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Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Charlie, Old Boy!

Charles Dickens was born Feburary 7, 1812. If he were still alive, he'd be 199 years old. Since I read something written by him at least once every semester, he seems more "alive" to me than dead -- and I find it somewhat astonishing to be forced to recall that, in fact, his best work is over 150 years old. It's not like this makes me feel old; after all, I was never at any of the raucous parties at which he famously trotted out magic tricks or kept the entire company in stitches till 2am. But it does make me feel a little in awe of the fact that some authors can manage to write things that are still worth reading all that long time later. You may beg to differ, of course. Especially if you are no fan of nineteenth-century prose. But if you love a madcap, eccentric character, or a detailed description so vivid you can see the place as if it were right before your eyes, you have to love at least bits of Dickens's work.

Though I have nothing particularly profound to say today about the man himself, I thought I would repost something I wrote about him two years ago, which might make you laugh. Some of the items on this list (Dickens's Facebook meme) will be funnier if you've ever read any of his novels -- and some of them suggest he wasn't just a chuckling old grandfatherly type. But there's truth to be found buried in the criticism, I'd wager, and I'm not sure even the old boy himself would disagree.  So, without further ado, I give you:

Twenty-Five Things About Me;
Being But an Incomplete List of the Idiosyncrasies that Together Form the Better Part of One Man's Existence in the Present Age

by Charles Dickens

Author of The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, Hard Times, David Copperfield, &cetera, and Editor of Household Words

1. My life has been filled with the best of times. (The worst of times I choose not to mention.)

2. When I was a child, my father called me "Chuckles," in jesting reference to my less than enthusiastic reaction on being taken from school and sent to work in a blacking factory to help pay his debts.

3. The schoolmaster Mr. M'Choakumchild is based on a real teacher in my grammar school, who did his best to educate me according to his own philosophy (until I was sent to work in a blacking factory). I found his real name, Mr. Gentlesweet, to be odiously inappropriate. I am of the opinion that a name should reveal something accurate of a man's character.

4. And that children should not be sent to work in blacking factories.

5. I feel a desperate urge to throw stones every time I visit the Crystal Palace Exhibition. However, my friend Wilkie argues even I could not excuse such behavior in an immense glass-house by blaming the sparrows, which are an avowed annoyance. Pity.

6. I have a particular fondness for an elegant turn of phrase; and find that a descriptive passage, when once properly constructed, veritably takes on a life of its own and brings before the reader a vision of such power and vividness as to render him almost breathless.

7. I am paid by the page for my prose.

8. I have never read the whole of Bleak House.

9. My mother was a pretty, silent, persevering, delicate, loving, little thing. Had it not been for my father, she would have been quite perfect.

10. I would like to write more romantic scenes in my fiction and cannot fathom why I am unable to do so successfully.

11. My wife, Catherine, has chosen lilac for the drawing-room. I cannot abide lilac. I am not convinced she has considered this carefully as a means of torturing me; however, she is nothing but indifferent to the tremendous strains and pressures of my extensive work obligations.

12. I like my slippers just so, and my pipe already filled when I retire to the drawing room of an evening. Catherine cannot seem to recall this. I suspect laziness on her part.

13. I have lately lost my ninth child, a sweet infant called Dora, and am most crushed by the loss.

14. My other children are some comfort, but Catherine is positively useless. I cannot think why she is not more supportive of me in my grief. Certainly it affects my writing.

15. I am partial to hand-cut swan quill pens, constructed of right-wing feathers. I do not feel it is too much to ask that my desk be prepared accordingly before I come down to write of a morning.

16. Catherine cannot manage this either. I cannot fathom what she does all day long to make such a simple thing impossible to recall.

17. Once and for all, David Copperfield is not myself. The fact that he is sent to work in a bottle factory, having been removed summarily from school at the age of ten despite his promising intelligence, is merely coincidence.

18. I am of the opinion that every man would do well to mature far beyond the child he once was.

19. I find gruel abhorrent and would rather take nothing at all.

20. I strongly resist attending any dinner party that I reasonably suspect will not end with several games at charades and at least one impromptu set of magical tricks.

21. I have asked my publishers to withhold all mail suggesting plot changes for my novels while they are running serially. Having once been coerced by popular opinion to alter the outcome of a novel, much to my own dissatisfaction, I have sworn firmly to resist such influence forevermore.

22. In my experience, Americans have an ill-formed sense of humour when it comes to considering themselves. However, they have a quite proper respect for fame.

23. I once had an aunt who could not abide donkeys on the village green. She would chase them off with sticks. I used to lure donkeys to the village green with carrots, just to watch her emerge running from her house in her enormous turban (the headwear that had been fashionable in her youth, and that she saw no reason to change on a sudden whim after forty-years' passage of time).

24. I am unaccountably timid of railway travel.

25. I find David Copperfield to be the funniest of the productions of my pen and will be much gratified if the public adjudges it likewise. I should so like to be remembered as a man who could make people laugh.


thompsongirl said...

That was pure genius. Thank you!

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

He would have made an excellent blogger, eh?

Is that sacrilege? To compare Dickens to a blogger? :)

Marie: said...

As a self-proclaimed lit-snob, the one who just refuses to read the latest best seller( ah-- trash pulp fiction). I find myself turning again and again to Twain or Dickens. Widely read in classic across all ages and genres... it is these two authors that reach out to me from my bookshelves and say, "Please sir, read me once more." (Well, they'd say Sir if I was a sir.. which I am not.. but nonetheless) Yes, I am actually in the middle of another Dickens novel, one I've had since high school. The way I read them has changed over the years, gaining new insights, and falling in love again.


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