Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:33 pm

Charles Dickens bicentenary: Call for online editors to save forgotten journal

Three billion words in great author's weekly magazine are giving academics a massive proofreading problem

Tracy McVeigh guardian.co.uk, Saturday 6 August 2011 22.28 BST


Charles Dickens at work. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1866 it was, said the Victorian actress Ellen Terry, "the thing that made me homesick for London".

For 20 years, a tuppenny weekly magazine run and edited by Charles Dickens was eagerly awaited by a readership who, each Wednesday, were given not only colourful reportage of the events of the day but also drip-fed instalments of what later became the writer's most famous books.

Modern academics hope the populist appeal of the journal – called Household Words when it began in 1850, then changed to All the Year Round in 1859 when Dickens dropped his publisher and went it alone – can be rekindled.

Volunteers have been invited to help bring all 1,101 editions into the digital age, making them accessible to an audience as wide as the 300,000 Victorians who bought the periodical weekly.

"The excitement in the sixties over each new Dickens can be understood only by people who experienced it at that time," Terry wrote in her autobiography. "Boys used to sell [it] in the streets, and they were often pursued by an eager crowd, for all the world as if they were carrying news of the 'latest winner'."

The bicentenary of the birth of Dickens is on 7 February 2012. The tiny team at the University of Buckingham hoped to have the journals online by then but, while the pages have been scanned, they now need to have the inevitable computer-made errors edited out – and for that only the human eye will do.

The sheer number of pages –30,000 – poses a problem when it comes to meeting the target date. So a call to the keyboard has gone out to all amateur copy editors with access to a computer.

"The machine-read transcripts all have to be corrected, but the cost would be substantial in these straitened times so we decided to open it up," said senior English lecturer at Buckingham, Dr John Drew. "But only 15% of the archive work was taken up, mostly by postgraduates and academics."

After having a letter published in the Guardian on Wednesday, more volunteers have come forward and almost 20% of the journals are now being edited.

In their day, these were phenomenally respected journals, carrying instalments of Great Expectations, Hard Times, North and South and The Woman in White, as well as poetry, investigative journalism, travel writing, popular science, history and political comment.

The three billion words contain both historical gems detailing the lives, the social problems and the politics of the Victorians, and a literary treasure trove of the works of Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Sala and Elizabeth Gaskell.

There was also unknown talent. "Wilkie Collins's brother Charlie wrote some extraordinarily vivid eyewitness accounts. He is an individual lost by history, although he married Dickens's daughter and wrote much of the magazine for the first 10 years," said Drew.

"Dickens started out as a parliamentary reporter, and the Pickwick Papers was originally a book of sartorial and amusing sketches. The fact he was writing his fiction for a weekly magazine audience is one of the reasons Dickens has survived into modern times. It is very visual work, full of imagery that translated into TV and cinema in a way that Thackeray, say, never could."

But Dickens also pursued stories other newspapers wouldn't touch – not just the conditions in mills and factories and, one of his favourite themes, prisons, but also foreign stories. He commissioned Thomas Trollope, brother of Anthony, to provide extensive coverage of the massacres of the second Italian war of independence (April-July 1859) against the Austrian empire even as Britain sat, hamstrung by royal family loyalties, on the sidelines. Its graphic accounts contradicted much contemporaneous, politely neutral coverage. "I was editing those dispatches when on the news was the debate about going into Libya and it was so interesting to have the historical context," said Drew.

One of his own favourite passages is a less dramatic event, however. "It is a vigorous report that, while remaining completely unpatronising, nevertheless makes deeply uncomfortable reading. It says as much about our current values and attitudes as it does about Victorian love of eccentricity and the [so-called] grotesque," noted Drew.

Under the headline Pursuit of Cricket Under Difficulties, Dickens wrote: "I know that we English are an angular and eccentric people –a people that the great flat-iron of civilisation will take a long time smoothing all the puckers and wrinkles out of – but I was scarcely prepared for the following announcement that I saw the other day in a tobacconist's window near the Elephant and Castle: On Saturday, A Cricket Match will be played at the Rosemary Branch, Peckham Rye, between Eleven One-armed Men and Eleven One-legged Men.

"'Well, I have heard of eccentric things in my time,' thought I, 'but I think this beats them all. I know we are a robust muscular people, who require vigorous exercise, so that we would rather be fighting than doing nothing' … Such were my patriotic thoughts when I trudged down the Old Kent Road… and made my devious way to Peckham. Under swinging golden hams, golden gridirons, swaying concertinas (marked at a very low figure), past bundles of rusty fire-irons, dirty rolls of carpets, and corpulent, dusty feather-beds, past deserted-looking horse-troughs and suburban-looking inns, I took my pilgrim way to the not very blooming Rye of Peckham.

"The one-legged men were pretty well with the bat, but they were rather beaten when it came to fielding. There was a horrible Hogarthian fun about the way they stumped, trotted, and jolted after the ball. A converging rank of crutches and wooden legs tore down upon the ball from all sides while the one-armed men, wagging their hooks and stumps, rushed madly from wicket to wicket, fast for a 'oner', faster for 'a twoer'. A lean, droll, rather drunk fellow, in white trousers, was the wit of the one-leg party. 'Peggy' evidently rejoiced in the fact that he was the lamest man in the field, one leg being stiff from the hip downwards."

Dickens did not treat the game so much as a matter of science as an affair of pure fun.

To discover your own Victorian gems go to www.djo.org.uk, where you can register to edit an edition of your choice (no Dickens knowledge necessary), or help the project at www.buckingham.ac.uk/djo/donate.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Oct 14, 2011 8:15 pm

Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin – reviews

Two hundred years after Charles Dickens's birth, his restless, blazing life still fascinates

Jenny Uglow
guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 October 2011 22.54 BST


Charles Dickens. Photograph: Epics/Getty Images

Both these books give a powerful impression of how exhilarating, and how exhausting, it must be to write about Dickens, let alone to be Dickens. Sketches, stories, plays, journals and scripts for triumphant readings spill from his pen, as well as his great novels; letters, notes and diaries run into volumes; criticism begins in his lifetime and articles, biographies and studies now overflow the library shelves; vehement arguments about his character, his life and his genius – or lack of it – still echo loudly, 200 years after he was born.


Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist
by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

In Claire Tomalin's onward-driving, hypnotically vivid life of the "inimitable" Dickens (Charles Dickens: A Life,Viking), the words "restless", "hurrying", "busy", hum through the pages. On one holiday at Gad's Hill, she notes, "he tried to be lazy". But there was a novel to write, Great Expectations, and six readings to prepare, and then all his work was set askew by the death of his tour manager, and of his brother-in-law and old friend Henry Austin. Being lazy was not possible. He was active even when writing. His daughter Mamie famously described him writing, "busily and rapidly at his desk", then suddenly jumping from his chair, rushing to a mirror and making "extraordinary facial contortions", before returning rapidly again to his desk and writing furiously for a few moments, then dashing to the mirror again. "The facial pantomime was resumed, and then turning toward, but evidently not seeing me he began talking rapidly in a low voice."

As a relief from writing he would walk for miles, extremely fast. He could not keep still, and wherever he moved, he collected friends, so that the pages of biographies, like the bustling London streets he described so well, and like his novels with their varied, sharp-elbowed characters, are inevitably crowded with people. His talent for friendship is clear from his bachelor days, when he and his cronies went on long tramps, rides and river trips, and spent the evenings smoking, drinking and partying – "having a flare", as he put it.

Being with Dickens, is also to be with the illustrators Hablot Browne ("Phiz") and John Leech, with Macready and Wilkie Collins, with the actor Charles Fechter, who gave him the Swiss chalet he installed as a writing room at Gad's Hill, with the large, stammering George Dolby, who accompanied him tirelessly on his late reading tours, with Hans Christian Andersen, who outstayed his welcome – and countless others. But the great, central friendship, movingly described by Tomalin, was with John Forster. Although there were times of irritation, coolness and positive fallings out, Forster remained his informal literary agent, reader, adviser and confidant until the end, taking up the role of first biographer, with which Dickens had entrusted him, only days after the funeral in Westminster Abbey in June 1870.

