Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bicentennial of Charles Dickens

With Halloween 2011 approaching, Madame L wrote an appreciative essay about Charles Dickens's famous "A Christmas Carol," which she had finally learned to enjoy.

Madame L may be writing more about Charles Dickens sometime in the future, but for now feels it necessary only to remark on the fact that on Feb. 7, 2012, many people around the world will be celebrating the famous writer's birthday.

Madame L isn't celebrating, any more than she's celebrating the Feb. 6 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, not because she's a curmudgeon or grouch, but because it doesn't seem very personal to her. 

Madame L is fascinated by the fact that Charles Dickens, whose father didn't manage his money well enough to support his wife and children, wrote eloquently about children who suffered poverty and other indignities. This wasn't uncommon in Dickens's time or even for generations after he died.

Marian Charlotte Hurley Pratt wrote about her father, John William Hurley, who suffered similarly; and about his marriage to Mary Anne Hougham. Here's part of what Marian Pratt wrote about her father's history:

"An orphan, he never saw his father and his mother died when he was 5 years of age. He was put in the keeping of a guardian. Put out to live in various homes working at 9 or 10 of age, in coal mines befor 12 and by 15 of age almost blind from long hours underground when he did come up to daylight one day the bright sun blinded him. After several months of treatment regained his sight. At 19 made overland trip horseback from Sydney to Brisbane through bushland. Employed at Smelters at Bulimba Brisbane Queensland met Mary Ann Hougham. She with her mother brother and sister embarking by sailing ship to return to London England. He took passage also."

Madame L is fascinated by this kind of history because she feels connected to these people.

Meanwhile, Madame L has checked out two biographies of Dickens from her local public library. She reads them only in fits and starts because they're so...they're so...okay, Madame L will come right out and admit it: they're so BORING, just like Dickens's own writings seem to her.

Here are the main points Madame L has gathered from these biographies:

Dickens apparently wasn't a very nice man. 

He didn't like the fact that his wife, after bearing him several children, got fat; and he took a mistress, whom he later married.

He  could be funny, the life of the party, playing parts and imitating people. He supposedly had a great sense of humor, and one of his biographers claims that he wrote one of the funniest books in all of English literature, which Madame L doesn't think anyone who has read any of the Fletch or Flynn stories of Gregory Mcdonald could ever believe; but that same  biographer also points out that he often laughed at the expense of his friends.

He cut off friendships with anyone who disagreed with him, demanding loyalty at all costs, even when he took a mistress and left his wife.

He satirized some living people so savagely that their reputations were ruined and they were exposed to the ridicule of a public all too willing to ridicule them.

It's true he wrote searingly about the plight of children, the lower classes, and middle-class losers like his father, but it's not like he led that movement of social concern; although his writing about the Yorkshire schools helped lead to their demise, really he was  just part of an ongoing trend to be concerned about people not of the upper classes.

Finally, one of his adoring critics/biographers notes that his "Little Dorrit" makes a nice doorstop and not much else.

Madame L is appalled upon re-reading the previous paragraphs to see some very long and boring sentences and two or three more semi-colons than should be used in any book review; she suspects this comes from trying to re-read Dickens and attempting to read his biographies.

Madame L may have to prescribe for herself the treatment of not reading any more Dickens or any more adoring treatises about him for a long time.

Madame L wishes all the best to those people who think there's any point to "celebrating" the 200th birthday of a dead man and repeats that she herself will not be celebrating. She certainly won't be going to Philadelphia to contemplate a stuffed raven and its connection to Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens.


Ellen said...

Thanks for sharing your opinion. I'm sorry to say that I've never even tried to read his stuff, other than A Christmas Carol, which, like you, took me a long time to appreciate. And as for Fletch, I looked for it at my library and they don't carry it, but it looks fun and interesting so when I am able I will read it. Thanks again for sharing these fun and interesting book reviews!

AskTheGeologist said...

And thanx for saving all the rest; of us the obligatory high-schoolish hazing; tradition of reading Dickens. I am reassured to; know that I'm not the only; one to wonder why this fixation on; reading creepy; books written by a; disgusting and amoral individual.

If I need such self-abuse, I can just flog myself with reading "The Prince."

Unknown said...

I don't think I will even try to read anything of his. He doesn't sound like a very good person.

AskTheGeologist said...

Mysogenist Creep is a good two-word description.