Writing and Living is about to embark upon a Year of Dickens. Inspired by James of My Year in Shakespeare, she plans to spend 2006 reading all of Dickens’s novels in the order of publication. I have been eagerly reading her posts about this, in part because I toyed with a similar idea a couple of months ago when I was grounded by a stomach bug and assuaged my misery by curling up (in the fetal position) with David Copperfield. As has always been the case with Dickens, I enjoyed the novel so thoroughly—immeasurably!—that I was hungry for more (perhaps the only thing in the world I could possibly have been hungry for at the time, given the state of my poor stomach). I had an urge to read his entire body of work, beginning at the beginning.
Alas, I must confess that Pickwick’s opening did me in. In my vulnerable condition, I did not think I could endure several hundred pages more of those boisterous, loquacious gentlemen. I’m willing to give it another shot, though, someday. And I have yet to read Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit. Writing and Living may well inspire me to do so. After all, the March girls were mad for Pickwick & friends. Surely I must give these amiable fellows a second chance.
Anyway, all this Dickens talk brought to mind something I read long ago in the introduction to Kate Douglas Wiggins’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It was an unforgettable account of young (very young) Kate’s encounter with Charles Dickens himself on a train during one of his reading tours of the United States. I no longer have the edition of Rebecca which contains the article (Alice, I think it was your copy?), but I Googled this morning with hope in my heart and aha! There it was, in full, at a delightful site called OldMagazineArticles.com.
There on the platform stood the Adored One. His hands were plunged deep in his pockets (a favorite posture), but presently one was removed to wave away laughingly a piece of the famous Berwick sponge-cake offered him by Mr. Osgood, of Boston, his traveling companion and friend.
I knew him at once: the smiling, genial, mobile face, rather highly colored, the brilliant eyes, the watch-chain, the red carnation in the buttonhole, and the expressive hands, much given to gesture. It was only a momentary view, for the train started, and Dickens vanished, to resume his place in the car next to ours, where he had been, had I known it, ever since we left Portland.
Shortly thereafter, the intrepid Kate slips into Dickens’s car, where she finds him alone and launches into a discussion of his “stories”:
“Well, upon my word!” he said. “You do not mean to say that you have read them!”
“Of course I have,” I replied. “Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times.”
“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated again. “Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!”
“Of course,” I explained, conscientiously, “I do skip some of the very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones.”
He laughed heartily. “Now, that is something that I hear very little about,” he said. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts,” and, whether to amuse himself or to amuse me, I do not know, he took out a note-book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to give me an exhausting and exhaustive examination on this subject—the books in which the dull parts predominated, and the characters and subjects which principally produced them. He chuckled so constantly during this operation that I could hardly help believing myself extraordinarily agreeable; so I continued dealing these infant blows under the delusion that I was flinging him bouquets.
You can read the article in its entirety here.