Wherein we take a cue from Mr Guppy on Valentine’s day; followed by a vote on how to proceed after “Sketches by Boz”; with a glance back at the sixth week of the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-23; and a look ahead to week seven.
“In the mildest language, I adore you. Would you be so kind as to allow me (as I may say) to file a declaration — to make an offer!”
I know I’m getting ahead of myself with a Bleak House quote, but how could I resist the temptation to quote Mr Guppy on Valentine’s Day?! I only wish I could “file a declaration” to our wonderful Club with half the skill of that inveterate romantic.
How time flies…do we really only have two weeks left in our reading of Sketches by Boz? Where has the time gone?
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! And a huge, heartfelt thanks to The Circumlocution Office for providing such an online resource for us…and our dear CO is on twitter also! The sheer amount of work that is put into this labor-of-love is amazing!
General Mems ~ AND A POLL!
If time allows, I will have, the week after next, TWO posts for us (28 Feb and 1 March): a final wrap-up of Sketches by Boz, and then an introduction to The Pickwick Papers. It’s coming fast, friends!
So, as we near the end of Sketches, I wanted to ask everyone how we want to proceed from here on out. Those who are on twitter know that I post a daily link to the Sketch of the day. And of course, we have our weekly wrap-up posts where we can comment on that week’s Sketches.
When it comes to the novels, of course, I won’t be posting daily anymore, so…
Do we want to continue with a weekly wrap-up post, based on a certain number of chapters read that week? The benefit is: whether or not we read ahead of the proposed chapters that week ~ say, for someone who wanted to finish the whole novel in a week or two instead of 4-6 weeks ~ we’re all “discussing” the same chapters in a certain week (lessening the chance of spoilers for those who are reading a given work for the first time).
But there are other possibilities, such as doing a single “Intro” post, and then having separate topical posts. There are a lot of upsides to this; the downside is that we might all be in different sections of the reading (spoilers!); and/or the comment threads could get lengthy.
I’m attaching a poll here, for your thoughts, and/or please comment below!
Little reminders: feel free to comment below this post for Week Seven’s Sketches, or comment on twitter with the hashtag #DickensClub. 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. 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 Six Wrap-up: Birthday Wishes; Catching up; Dickens as Romantic; Dickens’ Narrative Structure and Identity; the Experience of Reading Dickens
Of course, we were all wishing our Beloved Boz a Happy Birthday, including dear Gina Dalfonzo, whose book on Dickens is on my to-read list!
After ringing in “The New Year,” we meet the friends and rivals of Mr Wilkins and Miss Evans in “Miss Evans and the Eagle”; the blustering red-faced “Parlour Orator”; the ill-treated, dying girl and other sad scenes of “The Hospital Patient.” Then we come to what might be called whimsical morality tales, in “The Misplaced Affection of Mr John Dounce” and “The Mistaken Milliner.” Finally, we are wrapping up the week with “The Dancing Academy” and today’s “Shabby-Genteel People.”
Firstly, I loved that we’re still such a cohesive little group, though we’re in different places! Cassandra found a favorite Sketch in “A Visit to Newgate,” while lamenting that she was a bit behind (but not to worry!) ~ however, she has now caught up!
And she was feeling emotional with “A Christmas Dinner” and the pathos of the opening of “Thoughts about People.” Connie made a very kind comment about our group, and is also catching up!
Phyllis has been intrigued by Dickens’ ability to bring humor into the bleakest situations (while Yvonne considers the reverse situation in “The Parlour Orator”):
Daniel has kept the thread/theme of Dickens’ Romanticism going; an excellent reminder as we move forward into the novels, to see how this will play out over his extraordinary career.
We’ve been struck by “The New Year,” and it’s narrative structure. Lenny has been particularly fascinated with this, and of Boz’s characterization of himself. Is he a middle-aged or elderly introvert, a passive spectator? This is seemingly so at odds with the lively, vibrant, enviably youthful Dickens at the time of his writing of the Sketches. Here is a rich passage from Lenny’s comments on the subject:
Daniel gives us a very helpful definition of the “frame narrative” structure:
Chris very helpfully gives us some context for Dickens’ life at the time:
In considering Dickens’ writing, his use of “frame narrative” and his lengthy sentences with such layers and a detailed, “visual” feast of words, Daniel shares a fascinating quote:
And Lenny is all for it:
And not only that, but the strikingly visual quality to many of Dickens’ Sketches, notably this week with “Miss Evans.” Lenny is ready to have this filmed!
More evidence of the consuming quality of the reader’s experience in reading Dickens was discussed in “The Hospital Patient” and Boz’s ability to create atmosphere, and to wake us up to the too-common realities of loneliness, loss, and violence:
At the end, we might as well come round again to the experience of reading Dickens. That “transcendent” quality of getting lost in his world, carried away by his inimitable perspective and the quality of his sentence structure that forces one on or pulls one in, drawn as to the “Lodestone Rock”…
There are so many more marvelous comments, friends, and I hope you’ll have a chance to immerse yourself in the conversation if you haven’t already. But here, considering the experience of reading Dickens, I can’t do better than to end with Chris’ beautiful passage:
A Look-ahead to Week Seven…
This week, we’ll wrap up the “Characters” sequence, and begin the “Tales.” Today’s Sketch is the tenth in the “Characters” sequence, “Shabby-Genteel People.”