Dickens met Forster in the mid 1830s, when both were in their 20s. In these years, in Tomalin's words, "his pursuit of various goals was so energetic, and he demonstrated such an ability to do so many different things at once, and fast, that even his search for a career had an aspect of genius". This period is the focus of Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's perceptive and original study, Becoming Dickens. He begins by asking us to imagine an alternative London, based on the steam-driven world of William Gibson's The Difference Engine, a novel itself being a sort of "difference engine", creating a fictional world.

The topical reference acknowledges the contemporary perspective from which we look at the novels and lives of the past, making narrative choices and judgments. The conceit also invites the possibility of alternative lives for Dickens himself, based on the different avenues he hurried down before he leapt into fame at the age of 25, first with Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers, and then Oliver Twist. We see him as a reporter, struggling with shorthand, in Doctors' Commons and in parliament, as a would-be actor, stage-manager and playwright, as a lawyer's clerk and journalist. Douglas-Fairhurst cites Dickens's own words: "I know all these things have made me what I am." But in looking closely at key moments, such as Dickens as a small boy, lost in the city, or slaving in the blacking factory at the age of 12, he also plays with a range of "what ifs?", looking outward at the children Dickens might have been and at their fictional counterparts: Oliver Twist, Smike, Jo the crossing sweeper.

By the time of his first triumphs, both writers remind us, Dickens was already the father of a son, the first of his 10 children with Catherine Hogarth. Indeed, he seems to have been "married" in different ways to three Hogarth sisters; not only to Catherine, but to her younger sister Mary, who died suddenly in his arms in May 1837, causing him such grief that he demanded to be buried beside her; and to the even younger Georgina, who joined the household at 15 and remained his housekeeper and friend until his death.

Becoming Dickens shows how Dickens created "alternative lives for Mary Hogarth", in the idealised young women who die young, like Dora in David Copperfield or Little Nell. Tomalin also catches such fictional parallels but because she opts boldly for the cradle-to-grave story, we meet the novels as they fall, like patches of calm water in a rushing river. In her perceptive discussions of the fiction, the emphasis is strongly on the characters. Linking the inhabitants of Dickens's imagination to his life, she quotes the remarkable letter from Dostoevsky – who had read The Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield in prison. He visited Dickens in London and remembered their conversation: "There were two people in him, he told me, one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. Only two people? I asked."

There are many instances of Dickens trying to live his life well. His intense concern for the poor and outcast is typified by the incident with which Tomalin opens her book, his intervention on behalf of Eliza Burgess in 1840, a servant girl accused of killing her newborn baby. Equally, she shows us the ruthless Dickens, the man with the "military" glint, so evident in his dealings with his publishers, who so often started as angels and ended as villains.

Most of all, he hated his own mistakes. When Maria Beadnell, the passion of his youth, contacted him in 1854, he was initially fascinated. Then they met. He found her fat, talkative and silly, punishing her as Flora in Little Dorrit, "overweight, greedy, a drinker, and garrulous to match". His feckless father and complacent mother, whom he blamed all his life for his blacking factory misery, and for pursuing him with their endless debts, were packed off to Devon and mocked as the Micawbers. The sons who disappointed him were sent to the colonies and then, it seems, forgotten. When his love for the young actress Ellen Ternan overwhelmed him, he turned viciously on Catherine and all who spoke up for her. This makes dark reading. Sad reading too, for Tomalin firmly upholds her conclusion in The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, that Nelly, living quietly in France, bore Dickens a son, who died in infancy.

In the early 1860s Dickens's restlessness and anxiety reached a peak, taking him back and forth across the channel, probably to see Nelly, at least 68 times in three years. His last years were a blaze of physical and mental effort: what had been a walk, a stroll, a gallop, was now painful and difficult. In July 1864, when Our Mutual Friend was being serialised in monthly numbers, he told Forster, in an image full of yearning, that he had "a very mountain to climb before I shall see the open country of my work".

Even the accounts of his death have an unsettled, urgent feeling. Was he in Peckham with Nelly and rushed home to Gad's Hill unconscious in a hackney cab, to save his reputation? Or did he collapse in the dining room, talking incoherently, as Georgina Hogarth said? Georgina's account, although muddled in details, had the authentic oddity of Dickens. "Come and lie down," she told him. "Yes," he replied, as if quoting a novel of his own, "on the ground."

Charles Dickens: A Life is an intimate portrait despite its broad canvas. At times, I wished there were more space to follow his writerly relationships, or to explore aspects of his life outside the family, like his role as editor of Household Words and All the Year Round. But perhaps this desire is simply the result of Claire Tomalin's unrivalled talent for telling a story and keeping a reader enthralled: long as the book is, I wanted more.

Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man is published by Faber.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:59 am

Digested read: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

John Crace digests your second-favourite Dickens novel, according to the Guardian Books poll celebrating the bicentenary of the writer's birth

John Crace
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 10 November 2011 14.49 GMT


Patrick Kennedy as Richard and Carey Mulligan as Ada in the BBC adaptation of Bleak House. Photograph: Mike Hogan/BBC

London. Fog everywhere. And in the very heart of the fog, the Lord Chancellor's court where the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on, the nature of its contestation long since lost to all parties, save to the lawyers who eagerly count the costs. Though on this day some progress is made as two young people are made wards of their uncle, John Jarndyce, who resides at Bleak House.


Bleak House
by Charles Dickens

Meanwhile in Lincolnshire My Lady Dedlock, some 20 years younger than her husband, Sir Leicester, is receiving the family lawyer, Mr Tulkinghorn, prior to her departure from the tedium of the country for Paris. He shows her an affidavit and My Lady blanches. "Who copied this?" she asks, before delicately fainting.
          
Oh silly me! I can't think what possessed me to think I was clever enough to write a first person narrative all about silly old me, but I've started so I might as well carry on. Where was I? Oh yes, affecting to be a great deal stupider than I am. I rather think you might find that quite annoying after a while. But then as I'm also consistently nice the whole time, you might find that annoying too. But I am getting ahead of myself. My name is Esther Summerson. My parents are unknown to me and my early years were spent with my godmother. After she died I was sent away to a school and six years on I received a letter – as you do – saying that a Mr John Jarndyce wanted me to be a companion to his niece and nephew.

How lovely Ada and Richard turned out to be, and after a brief interlude with the Jellybys so that the satirical Mr Dickens could make his social commentary about those who put the wellbeing of the peoples of the Borioboola-Gha before that of their own, we settled at Bleak House near St Albans. There we met our benefactor, the kind Mr Jarndyce, and his dear friend Mr Skimpole, whom even one as stupid as me began to think a parasite after he begged Richard and I to lend him some money. But that unpleasantness was soon forgotten as Richard and Ada fell in love with one another. "I think I will become a doctor," he said. "Though don't forget I will have lots of money when Jarndyce v Jarndyce is settled."
             
In Chancery, having noted My Lady Dedlock's interest, Mr Tulkinghorn is enquiring about the identity of the scrivener. He is a man called Nemo who has conveniently died in his lodgings. But how? Perhaps young Jo the crossing sweeper can help us. And who is Jo? Why he is the essence of Victorian pathos, the lowest of the low, unnoticed and unloved by society and yet the very symbol of purity and goodness. "He wuz wery good to me," Jo says in a manner some may find endearing. "I don't kno nuffink." And yet if he knows so little why is it that this mysterious woman of very obvious bearing is asking young Jo to show her the unmarked grave where Nemo is buried? Be assured that Mr Tulkinghorn's spies will find out. My, how slow and convoluted the story has become, and still so many minor characters to introduce, for how else can Mr Dickens spin out the serialisation into 20 monthly parts? Yet if you want to hear of Miss Flite, the Snagsbys, Mrs Rouncewell, the Smallweeds, Krook and others, then I shall have to refer you to the original text: for now be content to meet Mr Guppy, the young lawyer, who has noticed an uncommon resemblance between My Lady Dedlock and Miss Esther Summerson.
              
It's me, Esther, again. Still cloyingly submissive you'll be pleased to know. Though not so much as to accept the impertinent offer of marriage from Mr Guppy, for – if it is not too much to hope – I rather think that in 500 pages or so I may be betrothed to the handsome and warm-hearted Dr Woodcourt who gave me some reason for encouragement before leaving the narrative after being nice to Young Jo. And so I spend my days happily, trying to keep dear Mr Jarndyce away from the east wind – my how he becomes agitated when the wind is so – and watching my dear, dear friends Ada and Richard fall ever more in love, though not without some anxiety on Mr Jarndyce's part for he feared that Richard was falling prey to his Jarndyce v Jarndyce obsession.

