, simply by the way they either contrast with each other or complement each other. And this is the case with Boz and Mr. Tupple. You might say that in contrast they “define” each other–or in more literary terms, they act as “foils” to one another. Mr Tupple’s extraverted personality and activities are in stark contrast to those of the introverted Boz and his relative INactivity. And then we could go on to discuss how these differences more fully define their characters and what all that means. Oh boy, we’re getting into really good stuff, here, aren’t we??? And in this case, we’d have to go further into the “mind” and actions of Mr. Tupple who, in many ways, is writing and improvising his own story as he proceeds through the various phases of the party which he gradually and completely takes over. But I’ll let you folks further decipher this interesting set of narrative particulars that just seems to go on and on! In this manner, you can see what an immense “foil” Dickens the writer has set forth in Tupple.

    Well, nuff said for now, except to congratulate you Daniel for adding this superb definition from Purdue to our knowledge base as we further explore what Mr. Dickens is up to!

    P.S I won’t get into CITIZEN KANE OR FRANKENSTEIN. That would be a commentary for another day, week or year. Suffice to say, that Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote her by now famous novel, and that Orson Welles was in his mid-20’s when he directed one of the world’s great movies!

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  9. Chapter 7 – The Misplaced Attachment of Mr John Dounce –
    It seems to me that many of these sketches can be seen as fables, parables, or morality plays. In the case of Mr John Dounce, the moral of the story could be twofold: (1) don’t let your ego and/or flattery get the better of you; and (2) don’t burn your bridges. Dounce’s mistake isn’t so much having his head turned by the bewitching young lady in blue as it is his alienating his family and friends for the love of the pretty young girl. Sure he was foolish, but his family & friends would have forgiven him this. What they can’t forgive so easily, what he also can’t forgive in himself, is his bad behavior toward them. When I look back on the sketches we’ve read I see lessons and guidance. This is not surprising given Dickens’s strong Christian belief. (But note, Dickens’s strong belief was in Christian morals and not in organized religion.) This is quoted from The Victorian Web’s Dickens page:

    “He was reticent on the subject of religion, but we can let an earnest —perhaps too earnest — letter which he wrote to the Reverend D. Macrae speak for him:
    ‘With a deep sense of my great responsibility always upon me when I exercise my art, one of my most constant and most earnest endeavours has been to exhibit in all my good people some faint reflections of our great Master, and unostentatiously to lead the reader up to those teachings as the great source of all moral goodness. All my strongest illustrations are drawn from the New Testament; all my social abuses are shown as departures from its spirit; all my good people are humble, charitable, faithful, and forgiving. Over and over again, I claim them in express words as disciples of the Founder of our religion; but I must admit that to a man (or a woman) they all arise and wash their faces, and do not appear unto men to fast.’” [sic]

    There are some interesting books that treat Dickens’s morality and use of scripture, particularly:
    Barbara Hardy, “The Moral Art of Dickens”, Janet L. Larson, “Dickens and the Broken Scripture”, and Susan Jhirad, “Dickens’ Inferno: The Moral World of Charles Dickens”.

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  10. Lenny, such rich thoughts about the framing narrative, narrator reliability, and foils to etch a person’s personality and character.

    I’m reminded of the canvas art manner of using light to highlight shadow, and vice-versa: chiaroscuro.

    I can, at times, imagine Dicken’s portraits as Caravaggio-esque paintings–the “foils” of light and shadow illuminating one another.

    Chris, many thanks for the insights into (and resources to explore) Dickens’ moral sensibility.

    By the way, on the topic of Dickens’ many, many words and layered sentences (introduced, I believe, by you, Lenny), here is a helpful passage from “Dickens the Narrator” (UC-Santa Cruz):

    “Let’s look now at sentence structure; Dickens’s sentences are quite long. They carry or almost pull you along with them. They force you to keep reading because it takes so long to reach the end of them, and as such, they kind of force you to enter the scene as well. But look at how Dickens uses punctuation: colons, semi-colons, and commas. He also forces you to pause along the way as you read each sentence.”