Tues, 15 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Eleven: “Making a Night of It”
Wed, 16 Feb, 2022: “Characters,” Chapter Twelve: “The Prisoners’ Van”
Thurs, 17 Feb, 2022: “Tales,” Chapter One: “The Boarding-House”
Fri, 18 Feb, 2022: “Tales,” Chapter Two: “Mr Minns and His Cousin”
Sat, 19 Feb, 2022: “Tales,” Chapter Three: “Sentiment”
Sun, 20 Feb, 2022: “Tales,” Chapter Four: “The Tuggses at Ramsgate”
Mon, 21 Feb, 2022: “Tales,” Chapter Five: “Horatio Sparkins”
Dickensian Wren, what a precious service you are rendering to us all: creating this weekly mosaic of thoughts, insights, inquiries, resources. It’s as lovely as a stained glass window in Chartres Cathedral. Thank you!
I’m not sure I am responding in the mode you were hoping for regarding the vote. Is there a “poll” somewhere? My vote would be to continue on a common schedule–identified chapters for a given week. This way, we are learning together and accompanying one another in a coherent way.
If you can afford (time- and energy-wise) to do the weekly “mosaic,” that would be a great boon as we move forward.
I delight in reading your recapitulations. I smile as I did the first time I read a comment; I ponder with a question or a resource that’s offered; I have frequent “ah-ha” moments that delight me. It is like walking along a river (during the week) and then glancing back at the terrain covered together.
I MUST echo Lenny’s usage: being conquered by Dickens’ structure and method. And, like Chris, experiencing what Maslow called a “peak experience”–something transcendent that takes us out of ourselves towards a higher view. I would just add another “t” word: transported. With Dickens, I feel transported to another time and place and, at the same time, transported in the sense of emotionally moved by his incomparable ability to give human suffering a human face.
What a grace to experience the Inimitable in this way! God bless you, every one!
P.S. In our family, we enjoy the sacred octave of one’s birthday–the day itself and the seven following. Today, February 14, is the fullness of the octave of the Inimitable’s birthday!
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Wow, Daniel, wonderful comments, here. I, too, love the weekly wrap-ups which Wren so exquisitely renders. It’s a fun way to relive the week and always gets me to reread the entire week’s commentary–which is always rich and rewarding. Keep up the great work, Rach!
To Daniel’s other point: I also like the common schedule of devoting each week to a set grouping of chapters so we can be more or less on the same wavelength. If there are some–maybe all of us at different times– who lag behind, we can still add our remarks to the earlier chapters that have been remarked on. That will just continue the wealthy slate of ideas that get racked up.
Looking forward, though, to the remaining sketches and to what Boz/Dickens has in store for us…. Cheers to everyone on this Valentine’s Day!!!
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Aww, huge thanks to both of you for such wonderful comments!!!! ❤️ I can’t tell you how much it means that you enjoy these wrap-up posts, and frankly, I agree about this format moving forward, and it will hopefully keep us in sync on the multifaceted conversations that we have here…which are SO RICH thanks to all of you!!!!
Happy St V’s day, all ~ and Lenny, you’ll get a kick out of this: as I was just now going through twitter, someone shared a Happy Valentine’s Day post with a clip from…Picnic at Hanging Rock! (The part where they toast to Valentine’s day, and then she knifes the cake! 😬😂) I was instantly transported to our magical film class….
Have a wonderful day, everyone! Off to read more Boz, shortly!
Aww Rach, brings back so many great memories–about the class, that very unique and ambiguous film, and your great work in it. But I’m wondering if the tweet with that image was a “Valentines day ‘gift'” If so, ya gotta wonder about the sender and the recipient! It’s such a powerful and aggressive gesture, right to the “heart” of things. Egads….
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We are all on the same wavelength! I was getting ready to post my response to the poll when I read Daniel’s & Lenny’s – both of whom say what I have been thinking – common schedule so that we are all on the same page (pun!) and our comments don’t get too out of hand in terms of what we are commenting on. Daily comments may not be necessary, but I think at least weekly ones would be manageable (both in terms of writing and reading).
Rach – as always, your “round ups” are fantastic! You highlight comments that I have missed – which generally lead me to others I’ve missed – and are so on-point. Thank you!
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Chris, I’m so thrilled!! Thank you for those kind words, and yes ~ sounds like we’re all on very much the same, ahem, page (nice!) for the modus operandi, going forward! Love it.
Chapter 10 – Shabby-genteel People – Shabby-genteel people show up so often in Dickens, sometimes by this moniker, sometimes by a description or their conversation, that it’s great to have this definition straight from Dickens/Boz. I was intrigued to learn, however: “It is worth of remark too, that only men are shabby-genteel; a woman is always either dirty and slovenly in the extreme, or neat and respectable, however poverty-stricken in appearance.” I hadn’t been aware of this distinction, but now that I am, I will pay close attention to it as we read forward. And, is it a dig at himself that included in the list of occupations of shabby-genteel men is “a contributor to the press”?
