“Snuggling Up to Genius”

December 23, 2005 @ 5:29 am | Filed under: ,

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.

An excerpt:

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.

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7 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Cay says:

    This is priceless!
    Thanks for sharing.

    I can’t find where it says how old Kate was. Anyone know?

    I read “Two Cities” and the unabridged “Christmas Carol” in high school. I’m working through “Hard Times” now at an extremely sloooow pace.

    I’m too entralled with “I, Coriander” and sloughing through “The Penderwicks” to give Dickens his due time.

    To know that the great Dickens was told he wrote some “dull parts” gives a writer’s heart some comfort. LOL

  2. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this post, Melissa. I’m going to check out “Writing and Living” and the article as soon as I have a few moments. I have also considered reading Dickens (I’ve read a lot as a teenager and is college) again ’cause his influence on children’s literature and YA can not be underestimated. I think of him as the first YA author. Thanks again!

  3. Nancy C. Brown says:

    Hi Melissa!
    I feel like findred spirits, for I too recently read David Copperfield for the first time.
    Also, this information is precious to me, as this coming year, 2006, is the 100th anniversary of GKChesterton’s critical book on Dickens. Chesterton was devoted to Dickens and even, at one point in his carreer, had heard that Dicken’s grandchildren were suffering from being poor. For Dicken’s work had gone out of print and out of people’s minds.
    Well, Chesterton organized a fund-raiser for the grandchildren by staging a mock trial of Edwin Drood, a Dicken’s character from his last unfinished novel.
    They could have sold out the auditorium several times, it was an event that was that sought after, and the complete transcript of the night (a secretary took notes during the whole four hour production) is available, and Chesterton was so funny!
    Anyway, because of Chesterton’s book publishing date, the American Chesterton Society’s annual meeting this June is dedicated to Charles Dickens, so I thought you ought to know.

  4. Alice Gunther says:

    >>(Alice, I think it was your copy?)

    Yes, it was! I always liked Dickens, but I *loved* him after reading that story. Thanks for another excellent post.

  5. Karen E. says:

    When I was in the 8th grade, A Tale of Two Cities convinced me that not everything my English teacher was going to foist upon me would be dull. I adored it.

  6. Jamie says:

    Six years ago I decided to read one Shakespeare play and one Dickens novel each year until I got them all read. It has been such a fun roject. Pickwick was this year’s Dickens novel, and I also found it slow at first. I had tried a few times before to get past the first forty pages, but this year I was resolved to stick it out.

    How much do I love Pickwick? Almost as much as Bleak House. Give it a hundred pages and I bet you’ll be sneaking in reading time when you meant to be cooking dinner.