"Make no mistake, Richard," he warned, "No good will ever come from Chancery." Richard was not to be warned, though. Having decided perhaps that medicine was not for him, he had set his mind to being a lawyer so that he might better understand the case. Like Mr Jarndyce, I too feared for Richard's sanity, but as a mere woman what could I know of such matters? And besides, he and Ada were so very in love that I believed her goodness might triumph. Besides, there were other more exciting matters at hand, for Mr Jarndyce had taken us to stay with Mr Boythorn – pray, don't ask – and in church we had espied for the first time Sir Leicester and My Lady Dedlock. "How very much alike you and my Lady Dedlock look," said Ada. "Fie!" I replied. "Let's go and help a few poor people in the village."
           
What darkness descends. It is November. Filth and smoke hangs everywhere, clogging the very soul. In Chancery, the lawyers grow rich while their clients go mad, but Mr Tulkinghorn has intelligence that Nemo is a Captain Hawdon with whom My Lady Dedlock had an Affair before she married Sir Leicester, and from which union sprang the woman we now know as Miss Esther Summerson. All he needs are the letters in Krook's possession to prove it. But what is this? Krook has spontaneously combusted and the letters burnt with him. Who could have imagined such an end?

Not My Lady Dedlock, who fears her secret will soon be exposed. What will she do? First she will sack her French maid, Hortense. Why, you ask? Obviously because it is quite handy for later developments in the plot. And then she confesses all to Esther. "Truly I am the worst mother of all time! How can you forgive me, child? Yet we cannot see each other again!" she cries. What glorious melodrama! What exclamation marks! Yet Esther is not greatly disturbed, for she is a kindly soul and is well disposed to Mr Dickens. She understands the demands of writing to monthly deadlines so is prepared to overlook that some of My Lady Dedlock's story does not tally with the plotting of the early chapters. And so, dear reader, should you.

I must confess that the news I was My Lady Dedlock's bastard took me somewhat by surprise at first but I quickly shrugged it off after telling my benefactor, Mr Jarndyce, who also counselled me to keep my silence. Besides which, much of my time was taken with nursing Young Jo who was suffering from smallpox. "I don't kno nuffink," he said before vanishing into the night, though not before infecting me. And so it was that I too succumbed to the vile illness and found myself quite without sight for a month, a cliff-hanger infinitely more effective in a serialisation than when you need only turn the page to find my sight restored.

My face, though, was quite disfigured, but such is my easygoing nature that I was not greatly upset. If I was to be ugly from now on, so be it. How could I complain when there were so many other people so much worse off than me? And yet my new found hideousness did cause Mr Jarndyce to offer me his hand in marriage, a kindness I was quite willing to accept though we both agreed to keep our arrangement secret because there was much else to occupy us. Richard had joined the Army with Trooper George and decided Mr Janrdyce was his implacable enemy. How it pained me to see him gripped by the curse of Chancery, still more so as Ada was so devoted to him and has married him in secret. And lo, if that wasn't Dr Woodcourt coming back from India?

Misery. Squalor. Tenements. Death. My Lady Dedlock is speeding to London. Why? It seems that the letters are not burnt and that Mr Tulkinghorn is planning to reveal her secret. But no! Can you hear the gunshots? Mr Tulkinghorn is lying dead. Who can have done such a deed? "I'm arresting you for murder, Trooper George," says Inspector Bucket.

"But I am innocent," he replies.

"I know," says Bucket, knowingly, "but I had to arrest you to lure out the real culprit."

"But it was not me either," cries My Lady Dedlock.

"I know that, too," says Bucket. "The murderer is none other than Hortense who was lodging in my home."

"None of this seems very likely," observes the reader.

"Forgive me," says Bucket. "I'm one of the first fictional cops and I haven't really got the hang of these police procedurals."

And my lords and ladies, right reverends and wrong reverends, Mr Tulkinghorn is not the only one lying dead. There on the street is Young Jo whose last words were, "I am wery symbolic, sir." Who will mourn him? Certainly not anyone in the 21st century!

What also of My Lady Dedlock? What choice does she have but to fly now that Bucket has told Sir Leicester of her secret? And what irony that Sir Leicester chooses this moment to have a stroke while declaring his forgiveness?
             
Back to little old me! I wasn't at all well after getting smallpox and my recovery wasn't much helped by the news my mother had gone missing. How poignant it was that she had gone looking for me and had dropped down dead next to the grave of her former lover! How sad I would have been, had not Dr Woodcourt declared he was not concerned about my deformity and Mr Jarndyce, seeing the honour of the good doctor's intentions, released me from my promise to him. And gave me £200 into the bargain. It was a bit disappointing that Richard died, but I suppose that was almost inevitable. As it was that Jarndyce v Jarndyce should finally be resolved with no one getting anything. Now seven years have passed and how happy I am that everyone still thinks I'm wonderful.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Nov 11, 2011 11:12 am


A Tale of Two Cities- CD.

riverdp
The Guardian

10 November 2011 4:45PM

Embodiment of Dickensian ideals

What does Dickens and his novels embody? What makes them significant and powerful? For myself it is the belief in human goodness, the worthiness of sacrifice made for others and the weakness and fraility of human character - yet also the power we have within us as human beings to redeem ourselves, when we have the will to do so.

Or at least that's what Sydney Carton demonstrates in A Tale of Two Cities. He has tasted bitterness of life, suffers self-doubt and knows he has failed himself. An all-round disappointer is he. Besides, he is not innocent or innately good or kind like most Dickensian protagonists (that, though, makes him more interesting). Then again, somehow, because he is so unlike other protagonists that his journey of redemption is made more moving.
Dickens may seem simplistic and naive at times in his belief in human goodness, but the powerful and poignant way in which he expresses it , or rather, passionately expounds it, cannot be denied.



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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Nov 11, 2011 11:17 am

Why A Christmas Carol was a flop for Dickens

An instant hit that is still drawing crowds a century-and-a-half on, the book brought its author scant rewards


Bah humbug ... Disney's A Christmas Carol

Earlier last month, Disney's A Christmas Carol grossed £1.9m on opening weekend in the UK, and $31m (£19m) in the US. The Observer's Philip French called this latest version of Dickens's Christmas classic "faithfully rendered and extremely frightening", while the New York Times's AO Scott praised Robert Zemeckis's script for retaining much of the "formal diction and moral concern" of the original. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was a triumphant – and profitable – day for Dickens.


A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics)
by Charles Dickens

What most people don't realise, though, is that one of the best-loved (and best-selling) tales in the history of English literature was, for its author, a grave financial disappointment.

Published by Chapman and Hall on 19 December 1843, A Christmas Carol was an immediate success with the public, selling out its initial print run of 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve. But the cost of producing the book, published on a commission arrangement between Dickens and Chapman and Hall, was so high that once the publishers had tabulated their expenses, there was very little left over for the author himself. The main reason: Dickens's own insistence on a lavish format for what was to become the most famous of his holiday books.

Dickens wanted A Christmas Carol to be a beautiful little gift book, and as such he stipulated the following requirements: a fancy binding stamped with gold lettering on the spine and front cover; gilded edges on the paper all around; four full-page, hand-coloured etchings and four woodcuts by John Leech; half-title and title pages printed in bright red and green; and hand-coloured green endpapers to match the green of the title page. For Dickens, there was a great deal of excitement and celebration over the arrival of his elaborate new work. "Such dinings," he wrote to his American friend, Cornelius Felton, "such dancings, such conjurings, such blind-man's huffings, such theatre-goings, such kissings-out of old years and kissings-in of new ones, never took place in these parts before."

The excitement, however, was soon to be checked. Upon examining preliminary copies of the Carol, Dickens decided that he disliked the green of the title pages, which had turned a drab olive, and found that the green from the endpapers smudged and dusted off when touched. Changes were immediately executed, and by 17 December, two days before the book's release, the publisher had produced new copies of the book with a red and blue title page, a blue half-title page, and yellow endpapers (which did not require hand colouring). These changes, coupled with a number of significant textual corrections, pleased the young author, who was optimistic about sales. "I am sure [the book] will do me a great deal of good," he wrote to his solicitor, Thomas Mitton, "and I hope it will sell, well." He set the price of the Carol at a reasonable 5s. to encourage the largest possible number of purchasers.