This is one of Boz’s early sketches (written in Nov. 1834). It’s interesting to revisit (so to speak) an early sketch to be reminded of how much he’s progressed as a writer over the year or so of Sketch writing (Dec. 1833-Jan. 1836). This one is completely descriptive, goes from general to specific to general, defines his terms, and sounds like a high school essay when compared to a more animated later sketch such as “The Omnibus Cad” or “The Mistaken Milliner” (both written in Nov. 1835). This is very much a reporting; he “tells” us about the shabby-genteel man in the reading-room of the British Museum (this is how he looks; this is what he does), but he doesn’t “show” us him (how did he come to decide to use the “black and blue reviver”? why use it? did he think he fooled anyone? how did others react to him?). This is not to say we don’t get a feel for or an image of the man; rather, what we DO get is less rich than what we WILL get as Boz/Dickens matures and hones his skill.
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As Boz indicates in the beginning of this sketch, The Shabby-Genteel person is one part of a larger classification of people, those of whom he’s noticed in London. and he points out, in his brief description of another “lounging” man, that HE does not represent the class that he has chosen to write about. Yet, that man alone, if he were to be described further, would probably be as apt to draw our sympathies as the man Boz is about to write about. And this reference, too, makes me wonder about the “others” in this broadly assumed classification; he hints that there are various levels in this massive grouping–but I don’t know if he’s referring to the extremely high to the very low, or just the the “low” going down to the “lowest.” However, he does make a point of dealing with men who are on the edge of poverty and who are probably in the process of sinking to a lower level–to the point of starvation or nearly so, as indicated by this introductory description of the “Shabby-Genteel” populous:
“But, if you see hurrying along a by-street, keeping as close as he can to the area-railings, a man of about forty or fifty, clad in an old rusty suit of threadbare black cloth which shines with constant wear as if it had been bees-waxed—the trousers tightly strapped down, partly for the look of the thing and partly to keep his old shoes from slipping off at the heels,—if you observe, too, that his yellowish-white neckerchief is carefully pinned up, to conceal the tattered garment underneath, and that his hands are encased in the remains of an old pair of beaver gloves, you may set him down as a shabby-genteel man. A glance at that depressed face, and timorous air of conscious poverty, will make your heart ache—always supposing that you are neither a philosopher nor a political economist.”
Oh boy, Boz doesn’t hold back, here, on getting to the nitty-gritty substance of this class of man’s demeanor and wearing apparel; each sentence is loaded with details describing first his body language, his suit of clothes, the way they are worn and very specific details that indicate how sorely he wants to be at least a bit better off than he appears to be. The “yellowish-white neckerchief” that is pinned so as to hide his shabby garment is the supreme touch in this respect.
But there is also the mental/psychological aspect of this man that Boz indicates, first with his style of walking so as not to be seen (“hurrying along a by-street, keeping as close as he can to the area railings”) and that which he concludes with (“his depressed face”) and then the sense that the observant Boz notes about his “air of conscious poverty.” This CLASS of men are indicated not only by their dress but also by their postures–and their facial expressions.
What a sad portrait of a General set of men that will soon be made more poignant by the very specific story he then writes about with the gentleman he views in the British Library. This very particular man comes to us, again, through description of his behavior, his clothing and his appearance in the Library daily. Where might he live besides this very place where Boz “meets” him?
But to go back for a bit, there is the final statement Boz makes implying that there are groups of people who might not recognize the dire circumstance of this shabby class of men–the philosophers and political economists. This is an alarming remark that, I believe, turns to what Boz sees as the shortcomings of the British and London administrators who look at impoverished peoples as mere abstractions and fail to act on these social disparities. So, early in this essay, the reader can detect a POLITICAL challenge being made toward the British/London governing bodies.
Out of sheer NECESSITY, then, and to make this “political” declaration Urgent and Notable, Boz follows these introductory remarks with the sad, heartfelt story of the solitary and starving “shabby Genteel” intimate portrait of the inmate of the Library. Can we, as supposed readers of the 1830’s see this “Sketch” as a subtle or implied call to political action?
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thread on “Shabby-genteel people” https://twitter.com/yvonnezlam/status/1493443299448819712
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“Making a Night of It”:
Oh my ~ this is absolutely one of my favorite Sketches yet. It might well be my favorite. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good laugh and a whimsically ridiculous bromance, but whatever the case…this did it!
Looks like this one was published October of 1835, in “Bell’s…”
Brilliant opening: “Damons are rather hard to find, in these days of imprisonment for debt…and as to the Pythiases, the few that have existed in these degenerate times, have had an unfortunate knack of making themselves scarce, at the very moment when their appearance would have been strictly classical.” (Damon, so the story goes, allowed himself to remain a sort of hostage-prisoner to the tyrannical Dionysius I until his friend Pythias returned from his mission…an ideal sort of buddy story.)
