April 25, 2013

A Critique from Dickens

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I've been reading David Copperfield this month.  It's one of those books that, if all were right with the world, I would have read years ago; but all is not right with the world, and I went against the flow and chose to read Dickens' lesser known works, like Little Dorrit and Martin Chuzzlewit, first.  I'm not sure why people generally start with either Oliver Twist or Copperfield, but my being contrary and departing from the norm has given me, I think, a different perspective on Dickens.  A Christmas Carol aside, I started in on his darker, more dramatic books first; now I'm going back and reading his earlier works, and I can go about it without the notion that they are gloomy and depressing.  Compared to Bleak House, they're positively comic!

At any rate, as I am coming up on the end of David Copperfield (only a couple hundred pages left - I'm practically grazing the finish line), I've begun to think all over again about my appreciation for his writing.  And then it occurred to me to wonder, whatever would he think of my writing?  I thought about it a little while, rather tickled by the idea, and came to the conclusion that he would probably be horrified by modern day writing in general.  And I don't mean what a book snob like myself considers sloppy writing - flimsy characters and thin prose - the sort of things that are objectively bad no matter what generation you live in; I mean the more subjective Standards.

The size of a novel, and the trend nowadays toward "shorter and easier to read books" - mine are large by today's standards, but they're still dwarfed by Bleak House.  The notion of pared-down casts - Dickens would have had a good laugh over that.  Verbose description being the Devil's own child.  And as for characters...!  If he found Jane Eyre appallingly independent, Regina would have him positively thrashing in his grave.

I thought to myself, as these flitted across my mind: "Oh, I can have some fun with that."  So I decided to write up a critique of myself from Mr. Dickens' perspective, as a parody of the Victorian standards and the modern day standards both.  It is at once laughably arrogant on my part and completely self-deprecating, so you are not allowed to take it seriously on any level.

My dear J—,

The next installment is in progress, albeit slow and, at this time, a little tedious. But Bob will keep me going, and being so near the end I cannot stop now. (Though I have half a mind to kill them all and be done with the business.)

You will by this time probably have heard of that new work, released upon an unsuspecting public a fortnight ago, by the incorrigible Mrs. H. I confess it painful, to my sensibilities, at least, to observe the unbridled pleasure with which that public has already caught it up: I hear nothing, morning, noon, or night, but one or another reference to this work. It glares at me from shop windows, and with such garish looks! It is beyond my ability to comprehend its attractions, and yet only last Friday, when I went out for a walk, I saw no less than four persons with it in hand. One of them had the distinctly mouldy air of a dustman; another was, if you can believe it, Lord R. He hid it beneath his hat when he saw me coming.

I had already heard various scathing critiques of Mrs. H.’s new piece of literature, from friends and family, and I soon made my mind up that I should not touch the creature at any cost. It was only when our mutual friend T. happened to mention, in a particularly unguarded moment, that I was featured in its pages that I yielded to my baser feelings, laid down two shillings, and took away the book. It was a moment of weakness, for which I am sure you can forgive me.

Well, I have all but reached the end of the thing, after pausing several times with wounded sensibilities. Mrs. H. performs feats worthy of legend at a speed wondrous to behold; the tale stops for no man; in a mere two hundred pages, the plot is already coursing forward like an ardent tug-boat, bearing the reader in its wake. I found myself appalled at the thought that such a brief work could capture the mind of the public; that the same men and women who demanded to know if Little Nell was dead have now embraced this.  If Little Nell were not already dead, I would be tempted to kill her out of spite.

As for Mrs. H.’s characters, though I admit they are not altogether bad—I was quite gratified by a certain indefatigable female who passes through the pages early on—though I admit, as I say, that they are not bad, Mrs. H. would need a round two dozen more before the story could be called intricate. And the heroine! She is enough to make your blood run cold; Mrs. C. B.’s own rebellious orphan becomes a saint by comparison.

My own appearance, somewhere near the middle of the book, was thankfully brief. I have not yet decided whether it was intended to be favourable or not; I lean toward the latter conclusion. I seem to recall a letter from Mrs. H. some while ago, the subject of which I have now forgotten, but which was (I believe) congratulatory in tone. I can only conclude, judging by her ambiguous reference to me now, that she was not favourably impressed by Dombey. That is of little consequence to me, but I am now turning over the idea of inserting Mrs. H. in the Current Work—as a dose of retribution. I have little doubt, however, that the esteemed lady would not hesitate to return the compliment.

Yours,

C. D.

14 comments:

  1. Hahaha! Such good fun. And yes- I found Copperfield strangely endearing. I had avoided it for the exact same reasons as you, and when I finally got around to it, found that it was very much to my liking and now one of my favorites. I never much liked Oliver Twist, though it was a good comparatively "light" book compared to, say, Barnaby Rudge which was ruthless.

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    1. I've not read "Oliver Twist" yet, and I confess I'm not really looking forward to doing so. But I wasn't originally looking forward to "David Copperfield," either, and have enjoyed it all the same - though I still like "Bleak House" and "Little Dorrit" better. They feel more driven, and more dynamic, to me than "Copperfield."