    1. Daniel, you’ve said so many important things in your reply that it’s going to take a while for me to digest them all. But one line really stands out at first, and you’ve enunciated it so well: “…and foils to etch a person’s personality and character.” The word “etch” is a killer in this context because that picks up on your later references to classical painting and the work of light and shadow. This is such a provocative idea and it probably catches the “tone” of Dickens who, it seems, is constantly dealing with the light and dark in the social and personal structures of his writings. Just think of his portrait of Mr. Rogers (Dark) and Tommy the Greengrocer (light) and how they “etch” each other or Boz (dark) and Tupple (light).

      BTW, that line of yours I’ve just quoted is pure poetry!

      And then the “Santa Cruz” quote regarding sentence structure really hits me hard; it involves something I’ve been thinking about all week or at least trying to find an answer for. Why is it that I have such a difficult time tearing myself away from these sketches. They just conquer me with their structures (as you know) and their ideas, and I just want to keep thinking and writing about them on and on. I’m enthralled by them for the very reason the Santa Cruz quote mentions:

      “They force you to keep reading because it takes so long to reach the end of them, and as such, they kind of force you to enter the scene as well.”

      In short, Mr. D’s writing seduces us, as we’ve said so many times already, to see, to hear, and to contemplate.

      Now, Daniel, you have me thinking and writing again! Yikes!!!!

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  11. Daniel, Lenny, and everyone – Reading Dickens’s sentences is a transcendental experience! I get lost in them to the exclusion of everything around me. I keep reading and time magically passes – oh, it’s been an hour? – or I hear buzzing, and then feel a nudge, only to realize my husband’s been trying to get my attention (he should know better) – or I laugh out loud – or I have to put the book down and contemplate what I’ve just read because the meaning is so profound. There are some sentences that I marvel at – the skill to put JUST THOSE words together to express JUST THAT particular sentiment! How is this done?? I read him over and over and it never gets old or loses its power or ceases to amaze me.

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  12. Chapter 8 – The Mistaken Milliner – Another morality tale, this time at the expense of a single lady of a certain age. Similar to Mr Dounce, Miss Martin gets her head turned by smooth talkers who appeal to her vanity. Mr and Mrs Jennings Rodolph lay their scam so smoothly. First Mr Rodolph asserts his expertise by “observ[ing]“ that he & his wife have been overlooked by the “patent theatres” – suggesting with such words as “shameful treatment” and “malignant opponents” that their talents have been unjustifiably slighted. This position is echoed by the company who are, after all, wedding guests and not competent judges of such things. Then Mr Rodolph identifies his mark, Miss Martin, and in concert with his wife plays her like a drum. Miss Martin is humiliated while Mrs Rodolph gets a new wardrobe.

    We will see such scammers frequently in Dickens – those who prey upon the egos and ambition of others, or who take advantage of the naive or uninformed. Sometimes we can see the scam and scammers plainly, other times Dickens masks it so that we are surprised or need to tease it out. If the mark is lucky he/she will be supported by family & friends; if not the price of the lesson can be very steep. Beware and be aware, Dickens tells us, and if it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably – most likely – is!

    I do like Dickens’s insightful – prescient – statement; a life lesson in all things: “Now, ‘coming out,’ either in acting, or singing, or society, or facetiousness, or anything else, is all very well, and remarkably pleasant to the individual principally concerned, if he or she can but manage to come out with a burst, and being out, to keep out, and not go in again; but it does unfortunately happen that both consummations are extremely difficult to accomplish, and that the difficulties of getting out at all in the first instance, and if you surmount them, of keeping out in the second, are pretty much on a par, and no slight ones either . . .”
    Hard work, this, as Dickens himself will find after he himself “come[s] out with a burst”!


  13. Chapter 9 – The Dancing Academy – Though a follow-up in “Sketches by Boz” to “The Mistaken Milliner”, my edition notes that this sketch was actually published a month before “Milliner”.

    Here is an instance of Dickens’s cleverness with names – Signor Billsmethi = Mr Bill Smith! And Signor is such a used car salesman (no offense meant) – only one vacancy left, had a buyer, didn’t like her, glad I didn’t sell because YOU are such a better customer, limited time offer (and lovely young ladies to tempt you, to boot!). It’s also interesting that Mr Cooper resides in Fetter-lane given that his mother’s apron strings are so tight and snap back all the tighter after his humiliation, and that among Mr Cooper’s humiliations is the service of a Breach of Promise action. (Dickens will make good use of this form of action in Pickwick.)

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