Many laugh-out-loud moments; the piece is brilliantly written, as witty as all get-out, and I positively had to stop reading—due to laughter—when we came to “five door-knockers” among the possessions “feloniously obtained” by our dissolute partners-in-plastered-crime. (“And a bonnet”!—) However annoying these sort of fellows would be in the nonfiction world, at a concert or play or in a movie theater, I have to admit they are the best sort of company on the page, and I think Dickens has just added another ten years to my life, with the joy and laughter.
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p.s. I also commented on the wonderful post Chris made with those 2 pertinent articles. Fascinating reads. Thanks, Chris!
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Chapter 11 – Making a Night of It – So much fun to be a fly on the wall of these evening adventures! Messrs. Potter and Smithers, soon I think to be “Old Boys” (a la Mr John Dounce), or to take up Parlour Orating, or, should one of them pass (God forbid), to follow in Mr Smith’s (“Thoughts about People) footsteps and be forgotten by society. I think they will not, however, end up before the Criminal Courts or in Newgate because they seem to have learned their lesson about over-indulging. They may, however (again), find themselves taken advantage of a la Miss Martin or Mr Augustus Cooper or Mr Dounce if they don’t watch out for each other. But this I think they will do, for being “knit together by the closest ties of intimacy and friendship” “‘thick-and-thin-pals, and nothing but it’”, and after the experience related here, they will keep a closer eye on themselves and each other in future and stay out of harm’s way. Sadder but wiser, BOZ seems to be telling us; but with DICKENS one never knows. The adventure, as they say, continues!
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“Making a Night of It” is centered on the drunken antics of two men whom Steve Martin would call “Wild and Crazy guys.” Smithers and Potter, two rather middling clerks, are absolutely determined to make the best of their “Quarter-Day,” by spending their “hard-earned” money on what we young college kids used to call a “running drunk.” With us it began on a Friday evening–6ish–and extended 12 hours to Saturday morning–6ish– With, I am embarrassed to say, much the same results. In their case, however, the hijinks they perpetuate cost them much more than the salary they have just earned and the “Quarter-Day’s” rent they will still owe. We college freshmen just lost a modicum of dimes which we spent on “dime beer night.” A cheap drunk–as we used to say! (Be advised: my college time frame is the early to late ’60’s.)
But the similarities end there. The two clerks in Boz’s “Sketch” are older, presumably more mature “professionals” who are actually salaried and settled into their jobs and lifestyles. And they are inseparable “buddies”–a concept drawn probably from the popular pairings in the novels of Cervantes, Fielding, and Smollett. Oh yeah, We’re back to the Don and his sidekick Sancho. As in these classical novels, Smithers and Potter make a compact to do the crazy “right” thing as befits their friendship:
“Mr. Potter and Mr. Smithers had mutually agreed that, on the receipt of their quarter’s salary, they would jointly and in company ‘spend the evening’—an evident misnomer—the spending applying, as everybody knows, not to the evening itself but to all the money the individual may chance to be possessed of, on the occasion to which reference is made; and they had likewise agreed that, on the evening aforesaid, they would ‘make a night of it’—an expressive term, implying the borrowing of several hours from to-morrow morning, adding them to the night before, and manufacturing a compound night of the whole.”
As this passage implies, there will be no holding back. They are gonna go “all in” by spending ALL the money they possess. And this “spending,” of course, leads them through the various hilarious episodes we witness and which Dicken would associate with his favorite novels of the 18th century. This pair, like Quixote and Sancho, with the help of various alcoholic beverages and lots of heavy foods, tilt through the night at a variety of “windmills” until they are finally brought down by the crowds at the theater, the wine cellar and, ultimately, the police.
As we might know, there are wide differences between the personalities of the Don and Sancho, and these same differences exist between Smithers and Potter. In fact, just their names insist on the dissimilarities between their characters. But Boz makes other suggestions that show the reader their peculiarities. They dress differently, and they carouse differently. Boz makes it clear that Smithers is a “slow goer”–the first to fall asleep at their sumptuous and alcohol-filled dinner, and who also falls asleep, slumped over the balcony of the theater! On the other hand, Boz indicates that Potter is a “fast-goer”–the last to fall asleep and when Smithers slumbers away at the theater, Potter goes into overdrive, and begins with his aggressive mouth and bodily gestures to instigate the mayhem which follows. As in the earlier fictional conquests and disasters of the Don and Sancho pairing, we could safely say that Potter is the chief tilter at windmills, and brings the wrath of the populous or whatever, down upon not only himself but his best buddy. Similar to the fates of the Don and Sancho, Potter and Smithers are jailed, humiliated, and determined to never embark on such a quest again. The Don, however and his followers in Fielding and Smollett aren’t quite so lucky…. They continue to …!
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NOTE on The Prisoners’Van:
Our trusty resource, The Circumlocution Office, pointed out to me on twitter that the original opening of two paragraphs (seen in the original periodical) was cut when it came to the book publication. The Circumlocution Office added the two paragraphs in the “comment” section below the Sketch here:
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Chapter 12 – The Prisoners’ Van – Rach, great minds think alike (haha)! I was going to post the two omitted paragraphs because . . .