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  2. Spot on, old bean! What a laugh. I needed that. ^.^

    "...in a mere two hundred pages, the plot is already coursing forward like an ardent tug-boat...

    Hee! Snrk!

    "Lydia!"

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    1. I just had to toss in that little reference to Mr Pancks, who is repeatedly described as "the Tug." There are a couple other Dickensian references in there, too.

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  3. Oh I am in stitches! If he thinks your work short I wonder what he would say to mine? And really truly did you put the great Dickens in your novel? That's wonderful. The sort of gutsy thing i would never have the courage to do. I stick to the made up I'm afraid to chicken to deal with the real and the really lived.

    Me too, Rachel! Oliver Twist spoiled Dickens for me for quite awhile, it wasn't until I read Little Dorrit that I realized what a genius the man was.

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    1. I suppose that isn't quite fair on my part: Dickens did write shorter novels. He's just best known for the incredibly long ones, and for the passages in which he rambles philosophically. His skill with words was amazing, but how he did go on at times!

      Dickens himself is not in Tempus Regina, primarily because very little of the story takes place in the right setting for that. But at one point there is a copy of "Dombey and Son" and a brief reference to its author. It would be fun for him to actually have a cameo appearance, but I don't see that happening.

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  4. Hilarious! This is my laugh of the day. You have a wonderful imagination:). You caught his style fantastically! I won't believe a word he says about your book...

    I started David Copperfield, and have just finished Bleak House. Loved Bleak House, and Lovin' Copperfield;)

    You seem to be on a Regular Rampage, Pip!:) Get those 100 pages done! Maybe you don't want to finish it, eh? That is how I feel when I enjoy a book too much...

    Best,

    Kathleen

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    1. I'm glad it made you laugh! And thank you very much for not believing him. (I think he's very biased and not at all trustworthy.)

      I'm going along quite rapidly in "David Copperfield" now. I don't think I'll be particularly sorry when I'm done; I have enjoyed it, but it doesn't grab me the way some books do - perhaps because I know the storyline already, perhaps because it's so autobiographical. And at any rate, I don't think I could stand much more of Mr. Micawber.

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  5. This was the best laugh I've had all day, and I've had quite a few today. It really did sound quite like Dickens' voice-- I loved it! I'm nearing the end of Dombey myself, and I have to say I'm not terribly impressed either. It had such a strong beginning, but it's petering out fast.

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    1. I'm glad it tickled you! I actually haven't read Dombey myself, but it was Dickens' most recent publication around the time of Tempus Regina. I would have liked to use Bleak House instead, but the timing wasn't correct.

      Keep up your courage! Dombey too shall end. I've got about 80 pages left of Copperfield, and it does seem to be dragging a little bit as we prepare everyone for the joys of Emigration.

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  6. Ohhh, how I enjoyed this delightful 'critique' by our beloved Dickens, Abigail! You have such a delightful sense of creative humour; I loved it! I wonder too what Dickens would say about my writings if ever they happened to cross his path? I wouldn't risk even the thought, I really wouldn't! But, I won't believe even for a moment, as someone in the above comments has already mentioned, what he has said about your novel. I smiled from ear to ear over the fact that your novel, Tempus Regina, obviously becomes a best-seller of sorts and it catches the attention of the general public! Yay, that's my favourite part...

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    1. I am slightly befuddled that everyone has the view here that David Copperfield and Oliver Twist are not so morbid - does that mean that Bleak House, Little Dorrit, etc, are double-morbid? My only real Dickens sampling has been A Tale of Two Cities <3. Of which I am zealously fond of, if 'fond can be the right word'.

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    2. Joy, they aren't double-morbid, but the voice and plot are a little heavier. Of course nothing could be quite so morbid as Nancy's murder in OT, but Bleak House and Little Dorrit are just more complex and while there might not be as much violence, there are some bleaker aspects. But actually, those two are my favorite books because for all their bleak spots, there are so many wonderful parts to counteract.

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    3. Rachel's hit upon it. It isn't that David Copperfield and Oliver Twist (which I have yet to read) don't have their bleak parts; there are deaths and tragedies and horrors in both. But Bleak House and Little Dorrit are more intricate and take on heavier themes, and while they have comic elements, they don't have the same blithesome comedy as Dickens' earlier works. But as Rachel said, I really enjoy his weightier books more, because they're so incredibly well-written and complex.

      Tempus Regina being a best-seller was my moment of tongue-in-cheek arrogance! It added more humor, I thought. It's interesting to come across criticisms from one Victorian author to another; I was amused to learn that Dickens - and, indeed, a number of other critics as well - thought Jane Eyre rebellious, while Bronte returned the favor by calling Esther Summerson a doormat. They could be scathing, on a personal as well as a literary level. (I read one unsubstantiated claim that Dickens may have based Uriah Heep on Hans Christian Anderson. What an honor!)

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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