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03/05/2004

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Steve

Just reading the quotations makes me wince. You see, it's not that he is "associated with a now superseded approach to writing fiction" and that I can't learn anything from him, but that the style is - and this is going to sound odd - ethically repulsive to me. It's nothing to do with fashion. Kafka puts his finger on it:
"There is a heartlessness behind [Dickens'] sentimentally overflowing style. These rude characterizations which are artificially stamped on everyone and without which Dickens would not be able to get on with his story even for a moment."

Of course, Kafka loved and learnt from Dickens (which is why his novels aren't as good as the stories) and my favourite Thomas Bernhard has equally grotesque characters - but Bernhard always frames his characterisations through the narrator, so it's always in perspective. Dickens is just the precursor of the cruel caricatures of the modern, thought-controlling media.

And Dickens' popularity is a symptom of his heartlessness: the typically British mixture of pity and cruelty.

On a personal footnote, I was born within a few miles of Dickens' own birthplace. I've not visited that either. This isn't a "confession" if that means I'm slightly ashamed. I am not at all. Life's too short to read for anything but pleasure.

Daniel Green

Steve:

I never presumed you had anything to be ashamed about. Everyone's entitled to his own reading preferences. I did gather from your original posting that you hadn't actually read Dickens (my posting was largely aimed at those who had shyed away from him), but from your comment it sounds like you have read him but just don't care for his work.

Steve

I haven't read anything. Of course, one can't avoid SOME exposure, but I haven't seen more than a page or so, but I can't remember what pages. I'm not counting your quotations as having "read" Dickens!

Chris L

I think you need to read some more Dickens before painting such a one-sided picture of his "heartlesness" -- the Dickens you are describing is not the Charles Dickens I have read, by any stretch of the imagination.

steve

"Heartlessness" is Kafka word not mine, and he devoured Dickens' work.

Stefanie

Your musing on Dickens makes me want to go pull him down from my book shelf and get started. I had th luck of having Great Expectations foisted upon me in high school. I enjoyd it but it didn't have much of an impact until I read it again a few years ago. I have tried twice to read A Tale of Two Cities but can't get past the first chapter. I read Hard Times in college and maybe for that reason I don't have a good memory or impression about it

I don't find Dickens to be heartless at all. On the contrary, I find him to be full of warmth and humor. Sure, some of his characters are cruel as are some of his descriptions, but there seems to be a reason for it in terms of his story. Granted, I haven't read that much of him, but what I have read leads me to believe he was a man who cared.

James

I too had tried to get through Tale Of Two Cities a few times. My epiphany was to come across the Recorded Books edition read by Frank Muller. He brought the story to life in an amazing way. Don't forget Patrick Stewarts annual performance of A Christmas Carol, another wonderful event. After all, Dickens himself was a tireless performer. He would visit all of the local haunts as soon as he had finished a bit to regale his fans.

Sarah

The thing, I think, that gets lost in any Dickens discussion about novelistic merit is that really, they are serials in book form. So because he had to entertain an audience every week for fourteen months straight, there are flourishes, character detail, dialogue and description that I daresay wouldn't be there if he'd written the books as "pure novels". I think the serialization effect explains Dickens' penchant for long lost twin brothers and some of his other more melodramatic touches. It's one of the reasons I never felt bad about taking such a long time reading a Dickens novel--because his contemporaries took over a year to do so!

Beth

I am a recent Dickens fan after years of claiming to hate him. I feel a little silly now, because the things I thought I hated about Dickens were really just things I had read about Dickens; those issues have very little to do with the reality of his work.

I agree that the Frank Muller reading of A Tale of Two Cities is fantastic, probably my favorite audio book. In fact, I think Dickens is really perfect for audio. I read Great Expectations and Hard Times the old-fashioned way, but Bleak House on audio was so much fun that I plan to get through as many Dickens titles as possible that way. It really is pure pleasure if the reader is good.

Maud

I didn't realize Bleak House is on par with Great Expectations. The former is one of the few Dickens novels I haven't read. Now I can't wait to pick it up.

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