In their book “Dickens at Work”, Butt & Tillotson speak of the two paragraphs omitted from this sketch. Of the first omitted paragraph in particular they say it is “a passage not only exceptionally racy and vivid, but provid[es] the best example of Dickens’s trick . . . of dealing with low life in a detached and whimsical style.” (44) They point to “Oliver Twist” as an extended example of this.
I agree with their assessment and I do not see why these paragraphs were omitted from the collected edition of the Sketches other than for space, a tightening of the sketch, and because we’d been given many other examples of street characters in other sketches already. However, the vividness of these two paragraphs extends from the look, to the manner, to the language of the personalities depicted (or is this a redundant sentence – does “vivid” encapsulate all these things?). I think these two paragraphs are an interesting lead-in to the sketch in that they set the scene of the types of people who gather to watch the unloading of the van, i.e., “the crowd [who] were on the tiptoe of expectation” (great visual), AND the types of people who come out of the van, i.e., “These two girls [who] had been thrown upon London streets, their vices and debauchery, by a sordid and rapacious mother” (always blame the mother!). Without them we just have the van in a street in a neighborhood, with them we have a whole substrata within a much larger society.
Also, there is no illustration in my edition but the Victorian Web has one which is credited to Fred Barnard for an 1876 edition. I’ve also seen this same illustration credited to Cruikshank, but I think that is a mistake. It looks more like Barnard’s work; if it had been Cruikshank’s it would have been in my edition – but I can’t make out the signature. Anyway, it’s a nice visual: https://victorianweb.org/gender/prostitution3.html
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Haha, great minds think alike indeed!
Agreed that the illustration is more like Barnard’s…am I seeing two signatures on this illustration, on the left and right? I’m about to take a drive to take care of my niece but later I’ll have to study them and compare to others’…I am very curious now!
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Hi Rach and Chris: the question of inclusion is a good one, and I think could go either way. But I do come out a bit on the “tightening” side because without the two paragraphs, the sketch builds smoothly and structurally toward a climax, whereas with the opening “heavy” confrontation between the short man and the tall man, the rest of the sketch might feel unwieldy and anticlimactic. It (the sketch) would BEGIN with a penultimate moment which could take away from the very important and dramatic ending scene–the sad transaction with the two sisters. Two much energy with dialogue, etc., at he beginning, might take away from the energy and dialogue at the conclusion. But: lots of “mights” here!
With the sketch we have now, from the collected edition, I like the slow build-up to the sorry tableau focusing on the Girls entering the van from the police office. And this slow progression is set up, I believe, to give us readers the same sense of expectation and frustration that Boz, himself, experiences. Here’s an early example:
“…we turned round to an unshorn, sallow-looking cobbler, who was standing next us with his hands under the bib of his apron, and put the usual question of ‘What’s the matter?’ The cobbler eyed us from head to foot, with superlative contempt, and laconically replied ‘Nuffin.’”
Well, we–and Boz–can see that this man isn’t going to be very helpful. We can’t be sure what is motivating this short useless reply except that he’s just being a kind of smart-aleck and wants to exert some kind of superiority in the context of whatever interest is brewing in the neighborhood. But there is also a strange quirk about this cobbler; he’s “unshorn.” But Boz is persistent with this “sallow-looking” guy and pressures him for a bit more information and we see what transpires:
“…no crowd of people could by possibility remain in a street for five minutes without getting up a little amusement among themselves, unless they had some absorbing object in view, the natural inquiry next in order was, ‘What are all these people waiting here for?’—‘Her Majesty’s carriage,’ replied the cobbler. This was still more extraordinary. We could not imagine what earthly business Her Majesty’s carriage could have at the Public Office, Bow-street.”
Gads, what in the world? Here, again, is another short answer by the reluctant cobbler–but a very mysterious one, indeed. What the devil (?)–and that is probably what is going through Boz’s mind also. The cobbler is still playing games with Boz and no doubt enjoying himself immensely! And by extension, driving the reader a bit mad, too. Of course, “mysterious” things ultimately come to an end during this hiatus, as someone in the crowd mentions “Van” and Boz makes the translation from “Majesty’s Carriage” to Police Van.
It is THEN we get to the piece’s ultimate moment–the marching of the sisters from their brief incarceration to and into the Van which will take them off to the “mill” as opposed to the “Sessions.”
I’ll just make one last note regarding the paragraphs illustrating the finale of “The Prisoner’s Van”: This segment, too, in its organization is similar to the build-up I’ve just discussed. This movement of the two young sisters is not accomplished with a short trip from station to van, but is Prolonged almost to the max–I think so that Dickens can milk the proceeding for all it’s worth. In short, he “slow-walks” them from their place of incarceration to their transport. I don’t say this in a pejorative manner, but just to remark how much he can get out of a few paragraphs. He not only allows us to see the crass remarks from the crowd toward the girls, so that his readers can get a critical look at the kind of people who are attending and drawn to these kinds of activities, but we also get quick dramatic sketches of the two girls, how they act as foils to one another in order to differentiate their reactions to their illegal offenses. In this regard the reader is given just enough material to either engage or not to engage our sympathies for them and their fates.
