One of the many things I told myself I was going to do last year was reading every Dickens novel, well, at least twelve of them. This was inspired by a penguin blog post (the publisher not the bird) where I read that a few of the penguin staff set themselves the task of reading all of Dickens to celebrate his 200th anniversary.
This sounded like a great idea. One of those ideas that is supposed to make you a better person or at least one of those people who at parties can say “Yes well I’ve read ALL of dickens and…” in a snooty way whilst holding a glass of wine. But no, it was not meant to be. The reason is, Dickens is dreadfully dull.
I remember getting this very pretty copy of Oliver Twist, I was very excited, I started reading and everything was miserable. I got about 20 pages in and never picked it up again. I decided to try something else; I leafed through the titles, Bleak House, nope, Hard Times…. no thank you… I ended up choosing a maybe pile of three titles, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickelby, and A Tale of Two Cities.
I went with A Tale of Two Cities, this book had been sitting on my shelf for years where it looked at me with pity and longing, this book wanted to be read. It seemed like it could be the Dickens for me, I love reading about the French Revolution and I thought a familiar setting would be a good way to start. At least I knew it could be anything but boring.
I was very surprised, Dickens made the French Revolution boring. I think in the back of my mind I was hoping for the Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s not what I got. The part that he did get right was the miserableness and ugliness of the times. I guess it’s bound to happen when you have an author that tends to focus on the actual people of a country, I’m sure he was accurate in his description of the times but what I was looking for was intrigue, big dresses and a lot of decapitation.
I do have to admit that his writing is very good. There are many brilliant passages, but in terms of story there is very little and what little there is moves very slowly. When I was reading it I spend a lot of times telling myself “That man is very clever”. My favourite quote is:
“Mr. Cruncher… always spoke of the year of our Lord as Anna Dominoes: apparently under the impression that the Christian era dated from the invention of a popular game, by a lady who had bestowed her name upon it.”
Lines like that are what made the book worthwhile; however, I didn’t feel that it was reason enough to read more of his work. I know that the writing is good; I just don’t like it. So in Dickens, I have found my English counterpart to Victor Hugo.
If you have read Dickens, any Dickens, and do not feel the same way, please tell me why; if you have a Dickens recommendation where the characters are not always miserable or where the story has a faster pace please do tell me.
So my Dickens challenge flopped miserably and I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt…
Is what I wish I could say…