Dickens was ultimately elated with the public's overwhelming response. Thackeray famously called the book "a national benefit", Lord Jeffrey commended Dickens for prompting more beneficence than "all the pulpits and confessionals in Christendom", and contemporary readers showed their enthusiasm by storming Victorian book stalls with each additional print run. "But the truth," wrote his friend and literary adviser, John Forster, "was that the price charged ... was too little to remunerate [its] outlay."

When Dickens received the initial receipts of production and sale from Chapman and Hall, he found that after the deductions for printing, paper, drawing and engraving, steel plates, paper for plates, colouring, binding, incidentals and advertising and commission to the publishers, the "Balance of account to Mr Dickens's credit" was a mere £137. "I had set my heart and soul upon a Thousand, clear," he wrote to Forster. "What a wonderful thing it is, that such a great success should occasion me such intolerable anxiety and disappointment!" Even after the close of the following year and the sale of 15,000 copies, Dickens had still only received £726.

By February of 1844, less than two months after the Carol's appearance, there were at least eight theatrical versions of A Christmas Carol in production, and since then there have been literally hundreds more adaptations for stage, radio, television, and film. The manuscript of A Christmas Carol itself – one of the crown jewels of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York – has now been digitised in its entirety, and is available for inspection by anyone across the globe, free of charge. Dickens would no doubt be delighted by this munificent online project, but it is no small irony that for this instantly classic Christmas tale of greed and beneficence, Dickens received none of the millions that Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge continue to generate every year.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:42 pm

Madly inventive, hilarious, sometimes cloying - quintessential Dickens


Martin Chuzzlewit- CD.

There was a time when the characters of Sairey Gamp and Seth Pecksniff were better known than, say, Fagin or Ms Havisham. Surprising to a modern viewer, maybe, but undoubtedly true. Mrs Gamp even had a type of umbrella named after her. She was a fat, drunken midwife from the pages of Martin Chuzzlewit whose most notable feature was a tendency to introduce into her conversation a mysterious person by the name of Mrs Harris whenever she wished to make remarks complimentary to herself or otherwise self-serving. Or maybe Mrs Harris serves to distract her from her own harsh existence: her once dissolute, abusive, now dead husband, and her only son, also expired. In any case, no reader can fail to be entertained by the supposed utterances of Mrs H., or forget the blood-chilling moment when Mrs Betsey Prig responds to one of Sairey's stories with the terrible words: "Bother Mrs Harris! [...] I don't believe there's no sich a person!", finally giving voice to what we all suspected, but wouldn't have had the heart to say. Mrs Gamp is also responsible for perhaps the greatest statement of self-assertion in literature: "Gamp is my name, and Gamp my nater". Not wholly comprehensible on a semantic level, maybe, but with a certain Zen profundity to it.

Martin Chuzzlewit is also home to Dickens's consummate hypocrite, Seth Pecksniff, supposed architect and real extorter of money under false pretences from gullible apprentices. For about the first two thirds of the novel, the Pecksniff chapters constitute the most sustained flight of venemous sarcasm in all literature: Dickens says the opposite of what he means regarding Pecksniff, dripping with irony in its purest form. Towards the end, Dickens does descend to simply denouncing Pecksniff, and throws in several passages of melodrama and sentiment as well (anything to do with the Pinch siblings is a case in point), but, hey, no one said he was perfect, and such lapses are characteristic of most of his work.

Martin Chuzzlewit isn't perfect, but it will be very clear to anyone reading it that at many points it is a work of clear and inarguable genius. A lot of the Victorian judgements of Dickens's works have been more or less reversed in modern views, but perhaps it's time we rediscovered why they found Gamp and Pecksniff so worthy of admiration.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sat Nov 19, 2011 8:07 pm

Hard Times, our times? A fairy tale for any time.



Charles Dickens is my favourite prose writer, bar none, and though I like parts of many of his other novels better, I'd pick this one as his best entire novel.

F.R.Leavis famously praised its "compression" and he was certainly on to something. Even the otherwise magnificent "Great Expectations" sags in the second half as the Compeyson mystery unfolds at the expense of the Pip story. "Hard Times" however, is as toughly constructed as a Coketown girder. Three books. Three storylines. One, well-told tale put together in gripping three-chapter installments.

It was written from necessity, to keep the periodical, "Household Words" solvent - but this is a real novelist's novel. Here was a man who knew, within reason, where this was all going from first to last page, writing and publishing as he went along. This is an astonishing achievement that only an artist at the very top of his game could pull-off. I have been lucky enough to hold/read Dickens"'original manuscript held in the National Art Library, and what is particularly fascinating are the blue, planning pages upon which he sketched out, chapter by chapter, the bold architecture of his tale. Not yet, not yet... he delays and delays the discovery of Stephen Blackpool until the moment of greatest dramatic impact. You also see the names of key players toyed with, alternatives scored through. This really is living evidence the writer at work.

Yet none of this would mattter were Dickens not so utterly brilliant within that framework. Beyond the satirical critique of utilitarianism, this is also a deeply poetic and "magical" book rooted, perhaps more than any of his other books, in his childhood reading of the "Arabian Nights". This fairy-tale quality is most keenly shown perhaps in his villains.The drained, bloodless Bitzer, the witch Mrs. Sparsit - who seems to move around as if sat upon a broomstick- and the bored, lanquid devil himself, James Harthouse.

The heroines are also Dickens' best... the elemental goodness of Sissy Jupe and the troubled, complex Louisa are well rounded, credible women and even the more stereotypical Blackpool and Slackbridge are always interesting. We rejoice at the deflation of the crass hypocrite Bounderby and are ulimately left strangely sympathetic to Gradgrind.

There are so many standout moments within the writing. The mad, nodding elephant heads of the great beam-engines, the sparks in the fire of Louisa and Tom's nursery, the fine tobacco and easy manners with which Harthouse causes the whelp to betray his sister, the star at the top of Hell shaft. My personal favourite is the soaking and bedraggling of Mrs. Sparsit as he crashes through the woods and rain, picking-up various caterpillars along the way, as she desperately tries to overhear the fall of Louisa; a perfect blend of comedy and high drama.

Unfortunately, we now live in an age where the Gradgrinds have the whip hand again. The only game is the free market, the only line, the bottom line of profit but Dickens remains there to warn of us of the "muddle" that inevitably results from this idiocy and to point out to us that there is also a "wisdom of the heart".

The final word really belongs to the Dickens' cypher, Sleary, the Circus Master. "People mutht be amused." In this novel we are not only amused, but shown - through the shining figure of Sissy and the illuminated loyalty and selfless stoicism of Rachel - that there is always a better way of living.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:26 pm



Stoic searches for a star


I cannot believe I am first to post a Review here. About a quarter of your poll rate it their favourite Dickens... about what I would have imagined. Not his warmest (David Copperfield) nor his funniest (The Pickwick Papers) nor his most skilfully constructed (Hard Times) nor even the greatest in imaginative scope (Bleak House or Little Dorrit) but this is the novel that - for whatever reason - Dickens seems to have invested his very heart and soul into, and very many readers over the years have responded positively to that. I recall attending a reading by Andrew Motion a couple of years back and he expressed the view that this was the nearest any novel had come to the level of one, single, continuous poem, and I on balance think he is probably right.

What an opening.

The flat, mournful landscape of the Kent Marshes, the poor orphan boy, alone in the churchyard visiting the graves of his parents and lost little brothers when wham, the escaped convict Magwitch emerges from nowhere to terrorise the child into helping him. We then meet his living family , such as it is, similarly terrorised by his sister, Mrs Joe and their Christmas visitors, the silly Mr. Wopsle and the puffed-up humbug, Uncle Pumblechook. Typical Dickens; the blending of searing psychological realism with the wildly larger than life.

The Magwitch story done, and seemingly dusted, we begin the dark, twisty fairy-tale at Satis House that will leave Pip - and Estella - strangely dissatisfied forever. It is this aspect of the book that is the most profoundly poetic. Where "David Copperfield" viewed life from one side of middle-age as essentially hopeful, this second semi-autobiography takes a bleaker view; maybe there are no happy endings for emotionally crippled childhoods.

The re-appearance of Magwitch takes place more or less right in the middle of the novel and strangely proves to be the making of Pip.He grows into a wiser/better man as he strives to save Magwitch whilst losing Estella.The detective story developed at this point seems clumsy by modern standards but, along with his pal Wilkie Collins, Dickens was actually inventing an entire genre here.

