What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens

I have been reading Nicholas Nickleby for a few weeks now and have some thoughts to share on this author. Movies based on his books are almost certain to be goodOliver Twist, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Great Expectations, to name just a few.
Little Dorrit mini-series 2008
But I want to talk about reading his books and his style of writing. Charles Dickens had a rare distinction among artists, which is he was famous while he was alive. People by the millions loved his work back when he was writing and still do to this day. Of course, not everyone was his fan; according to Wikipedia: "Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism."

I'm not sure I understand what those three were talking about in their complaints against Dickens, but I have a much more simple protest to lodge. To me, he writes like someone who is in love with the sound of his own voice. There is something annoying about the way he drags a scene out that has nothing to do with the storypage after page of silly nonsense between characters of no significance. Dickens seems to try to make up for this fluff by attempting to be witty or by taking some dig at the society of his day. Hey, maybe I do understand what lacking psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein saccharine sentimentalism is after all.

There can be no debate in that he has a way with words and a knack for creating some distinctive characters. But the way he regularly extends things becomes tediously painful and tiresome, since the places he chooses to get carried away have no bearing on the story. It's like going shopping for groceries, but the store is filled with so much other stuff you have trouble finding the food. I don't know about everyone else, but when I'm reading for entertainment, I don't want to wade through this kind of malarkey to find the story. If I wanted to just read words for the sake of reading, I would reach for the dictionary or the encyclopedia.

I have found it interestingly ironic that in Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens actually wrote this about a particular scene: "To recount all the delight and wonder which the circumstances just detailed awakened at Miss La Creevy's, and all the things that were done, said, thought, expected, hoped, and prophesied in consequence, is beside the present course and purpose of these adventures." Had he used that principle throughout his writing, I would consider him a great writer, not just a good one! Instead, he frequently 'recounts all the delights and wonders and things done, said, thought, expected, hoped, and prophesied!'

Half the brilliance of a great artist is to know when to stop adding paint; the other half, I would say, is the subject. I am struck with the idea when reading his works that, if Dickens would have used his creative imagination to embellish the story in the areas involving the storyline and the main characters, this would have been genius. Instead, reading his books is like watching a Humphrey Bogart movieone of those movies where Bogey gets into a cab, at which point the cab driver either nods at Bogart and then he, as the main character, tells the driver where he wants to go ... now, sometimes the cabby will have a line to say, such as: "Where to, Mac?" Or maybe the driver gets to say more, like: "That's a bad side of town ... you sure you want to go there?" In any event, however much or little the cabby gets to say, once he drops Bogey off, that's it for the driver. But in a Dickens story, you would learn the cabby's name, body size, how cleanoh, that's right, this is Dickenshow dirty his cab is, how long he's been married, how many kids he has, why driving a cab is the best job he ever had ... well, if there was such a Dickens tale I was reading, all the while I'd be pulling my hair out, crying, "I don't care about the cabby! I just want to know what happens to Bogey when he meets Bacall in the bad side of town!"
Oliver Twist movie 1948
That is my gripe with Charles Dickenshe becomes the storyteller describing how some old geezer (who you, or at least, I don't really care about) arranges his socks, how his housekeeper can't hear because her hair has been turned up too tight, why she only polishes the silver on special occasions, why he takes two lumps in his tea although he would prefer four, and on and on about this guy and just any and almost everybody in the story! To be sure, this is why the movies based on his books are so much better than the booksthey have cut out all this extraneous material.
Bleak House mini-series 2005
I think what may account for what I consider a pretty big flaw in his writing is that he wrote in installments, putting the stories in a journal and releasing them weekly or monthly. Perhaps if he had just sat down to write an entire book and not simply articles, he may not have gotten lost in what he was supposed to be writing about. I'm surprised he didn't have an editor with the good sense to rein him in, or maybe that's just what the editor wantedsomeone who would write lots of words to fill his magazine for a year or so.

At any rate, there Charles Dickens sits atop the literary world, and here I get this little chance to rant about him. And in today's world, that means he wins, though I will never understand what the Dickens all the fuss is about.

Thank you for reading what noeandcindy.write !
Like us on Facebook: