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:
No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us! And again, a heartfelt thanks to the joyously Dickensian account, the Dickens Fellowship for retweeting these ~ making more readers aware, and for keeping us all in sync!
Little reminders: feel free to comment below this post for Week 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”
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!
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.”
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!
Lenny 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…”
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.”
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.
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:
“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:
And I agreed, when I wrote on the experience of reading “A Visit to Newgate”:
Which brought us back to Boz as a kind of “lay preacher,” as Lenny proposed:
Perhaps we’ll finish the wrap-up with Daniel’s summary:
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”