In trying and ultimately failing, Pip emerges as a new kind of hero who emerges from this wonderful cast of 19th century oddities and grotesques: Trabb's Boy, Orlick, Bentley Drummle, Jaggers, Wemmick, the Aged P. Pip becomes this quiet, humane and articulate voice, as hard and honest about his younger self as he is of any of the strange and outright villainous characters that crossed his path. I always have a sense of Pip growing not so much into Dickens himself, but rather as a sort of ideal, stoical son for the less colourful age that would follow his own heyday: the true gentleman Magwitch hoped to buy, and that the slightly vulgar showman Dickens never became himself.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 22, 2011 7:35 pm

A great Dickens biography, well worth reading:


Dickens by Peter Ackroyd.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:53 am

Exhibition tells how Charles Dickens was spooked by ghost tale doppelganger

Bicentennial show at British Library says rival accused Dickens of plagiarism but author said he was amazed by story similarities

Maev Kennedy
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 November 2011 16.26 GMT


A British Library exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth includes material claiming alleged plagiarism of a ghost story. Photograph: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The spirits which terrorise and ultimately reform Scrooge in A Christmas Carol may have been due to a nightmare brought on, as the miser put it, by "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese".

Now a new exhibition at the British Library marking the bicentenary in 2012 of Charles Dickens's birth suggests that the real-life mystery of another ghost story by the author may have had an equally prosaic beginning: a manuscript he allegedly stole from a rival.

Dickens wrote some of the best-loved spooky yarns in the English language – but he did not please one artist who accused him of plagiarising his apparition in a piece published in 1861.

The author and artist Thomas Heaphy bitterly accused Dickens of underhand dealing and blatantly ripping off his own story which he had sent to the printers.

Friend and biographer John Forster described Dickens as having "a hankering after ghosts".

But Andrea Lloyd, curator of the British Library exhibition, says the author was always careful to include a possible rational explanation in his ghostly writings.

He was fascinated by the occult, a genius at evoking eerie atmosphere and powerful, malign characters, and knew there was nothing like a spinechiller to boost circulation for magazines which published his novels in instalments.

In 1861 Dickens published a piece in his own All the Year Round magazine called Four Ghost Stories. One of the stories featured a beautiful young woman asking a portrait painter if he could remember her face well enough to paint it from memory months later.

The artist replied in puzzlement that he possibly could, but would much prefer conventional sittings.

"Impossible," she replied. "It could not be."

It transpires that she is already dead, and the portrait is needed to console her grieving father.

The story is hardly Dickens's finest effort, but it certainly caused a reaction in Heaphy, a now almost entirely forgotten Victorian artist. (Tate and the National Portrait Gallery both have works by his father in the collections, but nothing by him).

Heaphy wrote to Dickens in a rage, claiming that not only had he written up an identical story, ready for publication in the Christmas issue of a rival magazine, but that it had really happened to him – and on 13 September too, the very date Dickens had added in pencil in the margin of his own version.

There was never any explanation of the mystery: Dickens insisted that he was completely innocent of plagiarism, deliberate or psychic.

He called the episode, Forster wrote, "So very original, so very extraordinary, so very far beyond the version I have published that all other stories turn pale before it.

"Everything connected with it is amazing; but conceive this – the portrait painter had been engaged to write it elsewhere as a story for next Christmas and not unnaturally supposed when he saw himself anticipated in All the Year Round that there had been treachery at his printers."

The exhibition includes a very rare publication, a small booklet entitled A Wonderful Ghost Story Being Mr H's Own Narrative, which the artist published years later, giving his own version of the story.

Despite including in very large type "with unpublished Letters from Charles Dickens", it was not a success.

Although Dickens conducted a running battle with spiritualists over exposés in his magazines of fake mediums and seances, he did however believe in the so-called new science of mesmerism.

He was convinced he himself could heal others by putting them into a hypnotic trance.

Catherine, his long-suffering wife, pregnant by him for most of their 22 years together (10 of their children survived) before an acrimonious separation, made a rare protest when he devoted day after day of a holiday to gazing into the eyes of a beautiful young woman who claimed to be tormented by anxiety and insomnia.

In reference to this, the exhibition includes an indignant letter he wrote to Catherine years later, raking over the coals yet again.

There is also a copy of The Terrific Register, a "penny dreadful" weekly magazine which the teenage Dickens devoured, enthralled with and terrified by stories about murder, ghosts, incest and cannibalism.

Within five weeks of Dickens's death on 9 June 1870, spiritualists in America were claiming the last laugh. The spirit of the credulous sceptic, had been in touch, they insisted, and had dictated various messages through raps and knocks including the ending to his unfinished last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

• A Hankering after Ghosts, Charles Dickens and the Supernatural, British Library, free entry, 29 November–4 March

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 08, 2011 6:02 am

Charles Dickens's London of dirt and despair captured in evocative exhibition

Paintings of Victorian poverty go on display alongside rare manuscripts in the first museum show on the author in 40 years

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 December 2011 18.24 GMT


A projection of Dickensian scenes from the latest Museum of London show, which focuses on the capital as the author saw it. Photograph: Tony Kyriacou / Rex Features

Alex Werner, curator of the first major museum show on Charles Dickens for more than 40 years, says one of his favourite exhibits is a small drawing that it would be easy for visitors to overlook: it shows a large heap of dust through which women are sifting in the hope of finding bits of metal or bone or anything else they can sell.

Dust collecting and sifting is just one illustration of life – and desperation – in Victorian London, reflected in the novels of Dickens and explored at the new Museum of London exhibition which opens to the public on Friday.

"In Victorian Britain, people would come to your door and buy all the dust and dirt you had collected in your house," said Werner. "There was quite a lot of money in rubbish."

Dust was also a central theme in Dickens's novel Our Mutual Friend, with Mr Harmon senior making his fortune from the dust heaps.

The exhibition shows how Dickens was the first great novelist of the modern city and how London was central to his works. Werner said: "I realised I had to create the right atmosphere and the right mood. Dickens was an insomniac and he used to pace the streets of London at night, writing his books in his head, so we wanted to give some sense of being in Dickens's mind."

The show features rarely seen manuscripts of his works including Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Bleak House but it also tries to give a sense of what Dickens's London looked like and will include numerous paintings of Victorian London.

One of the most important and most evocative is a large one by Luke Fildes. Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874) is a damning indictment of poverty and homelessness showing hungry crowds outside Whitechapel workhouse.

Other exhibits include Dickens's writing desk, his bank ledger and a wax doll of a girl dressed in the uniform of the Female Orphan Asylum at Lambeth, circa 1840, which shines a light on one of the writer's many strong opinions. He loathed uniforms, finding them patronising.

There are also a striking number of Victorian doorknockers, hardly surprising given what Dickens once wrote in Sketches by Boz: "Whenever we visit a man for the first time, we contemplate the features of his knocker with the greatest curiosity, for we well know, that between the man and his knocker, there will inevitably be a greater or less degree of resemblance and sympathy."

The exhibition is just one part of a Dickens-crazy 2012 with several events to mark the bicentenary of his birth.

Werner hopes the show will lead people to read some Dickens. "Hopefully we will encourage people to go and pick up a Dickens book. It is so easy to just watch something on TV but I hope with people seeing the manuscripts that they go away and read some of his work."

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 8:38 pm

Dickens manuscript illuminates author's workings

A new facsimile edition of Great Expectations, showing the writer's decisions and revisions, provides fresh insight into his creative genius

Alison Flood

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 December 2011 15.45 GMT


Great Expectations in manuscript. Photograph: Cambridge University Press

Dense with ink, a spider web of crossings-out, rewritings and even text-speak, the manuscript of Charles Dickens's much-loved novel Great Expectations – which has been published in facsimile for the first time – offers a unique insight into the mind of the great novelist.

Dickens bound and gave his manuscript of Great Expectations to his friend Chauncy Hare Townshend, who bequeathed it to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in 1868. Fragile and in its original binding, the 1861 manuscript has been at the museum ever since, available to view on the first Saturday of every month but otherwise kept in a safe. Now the museum has worked with Cambridge University Press to scan and reproduce the manuscript in book format for the first time.

