Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Summer of Charles Dickens

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Summer of Charles Dickens

Article excerpt

My local library recently added a set of movies to its collection: BBC productions of the novels of Charles Dickens. I have never been much of a fan of Victorian English literature. It's always struck me as so, well, English in its stuffiest sense. The convoluted language is frequently opaque, not seeming to be anything that a real person could have actually said. Take this line from Thackeray's Vanity Fair: "Mofy! is that your snum? ... I'll gully the dag and bimbole the clicky in a snuffkin."

Now what am I supposed to make of that?

But Dickens has always been the exception. As an undergraduate, I marched through several of Dickens's novels and largely enjoyed them, mostly because I stood in awe of the author's ability to juggle and nurture many disparate characters in a manner that made me care about each one of them. I also found Dickens's language more fanciful than daunting. When his characters speak, I am charmed because they are so earnest in their assertions. Take this scene from "Martin Chuzzlewit," where the poor but loquacious Mrs. Gamp, satisfied with so little, extols the pleasures of a simple meal garnished with a fresh cucumber: " 'Ah!' sighed Mrs. Gamp, as she meditated over the warm shilling's-worth, 'What a blessed thing it is ... to be contented! ... I don't believe a finer cowcumber was ever grow'd. I'm sure I never see one!' "

And so began my reacquaintance with Dickens via these wonderful dramatizations. But I had an ulterior motive: to introduce my son to this most accomplished of British authors. We began with "Hard Times."

Here was the scene in our home: Anton sitting on the sofa with his bowl of popcorn, and I in the rocker with my laptop. The TV screen flickered before us. As I mentioned, a Dickens novel is populated by many personalities, and it takes a while to get them all straight. As we watched, I followed the plot synopsis on my computer, allowing me to make running commentaries for my son's - and my own - benefit. "That's Thomas Gradgrind," I intoned. "He's a rather stern father, and his kids suffer for it. And that girl is Cecilia Jupe. She's the daughter of a clown and is light-hearted and sentimental. …

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