Sketches By Boz - Charles Dickens

GOLLUM

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Hi all,

As a result of recent discussions regarding the upcoming bicentennial of the birth (Feb 7, 1812) of Charles Dickens this is a thread whose main purpose is to discuss Dickens' first published book in 1836, preceding all 14 of his subsequent novels and featuring the rather lovely illustrations by George Cruikshank.

The book covers a series of articles written by the then relatively young and I presume unknown but clearly up-and-coming Charles Dickens that revolved around London life, its commerce, locations, people - basically 'local London colour' if you will. What this book also offers are several intriguing early attempts by Dickens to develop some of the characters that in his later works would become household names and perennial favourites with the reading public. For this reason it is also an instructive book to read in preparation of the more famous novels that were to follow.

Penguin as part of their excellent Penguin black classic series recently published this collection of vignettes and this is the copy I am using including the rather lovely original illustrations by George Cruikshank

From next week I will be periodically posting my impressions and therefore please if anyone else has a copy of this book and wishes to join in or just wants to keep an eye on the discussions taking place here, then please feel free to do so.

For a more general discussion thread on Dickens and the upcoming bicentennial, please refer to the following link:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/533991-tuesday-7-feb-2012-a.html

Cheers.
 

Extollager

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Thank you, Gollum, for launching this thread! I am going to participate.

I like Dickens and yet, more than once, I have underestimated him. Back when I was just getting started reading him, I read Oliver Twist. I assumed the book would be wordy, so I thought that, as I read the book, I would mark passages that could be skipped in a rereading. I think I ended up marking approximately one paragraph.

I had the impression that "early Dickens" might not be all that good, so I was hesitant about tackling Nicholas Nickleby; but family members assured me it was good. It was indeed -- although I confess I skipped the inset story about Grozzwig (or whatever the name was).

So I approach Sketches expecting it will possess a lot of precocious power. Dickens did much to "invent" the London of the imagination. This book should be a good read in its own right, and also good preparation for my reading (expected for next year sometime) of Peter Ackroyd's large book London: The Biography.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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For anyone writing a story set in the Victorian era (and yes, I'm looking at you, Steampunk!), I would say that the book is essential reading. In my opinion, it distills the experience of the nineteenth century in an urban setting.
 

Extollager

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I began reading this book yesterday evening by choosing three likely-looking portions to read to my wife and one of our daughters while they knitted and drank their tea. The selections were, in order of reading:

Brokers' and Marine-Store Shops
The Pawnbroker's Shop
Omnibuses

It turned out that this arrangement worked well. The first sketch has plenty of that Dickensian particularity and feeling for corners of London. The second develops real pathos. The third raises our spirits.

I might get the chance to read some more to them today.
 

dask

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I just read a Robert Louis Stevenson ghost story for Halloween about a brutal murder in a 19th century fog enshrouded pawnshop. Those must have been quite the places to write about.
 

Extollager

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I just read a Robert Louis Stevenson ghost story for Halloween about a brutal murder in a 19th century fog enshrouded pawnshop. Those must have been quite the places to write about.

That's "Markheim," right?

Do you know Stevenson's dialect chiller, "Thrawn Janet"? I have to read that again....
 

dask

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That's "Markheim," right?

Do you know Stevenson's dialect chiller, "Thrawn Janet"? I have to read that again....

Yes, "Markheim" it was. For a few moments I was disappointed it seemed to degenerate into a deal with the devil story until RLS pulled the scatter rug from under me with what turned out to be a genuine double deal.:)
I may have "Thrawn Janet" in a collection somewhere but the title isn't familiar. I will keep an eye open for it. Need to read more RLS. Have recently seen some cheapies and freebies at the Library I now regret walking away from. Will change that. Funny, can't see why both Elinor Wylie and Ernest Boyd included him in their list of the 10 dullest authors in the Vanity Fair symposium from 1923.:confused:
 

Extollager

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I may have "Thrawn Janet" in a collection somewhere but the title isn't familiar. I will keep an eye open for it. Need to read more RLS. Have recently seen some cheapies and freebies at the Library I now regret walking away from. Will change that. Funny, can't see why both Elinor Wylie and Ernest Boyd included him in their list of the 10 dullest authors in the Vanity Fair symposium from 1923.:confused:

Another RLS I should revisit is the strange story "Olalla."

The remark about RLS being "dull" sounds like the kind of thing people sometimes say when they are trying to differentiate themselves from people of a generation or two back. But more people are interested now in the Victorians whom Lytton Strachey satirized than in Strachey....
 

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You're doing better than me Extollager. I've only just finished the introduction and am only now entering the book proper.

