Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Discovering Dickens

I'm just now finishing up Dickens's 900-page "David Copperfield," and I must say I'm extremely impressed.

I have a master's in English, but I have read little or no Dickens until now. In an English novel class during my undergraduate degree, I believe I read "Hard Times," but it doesn't stick out in my mind. In this same class, we also read "Vanity Fair," "Pride and Prejudice," "Jane Eyre," "Middlemarch," and others, and all those books made a much bigger impact on me than "Hard Times." I particularly loved "Vanity Fair" but also all those others. (I also read Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" but don't remember loving it so well--I've never yet connected with Thomas Hardy but may try other books in the future. And I really didn't care for "Wuthering Heights"--in fact, I think I got only a few dozen pages into it. I remember liking what I read of "Tom Jones" but not being able to get very far into it; perhaps I will pick it up again someday.)

I never thought I'd like Dickens, because my understanding is that he writes sappy Christmas stories and has too many jokey character names. But "Copperfield" really impressed me, with some fantastic characters, dialogue, plotting, etc. It's not a perfect book: sometimes I don't buy the plot twists and coincidences, and occasionally it gets a little too earnest and melodramatic. But so many of the characters are so fascinating and entertaining, from Mr. Micawber and Dora to the dreadful Murdstones and Uriah Heep, be he ever so 'umble. It's a long book, but I always looked forward to reading it, and I'm sorry to see it end.

I was surprised by how modern Dickens's voice and sensibility still seem in "Copperfield," although one thing is missing: any reflection of sexuality. We learn much about his relationship with his "child-wife" Dora, but we don't have any idea if they consummated their marriage or how this strange, fascinating character of Dora would have handled the sexual dimension of marriage. Of course, you couldn't write about that stuff in the nineteen century, I realize. Anyway, I will definitely have to read some more Dickens, perhaps Bleak House or Great Expectations next. But probably not for another year or two.

1 comment:

Holly said...

I LOVED "David Copperfield," though I admit it's been 20 years since I read it. I liked it so much that I keep swearing I'm going to read it again. The same goes for "Tom Jones" by Henry Fielding--what a romp. It's really, really good.

And I also didn't like "Wuthering Heights," and I should know because I've read it three times. Cathy and Heathcliff are both nasty people and I don't care whether or not they're miserable together or apart.