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Lenny, point taken – I do see, with your explanation/critique, a much more nuanced sketch. If this were part of a novel, say, I could see the two paragraphs as more appropriately included. But I do like them in their detail and dialect. Thanks for the point of view! Always helpful.
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Tales – Chapter 1 – The Boarding-house – In general, The Boarding-house is very much in the tone of Pickwick in terms of characters placed in situations in which something goes awry. Twists, cross-purposes, mistakes in identities and in understandings, plots and surprises, and puns galore are at work to create a humorous entanglements that come out, but not necessarily all right, in the end. Boarding houses, Widows, Breach of Promise, the Fleet Prison, matrimonial entanglements, dialect and creative speech patterns, puns and euphemisms – keep all these in mind as we read forward.
The whole Tale is, as has been noted by many of us, theatrical and could easily be put on via these stage directions. In fact, I found this Radio Play version of Chapter the Second (and 10 other sketches) here via BBC Sounds: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/b03trsph Also, there are several images of this Tale on the Victorian Web: https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/205.html
My favorite bits of Chapter the First are:
Mr Tibbs – “He was to his wife what the 0 is in 90 — he was of some importance WITH her — he was nothing without her.” He is “the petticoat-governed little man”, as are, it turns out, all the men in this chapter;
Mr Calton features were “striking”, like a “street-door knocker”;
A little bit of “Our Mutual Friend” in that Mrs Tibbs “represent[ed] to the gentlemen that she has SOME reason to believe the ladies were fortunes, and to hint to the ladies, that all the gentlemen were ‘eligible.’”;
When ushered into the confidences of Mr Calton and Mr Hicks, Mr Tibbs pre-channels Monty Python when he “looked as astounded as if he were suddenly summoned before the familiars of the Inquisition.”;
The Maplesone ladies are manipulative, but in Dickens we should always be suspicious of single ladies, especially when a widow is involved and especially when an eligible man is in the vicinity.
And of Chapter the Second:
Mrs Bloss’s letter – “The writing looked like a skein of thread in a tangle, and the note was ingeniously folded into a perfect square, with the direction squeezed up into the right-hand corner, as if it were ashamed of itself.”;
Mrs Bloss seems a precursor to Mrs Gamp of “Martin Chuzzlewit” in her look, manner, and speech pattern;
I find it interesting that the deceased Mr Bloss “had no relative but his nephew” but yet his nephew “supported himself and two sisters on 100L a year” – are the sisters not relatives of Mr Bloss as well?;
Mrs Bloss’s hypochondria is “an impression which was most assiduously promoted by her medical attendant, Dr Wosky, and her handmaid Agnes, both of whom, doubtless for excellent reasons, encouraged all her extravagant notions.”;
The pun-filled cross conversations of Mr Evenson and Mrs Tibbs hatching their plan on the one hand and Mr Gobler and Mrs Bloss playing cribbage on the other is so theatrical! ;
We know that Mr Gobler and Mrs Bloss are bound for a closer relationship by virtue of their “playing cribbage” – a well-known Victorian euphemism for, at the very least, intimacy, at the most, having sex. See “Sexual Analysis of Dickens’ Props” by Arthur Washburn Brown – this is a really fun read, VERY informative, eye opening, and a great resource for understanding the underlying, unsaid commentary of Victorian novels – turns out they aren’t so prudish after all!
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Chris–I agree. In a longer format Dickens could combine them in a paragraph demonstrating, say, the various and extraordinary activities one of his protagonists might bump up against while moving from point A to B where they (these events) provide some sort of interlude or thematic parallel to what is happening in a novel or longer story. In fact, this character might even be waylaid or distracted by these events to the extent that he or she misses an important appointment or assignation. Jeez, the possibilities seem endless!
Yep, again: they are in and of themselves beautifully written. One just happened, for one reason or another, to be left, as they say, “on the cutting room floor.”
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Tales – Chapter 2 – Mr Minns and His Cousin – Dickens’s/Boz’s first publication originally titled “A Dinner at Poplar-Walk”.
In this Tale Dickens/Boz limits himself to only a few characters in a very limited number of situations. This strategy allows him to keep his theme in the forefront (though it is decidedly not a strategy he follows later!) and sharply focus his attention on the opposition of interests between Mr Minns and his cousin. These two fellows could not be more dissimilar: Mr Minns, a crotchety older bachelor who chooses to quarrel with and isolate (or at least remove) himself from everyone, especially his relations; Mr Budden, a loud “vulgar” aggressive family man, jovial and hospitable toward everyone though unaware of how obtrusive he is. They never can come to any kind of understanding because each is so self-involved – Minns in finding fault everywhere & with everyone, and Budden in trying too hard to ingratiate himself & his family with Minns, only to achieve the opposite result. Had either come out of himself a bit, the other might have been allowed to come in, and both parties might have benefited from the connection. Dickens will make these two types his own as his career blossoms. We will see them often – with variations of course, including both male and female versions – and as opposites they naturally set up conflict.