I will read and post what I can next week but given that work this coming week is going to be a particularly demanding one I probably won't be in a position to post anything substantial until next weekend...Sigh.
 

Extollager

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Next I read (in this order) "Criminal Courts" and "Public Dinners." (I do mean to read the entire book, but feel free to jump around a bit.) These also were read-alouds. We see Dickens's interest from the beginning of his career in crime and in organized philanthropy ... with an eye to the self-pleasing opportunities of the latter. (Dickens includes a note at the end of the latter sketch to assure the reader that he is not poking fun at all philanthropic institutions and their supporters.) Since I've just reread Bleak House, it's easy to see a continuity between these works from early and later in his career.

I could almost envisage Dickens as capturing London, item by item, for his imagination. He's making it his own, his city, and he succeeded (I'm not saying he consciously had this agenda); the "Victorian London" of many Americans, I suppose, is basically that of Dickens's imagination.
 

dask

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I could almost envisage Dickens as capturing London, item by item, for his imagination. He's making it his own, his city, and he succeeded (I'm not saying he consciously had this agenda); the "Victorian London" of many Americans, I suppose, is basically that of Dickens's imagination.
Boswell had some interesting things to say about London before Dickens (though it may not have been Victorian at the time) but his journal was made public too late to make any difference on our eyes --- if there was a difference. The idea of sitting in a coffee house all day listening to Dr. Johnson sounds almost irresistible, for a day or two, then I'd have to wander off to another watering hole and read Hume or some such to settle down.;)
 

Extollager

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I've read (aloud) two more sketches -- about morning and night in the London streets. It's as if Dickens wrote them and put them in a time capsule for us; what a privilege to be able to read them.

I find it somehow moving to think of times when one could just walk in and out of a great city (see some early paragraphs of Collins's The Woman in White for my favorite example). That is hardly feasible now, is it? thanks to our culture's having handed travel over to the automobile etc.
 

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Some nice images there Extollager. I'm enjoying reading your impressions, eventhough I'm getting a bit frustrated that I'm not having much time to join in. I'm now starting on the book proper..following it in page order...finally.
 

Extollager

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Gollum, I relish Dickens's storytelling, but there is something good too in these sketches as observation without the agenda of a plot and characters. Such writing helps us to "travel back in time."

Take that "Morning" sketch. It really is almost as if Dickens is a modern science fiction writer, describing his time-traveler's observations as the traveler arrives in the past for the first time. But what Dickens gives us is better than that, since he really did observe that bygone London -- when it wasn't bygone.

Literature is wonderful.....

It's almost fascinating -- to think of people whose ways were so different from ours, and yet who spoke the same language, etc. They're close to us and yet very far away indeed thanks to the passage of time.

Their London, too, is -- London! And yet how different it is, from any place in London that we could visit now.
 

GOLLUM

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HMM..someone's had an extra dollop of happiness today...;)

That's a rather nice sentiment you express there Extollager and only further encourages me to forge ahead with my reading of this book.

I'm still making my way through the 'Seven Sketches From Our Parish', but I can see the "morning" sketch I presume you refer to looming not too far ahead.

I'm reading my copy in the exact order that it is presented...so I wonder to myself if you have a different 'presentation' to me or that, as per your recent post, you appear to be reading 'out-of-order' from my perspective anyway.

Pleasant reading Sir.....:)
 

Extollager

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Gollum, our books probably present the sketches in the same order. I jumped around, guessing that the ones I selected would be particularly good for reading to my wife and daughter during the visit of the latter. The sketches were enjoyed! I do intend to read all of them.
 

GOLLUM

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Indeed. That is what I had assumed but thank you for confirming this for me.

I'm about to read the "morning" sketch....Dickens is currently competing with Flannery O'Connor but I will move more towards completing Sketches next week.
 

Extollager

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Gollum, you're reading Dickens and Flannery O'Connor -- these are two of my desert island authors.

Actually, I and a couple of friends really did undertake a "desert island library" exercise a couple of years ago. We didn't allude to islands, but the idea was close. I tended to think: What would be the 200 or so books that I would want to take if I had to get rid of most of them, and move into a nursing home? A number of books by Dickens, and O'Connor's stories, made the list, as I recall.

I have started a thread for "Your Nursing Home 200 Books."

I figure that one would have access to encyclopedias and ordinary dictionaries.
 
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dask

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Speaking of pawnshops, I just read about these establishments with their signs of the three balls in NEW YORK BY SUNLIGHT AND GASLIGHT. It will be interesting to compare this short but revealing chapter about mid 19th century American pawnbrokers with Dickens's account of their London counterparts during the same period.
 

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