It shows Dickens's terrible handwriting, how his lines sloped down to the right and how he would squeeze a few extra words into the space this left at the bottom of a page, and his notes on the times of the tides, crucial to Magwitch's capture at the end of the book.

Ink-splodged and messy, the manuscript shows how Dickens was constantly returning to his text to cross out and alter sentences, also including occasional instructions to his typesetter. The novel's first line – "My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip" – was subject to a host of revisions, with "infant" clearly a replacement for another word, possibly childish.

Later, the last page of the manuscript reveals part of Dickens's original ending to the novel, in four lines crossed out by the author. Dickens was told to change his sad ending, in which Pip and Estella part forever, by his friend and fellow novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

"You can see the beginnings of the original ending," said David Wright, the museum's curator. "He's boxed it and crossed through it with vertical lines, confirming that a different version of the ending was written. What we don't know, however, is what happened to the remainder of the manuscript with that different ending."

The manuscript also shows the final sentence of the novel to have been, originally, "I saw the shadow of no parting from her but one". When the story was published in 1861 in the periodical All The Year Round, the two final words had been cut.

"We tend to forget how easy it is with computers: you just do it and delete it. The actual visual sense of how something is composed will be lost to us in the future, but here it is very tangible," said Dr Caroline Murray, the book's publisher. "The manuscript is exactly how Dickens left it. What I find interesting is first how terrible his handwriting was, and second what an awful lot of changes there are. He obviously went back and revised and scribbled things out quite frequently ... The fact he did have changes of mind, that he scribbled things out, makes him seem more human."

Biographer Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life, said the facsimile allows readers "to get as close as can be possible to following [Dickens's] mind as he wrote". "It is a wonderful privilege to be able to pore over a facsimile of the manuscript of Charles Dickens's greatest and most compelling novel – to see his alterations and working notes," she added.

As well as being published for the first time, the manuscript is also on show in the Dickens and London exhibition at the Museum of London from 9 December until June, when it returns to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sat Dec 24, 2011 4:57 pm

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ignorance and Want

Claire Tomalin

guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 December 2011 22.55 GMT

A Christmas Carol has been described as the most perfect of Dickens's works and as a quintessential heart-warming story, and it is certainly the most popular. It's a ghost story with a moral, a message of hope, good cheer and Christian redemption, and an assertion of the value of the Christmas festival when families get together for feasting, and quarrels are made up.


A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens

At the end of the tale, a sick child who seemed destined to die is cured, and a bad man turns over a new leaf and becomes generous and affectionate. Good triumphs over evil, good-heartedness and good cheer over poverty and misery. Yet two terrifying children who have been introduced into the story are left at the end, their fates unresolved, to haunt us.

It was written in the autumn of 1843, during the hungry 40s, a prolonged period of depression and unemployment. Dickens was busy writing a novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, which was not selling well in serial form. He was also interesting himself in the condition of the country. He visited a ragged school, which offered basic education to street children – children with no parents, or neglectful ones, filthy children who sometimes missed lessons because they had been in prison, pickpockets, prostitutes – and he urged his rich friend Miss Coutts to support such schools. He spoke in support of the Mechanics' Institutes in the great industrial towns, set up to offer male and female workers libraries, lectures and some access to further education. He reacted with horror to the facts revealed in the report of the Children's Employment Commission, and planned "a very cheap pamphlet, called 'An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child'." The pamphlet was not written – instead he produced A Christmas Carol.

In it, Scrooge, a London businessman, stands for the rich, and at the start of the story he is approached and asked to make a Christmas donation for the poor suffering in the depression. He refuses rudely, on the grounds that the state provides for them: "Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?" And he grumbles that his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, who has many children, expects a day off for Christmas.

Scrooge is then suddenly drawn into a magical world of ghosts and spirits, described with all Dickens's exuberant imagination. John Sutherland has pointed out the many illogicalities of the narrative, but most readers travel happily and unquestioningly through time and space with Scrooge as he revisits his own past and sees the struggles of the Cratchit family and their delicate youngest boy, Tiny Tim.

The Spirit of Christmas Past carries Scrooge back to his unhappy boyhood, when his neglectful parents left him at boarding school through the holidays, and at once he is softened: he pities the child he was, says, "Poor boy," weeps, and is already a changed character, ready to love his fellow men.

Still, he is taken in hand by further spirits, and given a sharp political lesson by the Spirit of Christmas Present, who produces two children from under his cloak. They are a boy and girl, "meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish … where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked". Scrooge asks, "Are they yours?"

"'They are Man's,' the Spirit answered. 'This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both … but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom.'" Scrooge is so troubled by this that he asks, "Have they no refuge or resource?" And the Spirit answers him chillingly with his own words, "Are there no prisons? … Are there no workhouses?" To me this is the best moment in A Christmas Carol, as Dickens sends a resounding message to the governing powers of his day (and, we may add, to our times, when one child in six leaves school unable to read fluently).

The Spirit disappears and Scrooge's re-education continues. He becomes generous to the Cratchit family, and Tiny Tim, instead of dying as was predicted, recovers. Scrooge laughs and smiles, feels the joy of giving, and celebrates Christmas cheerfully thereafter. Nothing more is heard of the wolfish children.

As Dickens devised his story, he "wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in the most extraordinary manner", walking about the London streets by night. He commissioned coloured illustrations and insisted on his publishers making it a beautiful book, with gilt lettering on the cover.

It was greeted with rapturous approval. Lord Jeffrey wrote that Dickens had done more good by it than "all the pulpits and confessionals in Christendom". Thackeray described it in print as "a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness". This is how it has been seen ever since. Its message gives comfort and joy. But we still need to think about the wolfish children.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 25, 2011 9:43 am


Stephen Collins.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Fri Jan 06, 2012 7:44 am

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: A Dickens of a whodunnit

Charles Dickens died before he could finish his last novel. So crime-writer Gwyneth Hughes set out to complete it for a new BBC version – and soon wished she hadn't

Gwyneth Hughes

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 January 2012 21.31 GMT


Drugs, lust and murder … Gwyneth Hughes’s completed version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Photograph: Laurence Cendrowicz/BBC

Ever since 1950, when the BBC gave us the live, first-ever broadcast of A Christmas Carol, we've relied on Charles Dickens to see us through the winter months, as we draw the curtains, stoke the fire, and sit down in front of the box with a hankie, ready to weep and chuckle our way back into his vivid, awful, exciting 19th century, when people had wonderful names like Scrooge and Cratchit, and every sentence was longer than this one.

We are now in Dickens Year, it being the 200th anniversary of his birth on 7 February. By way of celebration, the BBC has already given us a new Great Expectations, starring Ray Winstone and Gillian Anderson. And following on from that old favourite, there's an invitation to enter a darker, stranger world, a shadowy place of drug addiction, illicit lust and murder. Gentle reader, welcome to my world.

My pitch to the BBC to complete the author's great unfinished novel was short and sweet: "The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Episode one – by Charles Dickens. Episode two – by moi!" This made some important people laugh and got me the commission. As a humble crime writer, I was thrilled. My first classic adaptation!

It's fairly well known that Dickens died halfway through writing his murky story about an opium-addicted, erotically obsessed choirmaster called John Jasper, who plots to murder his nephew and love rival, Edwin Drood. What's less well known is that Dickens died on purpose – to avoid having to finish it. Or that's what I came to believe, after months of wrestling in darkened rooms with the questions he ran out of time to answer. Who actually kills Edwin Drood? What is the meaning of that strange and awful cry in the night? What brings the prickly and defensive Landless twins all the way back from Ceylon to the sleepy fictional cathedral city of Cloisterham? And is that really a big white wig on Mr Datchery's head?

As always, the writing in Dickens is so magisterially confident that, on first reading, you are absolutely sure the author knew where he was going. After all, in every corner lurk what must surely be expertly placed clues: Jasper's black silk scarf, seemingly full of murderous intent; Mayor Sapsea's tomb and its enormous key; that pile of quicklime crying out, "Notice me!" But the more I studied clues in the text, and others I came across in conversations between Dickens, his friends and his family, the more the whole enterprise rocked like a demented house of cards. Some clues lead nowhere. Some are contradictory. Some just plain wrong. That pile of quicklime? Dickens seems to have believed it dissolved human flesh. Did he intend to pop a dead body into it, one that would later be identified by an undissolved ruby ring? Perhaps – but quicklime actually has a preserving effect.

