Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens (1837) - more thoughts

I read this book when I was young, and it was my first Dickens book.  Maybe that's why it's my favorite - nostalgia.  But since then I've read some of his later books.  Now that I've reread Pickwick with that experience under my belt, I can see the difference.

His more elegant writing doesn't show up in Pickwick.  In books like David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, it has a more serious tone that lends itself to more serious and sophisticated writing.  But I guess those turns of phrases and exquisite descriptions took a few more years to develop.  I kept waiting for the beautiful similes that Dickens is famous for, but in Pickwick...not so much.

Don't get me wrong.  I believe humorous books don't always lend themselves to that kind of writing.  The descriptions in Pickwick are straight forward, but not necessarily elegant.

Here's an example
There is a repose about Lant Street, in the Borough, which sheds a gentle melancholy upon the soul. There are always a good many houses to let in the street: it is a by-street too, and its dulness is soothing. A house in Lant Street would not come within the denomination of a first-rate residence, in the strict acceptation of the term; but it is a most desirable spot nevertheless. If a man wished to abstract himself from the world—to remove himself from within the reach of temptation—to place himself beyond the possibility of any inducement to look out of the window—we should recommend him by all means go to Lant Street.
This is great writing.  It's well styled and graceful, and shows Dickens' talent.  But that beautiful simile is missing.  The wonderful phraseology that must have come with experience is lacking in this book.

But just a few years later he wrote A Christmas Carol, and gave us this:
They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again.
There.  See the difference?  They both tell you about a house or street, but one manages to put a smile on your face at the same time, and impress you with its cleverness.

Once again, don't think I'm insulting my favorite Dickens' books.  This book is everything Dickens.  It has a variety of characters, it has plots, subplots and sideplots.  It moves at a full pace, meaning it has enough threads to jump between that you never feel it dragging.  It has the usual social satire.  And let's not forget, it gives us that charming glimpse of life in a faraway time and place, but makes us feel connected to the people as if it were happening in our own age.

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