What the Dickens?

11 Jul

“Still reading David Copperfield, eh?”, you may have thought if you have visited this blog within the past six months and seen the picture on the right that I have finally updated. I actually finished it a couple of months ago, and not counting A Christmas Carol, this is my first ever completed Dickens novel. Yes, I have managed to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English literature without reading any Dickens whatsoever. And yes, I agree, they really should revoke it.

Below is my take on this very long, very detailed, very old book that I very much enjoyed. I mostly read American literature from the 20th century, so I’m afraid my opinions are more a reflection of my poor preconditions than Dickens’ writing.

Admittedly some of his storytelling techniques are today more associated with children’s literature, such as names that openly reflect the true nature of the character, like Uriah Heep(-of-shite) and Mr. Murdstone (*shudder*), as well as presenting an ensemble of near-caricatures (especially the “bad” ones). Nevertheless, characters like aunt Trotwood and Tommy Traddles, are so incredibly well-developed you start to think of them as someone you have once known, rather than read about.

Another thing that’s usually more subtly integrated in modern literature is the incredible coincidences that are crucial to driving the story forward and tying up loose strings. It is more fashionable to confuse and distract readers these days, lest they should think, “Bah! That would never happen in real life!” It took a little while to adjust to this, but when I did, oh-ho-ho, I happily accepted that Dickens is of course a master storyteller. Dora’s Dad’s Death for example is of course perfectly timed, yet perfectly unforeseen (and a tad too convenient). The same goes for Ham and Steerforth’s Double-Death, which is heart-wrenching on so many levels.

You could divide the book about half-way through and when you’ve read 500 pages and have already been presented with a dense story including at least one or two beginning-middle-end structures, happy endings plus a frame narrative, you’ve sort of fulfilled your coming-of-age-story needs, you’re happy out. However, the sequel follows immediately and the reflections and actions of DC’s middle-aged life consists mainly of summing up the whole story and elaborating on the lives of other characters. It also veers off into this love story that is frankly not that necessary and definitively too drawn-out- Although I am pleased with the outcome, It’s kind of like he decided to whip up a little romance novel there at the end in order to cater for all audiences.

I do enjoy elaborate plot-lines, parallel stories or brick-sized books (I have read all of Game of Thrones, I’ll have you know), but in places DC is simply simultaneously too much and too little. So, the Dickens project will probably be put on hold for another couple of years. One thing that will definitely ensure my return to Dickens’ Victorian England though, is the language. Oh, the language, and oh, the wisdom…

“There is no doubt whatever that I was a lackadaisical young spooney; but there was a purity of heart in all this, that prevents my having quite a contemptuous recollection of it, let me laugh as I may.”


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