I'm reading Our Mutual Friend right now (for the first time, so don't tell me the end) and absolutely loving it. It's the first time I've picked up a long Dickens book for over a year, and I realized as soon as I opened it how much I've really missed him.
In talking with a friend about my various passion points, I went back and looked over an old list of books that were defining novels in my personal writing journey. Dickens featured in two of them (Little Dorrit and Great Expectations). Every time I pick up one of his works, I feel like the special fanship connection comes rushing back again. Since he's my favorite author, I thought it would be fun to write a post on just why I love his books so much.
Dickens cracks me up constantly every.single.time. If you want humor, just read about Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt's granddaughter--or Wemmick with his post-office mouth--Herbert and Pip trying to make sense of their bills when they're head over ears in debt--or Mark Tapley changing his name to Co and trying to kiss the landlady. Dickens has an uncanny knack for description and dialogue. It's not Wodehouseian, but it is both snark and whimsy by turns that I love.
Characters are my thing. I love personalities, people, faces to put a name to, backstory that makes me cry and want to hug them. For being an introvert, I spend most of my reading time thinking about characters--which is kind of interesting. Dickens always has funny names, and characters that push the limits of brave, wicked, flawed, funny, and noble by turns. From Herbert and Pip to Esther and Lady Dedlock, I've never seen his equal for creating new literary friends that I love.
I'm a drama girl (not in the queen way, I hope). I love a dramatic story, though. Midnight plans and snickering villains and carriage rides through the London docks--meeting girls on the steps, dancing in crowded ball rooms, kissing the hands of bitter brides in locked up rooms, and having strange dinners with a lawyer and his housekeeper. If you want excitement, Dickens is generous with it--though sometimes it may tug at your heartstrings.
Meaningful Society Commentary
Dickens wielded his words as a sword--they were part story, but mostly there to bring an issue kicking and screaming to the forefront of his reader's consciousness. He knew London society's temptation to be indifferent, to hide the cause of the poor and oppressed behind their gilded dinners and comfortable homes. So he used his novels as little revolutionaries that could make their way into drawing rooms and convict with needle-like precision. So far in the books I've read, he's tackled everything from the justice system, to orphans, to government policy, to inventions and trade, to forgiveness, heritage, family, and Society. He's a veritable bulldog of social reform, refusing to allow himself to be silenced in the face of indifference. Again and again he hammers issues, sometimes making direct asides to the real government in his narrative. He is thoughtful about the combination of justice and mercy in the narrative of human shortcomings, and for that I appreciate him.
I love a good lengthy book. I love a short book as well, but I love lengthy ones for two reasons: first of all, I get that much more page space with the characters. Secondly, it exercises my reading muscles, making them a lot stronger. Think of it like a weight set--if you only lift 10 pounders, you're not going to get strong very fast. But if you work up and consistently use 25 or 45 pounders, your mind is going to be stronger, more mentally fit, and exercise parts of your brain that the 10 pounders can't do. Do you need both kinds? Absolutely. But I like to keep lengthy books in my diet to keep my reading stamina up, and Dickens offers abundant means to do so.
The Movie Adaptations
Lastly, I couldn't leave a Dickens post without the reason that I love the adaptations. There is something about Dickens that most screenwriters stay faithful too--he's the golden storyteller, one they don't really mess with a lot except tightening and adapting things to screen. I've seen beautiful adaptations of Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, and Bleak House, and hope to add Our Mutual Friend to the list sometime this year. (I hear it's really good.) Film writers many times turn them into miniseries of love and drama, which is a win-win. Or, if you want a quick Dickens fix, you can generally find a short adaptation (the Jeremy Irvine or Ioan Gruffudd Great Expectations are great choices). They're a great period drama choice when you've run out of Jane Austens to watch. I marathon through Little Dorrit about once every eighteen months or so, and it's never grown old.
So there you have it! 6 reasons why I love Charles Dickens--and I think I've made myself a new series. We might have a few more articles like this about various authors throughout the year! :)
All illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne, in the public domain.