In any case, there was more to finishing the story than solving a murder mystery. Drood, a tantalising network of puzzles, was intended to be a much shorter novel than was normal for Dickens. Only 12 monthly instalments were planned, rather than his usual 20, the intention being to write something exciting, suspenseful and tight; he would have loved the term thriller, but it had yet to be invented.

Even his fans, of which I'm one, would have to admit that he lacked one or two core requirements of the genre, though. Plotting, for instance. Dickens loved observation and digression and wonderful oxbow lakes of inspired daftness. But thrillers get confused by all that. Thrillers love plots. They love twists and turns and surprises. They want everything that happens to be significant, so that at the end the audience has the satisfaction of reaching the answer at exactly the same time as the storyteller.

Whereas Dickens' endings, well, just think of Little Dorrit, where someone suddenly and conveniently turns up from Russia and saves the day with a big fat cheque. So, even as I began to think I could discern his intentions, the relief came tinged by the dawning suspicion that what he intended was unlikely to satisfy a modern TV audience. I also began to suspect that Dickens himself had sensed his planned ending was flawed – and might even have meant to change it.

At this terrifying moment, with a chasm of hubris opening beneath my feet, his wise and sensible favourite daughter came to my rescue. Katey Dickens Collins, I discovered, had observed that her father's brain was clearer and brighter than usual during the writing of Drood; and, intriguingly, she did not think the murder mystery was what most appealed to him about the tale. Instead, she directed readers to his "wonderful observation of character, and his strange insight into the tragic secrets of the human heart".

So I stopped trying to channel the intentions of a dead man and turned instead to his great creation: John Jasper, the living, breathing, unforgettable character at the heart of this wonderful story. Instead of asking myself what Dickens wanted, I asked what Jasper wanted: lonely, raging, unloved Jasper, one of the most compelling and heartbreaking antiheroes in fiction. Naturally, I'm not going to reveal whodunnit in my ending here – but I will say the decision to complete the story from Jasper's point of view helped me answer the first question facing every screenwriter adapting a novel: what will I leave out? To those who love the book, I apologise for the loss of the trains, the weir, former seaman Mr Tartar, widowed landlady Mrs Billickin, bullying philanthropist Mr Honeythunder – and, in particular, the flying waiter.

Doctor Who does Drood

Left with the characters closest to the mystery, I gently pushed them in new directions. I gave wide-eyed little Rosa Bud, the 17-year-old object of Jasper and Drood's affections, something more to do than suck pear drops. I came up with eight possible identities for the mysterious newcomer Dick Datchery, before settling on the one I found most amusing. And I fell enough in love with the bright, cheerful, lonely Reverend Crisparkle to want to give him a happy ending.

Helena Landless and her fiery brother Neville presented a visual challenge. These young orphan twins are from Ceylon, but have English names. I inspected the original illustrations closely. Were those crisscrossing lines on their faces meant to suggest brown skin? How exciting! I decided, on no textual evidence, that they had a British father and a Tamil mother. With great enthusiasm, the production team put two young British Asian actors into starring roles in a costume drama for the first time.

Doctor Who, in a 2005 Christmas special, suggested Drood died at the hands of alien beings called Blue Elementals. A 1980s American musical version, which hit London's West End and starred Lulu and Ernie Wise, ended with the audience voting on which of several endings they preferred: every night a different ending. But from the moment I gave my heart to John Jasper, I knew exactly what my dark hero's final scene had to be. Of course, if I embarked on it all again next year, I might solve the puzzle differently. But that's all part of the charm of Dickens and Edwin Drood – his last present to the nation.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 3:49 am


Martin Rowson on UK PM David Cameron's position as a caring conservative. Baroness Thatcher as Miss Haversham.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:22 pm

Charles Dickens has been ruined by the BBC

You don't have to like him, but if Dickens gets up your nose, why don't you simply leave him alone?

Howard Jacobson

guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 January 2012 11.24 GMT


The BBC's Great Expectations … "This production didn’t reinterpret Dickens, it eviscerated him." Photograph: Nicola Dove/BBC

You don't have to like Dickens. Literature is a house with many mansions. But if Dickens gets up your nose, as he clearly gets up the BBC's, the question has to be asked why you simply don't leave him alone. Instead, BBC television kicked off its commemoration of the Dickens bicentenary first with a witless three-part traducement of Great Expectations, designed, one felt, to make good the claim that had Dickens been alive today he would have written for EastEnders, though to the contrary it showed how little Dickens and soaps have in common; and then with Sue Perkins – mixing winks, recipes and self-congratulation – sneering at him as a husband and a man in Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas. Redemption of sorts was achieved by Armando Iannucci's Armando's Tale of Charles Dickens, in which Dickens's comedy was celebrated by somebody who got it, though I could have done without recourse to "read" as a noun – Dickens isn't a "read" – and the obligatory popular culture swipe at literary criticism, when a literary critic, and a good one, was precisely what Iannucci was being.

It was brave of Iannucci to talk passionately to the camera about the words on the page, proving yet again that television is never more interesting than when an enthusiast is given leave to express his enthusiasm; but it should not have been necessary to wheel out "real" people – a real debtor, real lawyers – as though the wildness of Dickens's imagination has forever to be hauled back to what's recognisably ordinary. Perkins, to whom a quizzical superiority to literature seems as native as enthusiasm is to Iannucci, complained of "a woeful lack of real women in [Dickens] books". Real women! The great writers change what we know of reality, they do not subscribe to its plainest assumptions.

Not only on account of what he wrote, but on account of his bridging the chasm between the serious and the popular, I consider Dickens to be our finest writer after Shakespeare, an example and reproach to every too high-minded stylist and every too low-minded populariser who has come after him. David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend – beat that for an achievement. As for Great Expectations, it is up there for me with the world's greatest novels, not least as it vindicates plot as no other novel I can think of does, since what there is to find out is not coincidence or happenstance but the profoundest moral truth. Back, back we go in time and convolution, only to discover that the taint of crime and prison which Pip is desperate to escape is inescapable: not only is the idea of a "gentleman" built on sand, so is that idealisation of woman that was at the heart of Victorian romantic love.

Great Expectations, in short, is a more damning account of the mess Dickens himself had made of love than any denunciation on behalf of the outraged wives club could ever be. Missing from the usual attack on Dickens's marital heartlessness is any comprehension of the tragedy of it for Mr as well as Mrs Dickens, the derangement he suffered contemplating his own weaknesses, and its significance for the murderous, self-punishing novels he began to write.

That Great Expectations achieves its seriousness of purpose by sometimes comic means, that the language bursts with life, that its gusto leaves you breathless and its shame makes the pages curl, that you are implicated in every act of physical and emotional cruelty to the point where you don't know who's the more guilty, you or Pip, you or Orlick, you or Magwitch, goes without saying if you are a reader of Dickens. But you would never have guessed any of these things from the BBC's adaptation. For this was Dickens with the laughter taken out.

Of course you can't dramatise a novel and keep everything. But to exclude, say, Miss Havisham clutching her heart and declaring "Broken!" or Joe giving Pip more gravy, for the sake of a brothel scene that would have made Dickens snort, is inexplicable, unless your aim is to write Dickens out of Dickens. We must guess that the BBC is embarrassed by the eccentricity of the writing, the hyperbole of the characterisation, the wild marginalia, the lunatic flights of fancy – think of Pip embroidering what he saw at Miss Havisham's (four dogs fighting for veal cutlets out of a silver basket) – the fearless seriousness which will drop into bathos or magniloquence at any moment, confident it can recover itself and be the wiser for where it's been. Lacking confidence in anything but a judgmental monotone, this major BBC production didn't reinterpret Dickens, it eviscerated him.

What the age demands, the age must be given. The "snob's progress" version of Great Expectations – a simplistic, retributive "class" reading about a boy who scorns his origins – is now the common one. It suits our would-be egalitarian times. But Great Expectations is more a novel about eroticism than snobbery. In an extraordinary scene, also excised from the TV version, Pip awaits the arrival of Estella with a disordered agitation, stamping the prison dust off his feet, shaking it from his dress, exhaling it from his lungs. "So contaminated did I feel …" And there's the novel's subject. The fastidious consciousness of blemish that disables a man from loving a woman as flesh and blood, that feeds an idealisation which ultimately damages those he loves, and desexualises him. And all along, Estella the remote and icy star is more mired in the dirt of humanity than he is. She marries Bentley Drummle who makes no such mistake about her nature and beats her. Mrs Joe craves the attention of the man who tries to kill her. Sexual violence stalks the novel, making a fool of dreamers.

