I probably read Charles Dickens in the wrong order. My first exposure to the man was a volume called Hard Times which didn’t impress. This was followed by Oliver Twist, probably also a mistake. The overly melodramatic and emotional has never been my cup of tea.
Things began to look up with A Tale of Two Cities which, by dint of being about something other than suffering, immediately took the top spot in my personal rankings. At the time I enjoyed it a lot.
Enough, in fact, that I went on to read David Copperfield. That one was a masterpiece, and probably, if one is objective, the best of Dickens’ work.
Luckily, though, I didn’t stop reading with that one. His minor work (Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol) was duly consumed and found reasonably good, and I did enjoy Dickens’ London, a compendium of sketches by Boz and other essays.
But now, I can say that I’ve finally found MY Dickens. (Yes, that does sound unfortunate when you read it out loud. Don’t read it out loud. Especially in a crowded train).
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, better known as The Pickwick Papers, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Certainly the one book by old Charles that creates a feeling of wonder as opposed to simple admiration about how well the guy writes on a sentence level. This one is also entertaining, a bit kooky (yes, that is a technical term reviewers use all the time) and just as well written as his heavier works.
And therein lies the rub. This one un very un-Dickens-ian in the sense that it’s a light-hearted romp through several counties of English countryside (some, perhaps all, apocryphal) as opposed to a worrying grind through an urban landscape. It’s like reading Wodehouse written by Dickens, which is always a treat (more on that particular angle in my forthcoming review of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop).
Essentially, it tells the adventures of four friends who, though wealthy enough to go on the kind of lark one would usually enjoy, are utterly clueless when it comes to everything else, apparently. Hilarity ensues.
As such, it’s a pleasure to read. Every singe page is fun stuff, and Mr Pickwick must rank among Dickens’ most memorable characters, which is quite a feat in itself.
For those who think that humor is somehow a guilty pleasure, you can rest assured that it’s all right. No one will shake their heads at you in disapproval at your next literary gathering because A) Dickens is a classic writer, B) it’s 800 pages long so most of your literary friends won’t have read it and C) it has redeeming social commentary, so you can pretend you read it only because of that.
So you can enjoy every one of those 800 pages without having to make any excuses at all.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His laters book is a collection of short genre fiction set in non-traditional places entitled Off the Beaten Path. You can check it out here, and it’s worth having a look for the cover art alone.