Just finished my annual Fall Dickens, one of his lesser-known and lesser-acclaimed books, Barnaby Rudge. Why can I keep coming back to the Master and still emerge refreshed? Let me count the ways:
1) Mastery of plot. Complex and connected threads that are expertly woven into the tapestry of story, with intricate design and vibrant color. And always the satisfying fairy tale ending, no loose threads left dangling and most people getting their just deserts.
2) Master of character. He has peopled our imaginative worlds with the memorable characters of Pip and Miss Havisham and Estelle and Fagin and Oliver and the Artful Dodger and Squeers and Gradgrind and David Copperfield and Steerforth and Scrooge and… Well, I could go on. It’s quite a colorful population!
3) Master observer of human nature. Timeless insights into the minds and hearts of human beings that neuroscience and psychology is just now confirming in different (and less poetic and evocative) language.
4) Master of language. His was the art of the long line, his sentences like Bach’s elaborate musical phrases. Out of fashion today, where novels aim for the short and pithy and music to the one or two bar ostinato grooves, but nevertheless masterful, with adjectives to bring nuance to the images, verbs to help the line to hop, skip and bounce along, images that can call forth the dark, dank, dim, dismal world of industrial London next to the bright cheery world of a walk in the countryside. This blog’s title from a lovely scene of a character who has been through the mill sitting in his kitchen wholly redeemed by the family that has gathered around him. As Dickens himself must have felt surrounded by the family of his own creation.
If you haven’t read Dickens since high school or never had the pleasure, I heartily recommend you give him a try. The long dark night of approaching winter are the ideal time to settle in. David Copperfield is a good starting point, but really, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Meanwhile, I’m starting to re-type the many underlines I made of inspiring passages and am thinking of having Mr. Dickens as my guest blogger this week. Stay tuned.