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Chris: I love this sentence regarding Minns and Budden: “Had either come out of himself a bit, the other might have been allowed to come in, and both parties might have benefited from the connection.” It’s amazingly well put and really gets to heart of these men’s personalities The fact that they DON’T “come out” really leads to an extraordinary amount of tension that brews and then grows between the two. Their opening dialogue at Mr. Minns’ residence is enough to drive me crazy, and it’s hard for me to fathom the “motives” behind each participant. Minns does not like his cousin, and possibly for good reason, as Budden appears to act toward HIS cousin and his belongings without ANY social or spatial awareness; he just barges ahead with his “scheme” (concocted by him and his wife) to curry favor with Minns in order to elicit some support for their son’s schooling, etc. There is just NO holding him back!!!
But Good Lord, what a miserable mess he makes of this opportunity. In parallel fashion, both he and the dog gobble food off Mr. Minns’ table, the dog starts to destroy the drapery, and when forced out of the house and put on the landing, it begins to “work” on what was probably a very elegant door. There is destruction everywhere! Physical as well as mental. All this conflagration is due, primarily, to the total lack of self knowledge that Budden exhibits: his behavior is simply uncensored and appears to have no connection to reality. In Chris’s words, he’s just locked into some strange idea about himself and how he should behave– that he is justified in doing whatever he does no matter how much havoc he’s going to raise! And he is just so damn casual about all of this pandemonium he’s created.
On the other hand we are told from the outset that Minns hates dogs and children. So the minute Budden appears with the dog, Minn’s back is up and he immediately goes on the defensive. But he appears to suffer some kind of paralysis–mentally and physically–lacking the wherewithal to put an end to the hugely aggressive and destructive activities perpetrated by Budden and his dog. I think HE can’t “come out” because of this paralysis which is due, most likely, to his introverted and obsessive-compulsive psychological make up. He’s SO used to being able to control both his environment and social attachments that when taken by surprise by a situation that is totally the opposite of what he might tolerate (given his mental priorities) he simply can’t function in a useful way and, instead, seems to develop (for lack of better words) an appeasement mode with his tormentor. The more he appeases, the more he seems to lose his way…and the worse things become. The upshot of all of this is his acceptance of Budden’s invitation to dinner, and with this acquiescence he seals his own fate–a crappy night at Budden’s and a miserable walk home in the rain. And, of course, it completely derails Budden and his wife’s plans for “help” from Mr. Minns.
Ahhh, Charles, you do work wonders with words!
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Tales – Chapter 3 – Sentiment – For all its appearance of coming out all right in the end, this story really doesn’t. The only ones who come out unscathed are the Misses Crumpton. Mr Dingwall isn’t happy his daughter eloped with Mr Butler, but he comes around and “consoles” himself on the merits of his plans – i.e., it wasn’t HIS fault if they didn’t work, “they ought to have done so”. Theodosius goes on much as he had before, but with a wife to console him, while Lavinia consoles herself by thinking “that ideal misery is preferable to real unhappiness”.
The “sentiment” here is: “that a marriage contracted in haste, and repented at leisure, is the cause of more substantial wretchedness than [is] ever anticipated.” I am fascinated that Dickens makes this statement in this very early (1834) writing of of his career because the issue of ill-advised marriage is one he himself will struggle with (unsuccessfully) for a good portion (most?) of his married life (i.e., the rest of his life). He married Catherine Hogarth pretty much on the rebound after an on-again, off-again emotionally draining three-year romance with Maria Beadnell. After several years of marriage (and several children) he discovers (or talks himself into believing?) he had not heeded his own advice. The theme of ill-advised marriages runs through most (all?) of his novels – most notably in “David Copperfield” and “Hard Times” where the issue is at the forefront, while in others the issue is relegated to secondary or minor characters.
Through his novels Dickens seems (to me at least) to explore or try to work out or come to terms with such marriages. He presents varying scenarios of ill-advised marriages, why/how they were entered into, how the spouses react (to the marriage, to each other), how the marriages play out (some with a modicum of success, others with complete failure), the effect(s) of the marriage on children/relatives/others. He explores the issue so minutely, tries so hard to figure it out – what? I often wonder if he had been trying to talk/write himself into believing his own marriage could work until he finally came to the conclusion that because he couldn’t write a successful ill-advised marriage the thing did not exist and thus his own had no chance.
Yet another layer to Dickens!
(Please excuse my excessive use of parenthesis in this post.)
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Well said, Chris…great context from CD’s own life and experiences
Greetings, Fellow DCRC Travelers,
I have been listening to the “Sketches,” and not in a position to make notes and observations.
I’m continually struck by Dickens’ range of characters and details of person and place, and his (what I see as) overall amused, concerned, and benevolent point of view.
The society he is so keenly observing is essentially without a social/economic safety net. And, Dickens certainly does not glamorize the effects: immense disparities in wealth and assets, often hard-hearted dismissals of the unfortunates, resulting degradation of the have’s and the have-not’s.
Is there a Dickens commenting on similar conditions today, considering rampany ideologies and egregious chasms between the rich and the poor?
Dickens, send forth your spirit!
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Tales – Chapter 4 – The Tuggs’s at Ramsgate – Yet another tale of naive folks getting taken advantage of because they are blinded by flattery which feeds their own sense of self-importance. And, another “action” is brought, this time against Cymon, which has to be paid off & hushed up.