How Dickens was able to lower himself into these black depths of the soul and still make us laugh is one of literature's great wonders. He took us where no other novelist ever has. You don't have to like him, but you're impoverished if you don't.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:21 am

Charles Dickens's world of home interiors

Charles Dickens wasn't just a stickler for the intricacies of plot and character development. Home decoration was also a lifelong obsession, writes Hilary Macaskill

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 24 January 2012 20.30 GMT


Charles Dickens in his study at Gad's Hill Place. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

It was only when I read his article on wallpaper that I realised a hitherto unappreciated aspect of Charles Dickens: his interest in interior decor. Charles Dickens at Home, the book I was writing about the houses and areas where he'd lived, took on a much more literal meaning.

That article, "Household Scenery", for Household Words, the journal Dickens launched in 1850, comprised 6,000 words on all sorts of wall covering from tapestry to gutta percha (a solution to rising damp) but focused mainly on wallpaper, in more aspects than one could have imagined. It was one of the journal's "process" pieces, on the manufacture of familiar domestic items such as pottery. But it also exhibited his personal taste, alluding to "what we owe to the designers of good paper hangings", and including his impressions of American ways of wallpapering, gleaned from his 1842 tour with his wife, Catherine.

Dickens recounted how they stood "in perplexed contemplation of our chamber wall", musing on the bad joins and disregard for matching patterns. He even gave his own idea for a wallpaper design: "a hanging which, being dark near the floor, becomes gradually lighter towards the ceiling. At present," he went on, "decorators depend on a dark carpet and a light ceiling to give the effect indicated by decorative principle and required by a trained eye, some aid being given by a dark skirting board, and a cornice of light and bright colors; but there seems to be no reason why the hangings on the walls should not do their part."

Dickens had more than a journalistic interest in the subject. From his time at 48 Doughty Street, his first house and now the Charles Dickens Museum, his firm views on interior decor were apparent. The drawing room, restored to its appearance during his tenancy from 1837-1839, shows the changes he made, with the then-new fashion of "new-papering" to the floor after removing the dado rail, and the shade of pink chosen for the woodwork.

He clearly enjoyed home-making – and shopping. Early in his relationship with Catherine, for example, he wrote with satisfaction of preparations for her visit to Furnival's Inn, his first independent home, describing his purchases of "a pair of quart Decanters, and a pair of pots, a chrystal Jug and three brown dittos with plated tops, for beer and hot water, a pair of lustres and two magnificent china Jars – all, I flatter myself, slight bargains".

This pride in his home was in contrast to the chaotic period in his late childhood, moving through many London homes as his father fled creditors. Dickens's habit of rearranging the furniture wherever he stayed, even for one night, no doubt indicated his need for control. But his pleasure and attention to detail in decoration is striking. In 1845, he wrote from Italy, where the family was living for a year, to Thomas Mitton, his friend and lawyer, with instructions regarding 1 Devonshire Terrace, the house he had moved his growing family to in 1839.

"I should like the skirting board to be painted in imitation of Satin-Wood – the ceiling to have a faint pink blush in it – and a little wreath of flowers to be painted round the lamp. The paper must be blue and gold or purple and gold – to agree with the furniture and curtains; and I should wish it to be cheerful and gay ... I have said nothing about this to Mrs D: wishing it to be a surprise, if I do it at all. Gold moulding round the paper." He wanted the exterior painted "a nice bright cheerful green"; hall and staircase to be a similar colour, "a good green: not too decided, of course, to spoil the effect of the prints".

The initiative was always his – though Catherine had the last word here: "Kate thinks with you," he wrote to Mitton "that green for the hall is quite out of the question."

He also requested the installation of a letterbox, an important innovation in the 1840s. Harriet Martineau, a visitor to Devonshire Terrace, wrote to a friend: "We are all putting our letter-boxes on our hall-doors with great glee." Dickens was, as usual, keeping up with the times – just as when he installed gas lighting at a time when it was mainly used only in public buildings.

His enthusiasm for interior decor can be seen, unexpectedly, in Urania Cottage, the home for fallen women, set up with the philanthropist Henrietta Burdett Coutts. It was Dickens who chose furnishings, commissioned blinds and purchased material at Shoolbreds, the leading drapers in Tottenham Court Road, for the dresses of residents. He even offered to design a room for Miss Burdett Coutts in her Stratton Street home.

His advice included "a long tasteful piece of drapery, falling from the curtain-cornice as part of the curtains" and a new carpet: "It should be something – of a small pattern of course – in dark chocolate or russet, with maybe a little green and red. The eye would rise from a dark warm ground, with great pleasure, to the light walls and the rich-coloured damask."

In 1851 he had a new chance to practise his art, after moving to Tavistock House, instigating a huge plan of improvements. Directing operations from their summer home in Broadstairs, Dickens fired off demands in all directions – to Shoolbreds, to builders, and to carpenters about repairing furniture and regilding mirrors. He involved himself in everything from the position of bedroom bells to the kitchen range – and dummy bookshelves, commissioned for a sliding door in his study, with "a facetious list" of titles such as Cats' Lives in nine volumes.

He paid particular attention to his daughters' bedroom. Every item in it, said his elder daughter Mamie, was expressly chosen by him, from the wallpaper patterned with wild flowers and bedsteads hung with flowery chintz to the pairs of work tables and easy chairs – all "so pretty and elegant".

His most fervent instructions related to the bathroom – he was passionate about showers, again showing his modern tastes. "What I want is, a Cold Shower of the best quality, always charged to an unlimited extent, so that I have but to pull the string, and take any shower of cold water I choose." With "an elegant drawing", he demonstrated how "light, cheerful-coloured waterproof curtains" would hang on a wooden frame. He added that he would "decidedly partition off the WC … The Bather would be happier and easier in mind, if the WC did not demonstrate itself obtrusively."

The final results of refurbishment were much admired by visitors – though not by George Eliot, who remarked cuttingly on the "splendid library, of course, with soft carpet, couches etc, such as became a sympathiser with the suffering classes. How can we sufficiently pity the needy unless we know fully the blessings of the plenty?"

In 1856, he bought his last house in Kent, close to his childhood home. Gad's Hill Place was intended as a holiday retreat, but after his marriage ended, he moved there permanently, and indulged in a favourite pastime, the devising of "an immense number of small inventions". Mamie wrote that he "was never happier than when going about the house with a hammer and nails doing some wonderful piece of carpentering". He engaged in a rolling programme of alterations from carving new bedrooms out of the roof to an extension of drawing room and a new staircase – the upper landing "inlaid in a banquet of precious-woods" – all of which he enthusiastically relayed to friends.

His final achievement was a conservatory. He had long coveted one and now he had a grand structure with arched windows. On 7 June 1870 he showed it off to his younger daughter, saying: "Well, Katie, now you see POSITIVELY the last improvement at Gad's Hill." He had fixed Chinese lanterns and sat there, smoking a cigar, enjoying his long-desired acquisition. The following day he was taken ill and on 9 June he died, his family around him and with sunlight streaming in from the conservatory.

Charles Dickens at Home, by Hilary Macaskill, is published by Frances Lincoln, £25.

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:25 am


The bedroom of Mary Hogarth, Catherine Dickens's sister, at Doughty Street, London. Photograph: Charles Dickens Museum

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:28 am


The dining room at Dickens' clifftop holiday home in Broadstairs in Kent – renamed Bleak House (from Fort House) after his death.Photograph: Richard Gardner / Rex Features

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:31 am


The drawing room at 48 Doughty Street, London – now the Charles Dickens Museum. Photograph: Graham Salter/Charles Dickens Museum

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:35 am


The drawing room at 48 Doughty Street, now the Charles Dickens Museum.Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:38 am


The hallway of 48 Doughty Street, now The Charles Dickens Museum. Photograph: Charles Dickens Museum

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:41 am


The Library at 48 Doughty Street, London, now The Charles Dickens Museum. Photograph: Charles Dickens Museum

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Re: Charles Dickens

Post  eddie on Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:44 am


Dickens at work in his study at Gad's Hill Place. Photograph: Rex Features

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