Dickens!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
I have been reading Charles Dickens for quite a while. I started with A Tale of Two Cities at some point in the 20th century. My mum had an old copy published in the 1950s, I think.

It was kind of weird, since it was my first classic. It took a while to get into the language and the fact people took a page to ask for something simple. There were paragraphs that went on forever. Characters would say things like, “My G–!” and it would be written blanked out just like that. But there was enough there that I wanted to read more.

It wasn’t until 2011 or so when I joined Goodreads and started putting together a TBR list that I decided I was going to read all of Dickens, but I didn’t really make a conscious decision to do it until I found his complete works on Kindle and realised how many I’d already finished. Physical shelf space is an issue when you’re talking about someone who wrote fourteen beefy novels, after all.

So I can’t tell you exactly when I started; I can’t tell you when I decided to go through the whole works; But I can tell you I finished his novels with The Pickwick Papers on the 8th September 2019 at about 1:00PM.

And that’s just his novels – I still have his short stories to go through.

So who was this guy?

I know a bit about Dickens. I know his dad was thrown in prison for debt, and Chuck had to go work at a seriously menial job pasting labels on jars for a while at the age of twelve. Prisons, debt and the lives of the poor run through his stories and his strongest writing is there. He knows the dankness and the dregs of London intimately. He can’t write a female character to save his life.

I know he wasn’t above ditching a plot when it wasn’t working. He sold books in serial form to a specific word count every month, and if his sales dropped one month, he was on it instantly. There are times when plot follows plot until the public got something they liked.

At the bottom of it all is a man who feels like he was in it for the money. He never forgot the public was paying the bills, and wasn’t above toadying to them when they didn’t like what was going on. None of this “write for yourself” for Charlie.

And if his word count was down for the month, he had no hesitation slapping in filler. Oh, so, so much filler! I’ve read a chapter that was nothing more but the description of an inn. For a whole ten pages!

Was it worth it?

Of his fourteen novels, the ones that stand out are the ones most people have heard of: David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations. To that list I’d add Hard Times, which is one I think slips by most people and which surprised me. If you want to experience Dickens, you could read those and call it good.

Avoid Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit. Oliver Twist I can take or leave – there’s an awfully contrived coincidence which is really hard to swallow. The same with Nicholas Nickelby…there’s a lot of filler there.

Charlie was a Victorian, so don’t expect anything from his women but fainting spells and fits (Read Wilkie Collins if you want kick ass Victorian women). His villains are a melodramatic bunch, of course. And since he’s a Victorian, happy endings are a guarantee.

In the end though, I have cried and I have laughed with the characters he created.

I’d call that time well spent.

Have you ever worked your way through an entire authors works? Let me know!