It is curious that the Tuggs’s who were such sticklers for economy in their grocery business, to the point of being “stigmatized . . . as . . . chandler[s]” because of the exactness of the measures & pricing of their wares, didn’t extend this care to their inheritance. Nor are they able to keep tabs on their new friends as they had – or rather refused to do (no credit) – on their neighbor-customers.They fail to look after their new-found money in a way that will allow it to remain in tact or to increase; they seem to believe that once in hand it will take care of itself or that it can be spent with impunity. Likewise they fail to read how they are used by the public – represented here by Capt. Waters, his wife Belinda, and Lt. Slaughter – which leads directly to their downfall. Sadder and hopefully wiser the Tuggs’s are unable to “hush the matter up”, no doubt to the delight of the “poisonous voice of envy” of their neighbors.
Again the lesson or moral is similar to what it was for Mr Dounce: don’t let your ego and/or flattery get the better of you and don’t alienate your neighbors – also here, don’t covet your neighbor’s wife! I wonder if these scams and the resulting lawsuits happened a lot in 1830’s or if Dickens just thought they were funny situations?
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Daniel – who was doing the reading you listened to? How was the presentation?
In “The Boarding House,” “Mr. Minns,” and “Sentiment,” there are a number of interesting similarities–even though the tales themselves appear to be so different. Each of these writings presents a “scheme” of one kind or another, each presents a strong “governing” character or characters, and they all deal with failure.
In “The Boarding House,” the scheme is the overall plan by Mrs. Tibbs to run a boarding house with a kind of panache that adheres to her extreme sense of order. The opening comments concerning her hyper-obsessive need to have all surfaces polished and super clean, particularly to impress upon her guests that this is the perfect residence for them, is her original and primary goal. However, no matter what she does to maintain the equilibrium of her business, to keep herself and her occupants satisfied, just about everything that can go wrong, does. The predictor of all this looming chaos is her husband, Mr. Tibbs, who in the very beginning hints of the possibility of marriages between the different residents, a prediction Mrs. Tibbs is alarmed by because she sees this possibility will ruin her business “scheme.” And it happens! The marriages–at least two–take place, the house is emptied, and we have to wait for part II of the story to see what will develop. Will the business continue to operate, and what kinds of havoc will ensue to close the entire operation down? As is typical of these three narratives, this one concludes with a comical disaster–and accompanying collateral damage. The person who suffers the most is poor Mr. Tibbs. His fate is the natural outcome of his wife’s scheme and the resultant chaos it creates. His wife, the “governing” character shows him no mercy.
I’ve written at some length about the scheme in “Mr. Minns,” but it’s worth repeating in this context of similarities, that he, the one who most desires “order” and solitude in HIS life, is not the strong “determiner” a la Mrs. Tibbs, but is the victim of another aggressive, very strong and selfish character, Mr. Budden. He, then, is the “schemer” in this sketch who, along with his wife, decide to seduce Mr. Minns to help support their son and his future. It’s the nature of the “seductions” in this tale that provides the comedy, demonstrated at first by the aggressive machinations of Budden and his dog, in the first half of the narrative, and then the crazy and, again, “seductive” antics at the dinner party which Budden throws on behalf of Mr. Minns. Again, as in “The Boarding House,” there is collateral damage: Mr. Minns is totally embarrassed by the ways in which he is “treated” during the dinner hijinks, and is forced to walk many miles to his home in the rain at the party’s conclusion. But, ironically, the MOST collateral damage is suffered by the Buddens and their son who are, ironically, cut out of Mr. Minn’s will at the story’s close.
“Sentiment” takes place in the “finishing school” run by the Crumpton sisters; the “scheme” is organized by the auspicious MP, Mr. Cornelius Brook Dingwall who wants to use the sister’s establishment as a hideaway for his daughter “Miss Brook Dingwall.” The sisters are more than elated by the possibility of this great man’s daughter attending their school and that ecstasy expands to the total enthusiasm (“a concurrent titter of pleasure”) of the young female scholars inhabiting the school. Status is the name of the game, here, and is part of the seduction that this “important” figure of Parliament offers to the school. And so, the “determiner” in this narrative becomes the “very haughty, solemn, and portentous” father who–in keeping his daughter hidden in the Misses Crumpton’s school, hopes to “eradicate”…some “sentimental ideas”…from “her young mind.” Thus, the “scheme” is introduced and, as we readers might expect, it will be doomed to failure. As in the previous two “Tales,” circumstances seemingly controlled by the person or persons in authority–lose the upper hand and the entire strategy goes comically awry. Miss Brook Dingwall elopes with Theodosius, marries and then suffers the unhappy fate of being a “wretched” wife. What is most interesting in this story is the collateral damage or lack of it, for the sisters’ Minerva House remains in “status quo,” and Mr. Dingwall “congratulates” himself for at least devising a plan that could have succeeded but didn’t. The REAL victim her, is Miss Broom Dingwall–for whom the scheme was ultimately devised to protect. Oh, the irony of this ending and of the other endings of these three “Tales!
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