Ranking the Novels of Dickens

Bick

A Member of the Forum
Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
1,983
Location
Auckland, NZ
Thanks Extollager. Here we see the true power of the forums. Left to my own devices I don't suppose I'd pick Our Mutual Friend next, but now I suspect I will. I'll certainly comment on it. Given its length (it's another doorstop) I'll probably give a running commentary not just a final one!
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
If you do decide to read Our Mutual Friend, you'll find it interesting, I expect, to encounter Dickens's other notable Jewish character; you've just read about Fagin, now meet Riah.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
Some of the ironic-satirical passages in Our Mutual Friend are heavy-handed, as if Dickens's anger got the better of him a bit, but this shouldn't be a big issue.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
Last night I finished Dombey and Son -- so I've read all 14 1/2 Dickens novels. The journey began on 29 August 1975 when I started Oliver Twist.

I've already set out my ordering: Ranking the Novels of Dickens

Good as Dombey was, I don't suppose I like it as much as any of the novels in the "greater" category, but, on the other hand, it is a really impressive achievement, probably greater than nearly all of the ones in my "lesser" category! But one could tie oneself up in knots trying to work these things out.

[Now onward, to finish the reading of all of Shakespeare's plays (not counting ones of which he seems clearly to have written only parts, such as Henry VIII). I have six to go that I've never read: 2 & 3 Henry VI, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, King John, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.]
 
Last edited:

Caliban

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2016
Messages
130
Location
UK
I really wanted to to read Dickens in published order a few years ago. I was enjoying Pickwick Papers but it seemed like I'd been reading it forever and I was half way through so I stopped.

Should I try again or read something else. I can get them free on kindle but I also have clothbound - really pretty - editions of all of the really famous ones.

I've recently read Miklos Bannfy's Transylvania Trilogy so I am capable of reading big fat classics. I don't know why I couldn't finish Pickwick.
 

Cathbad

Level 30 Geek Master
Joined
Dec 9, 2015
Messages
8,778
Location
Everywhere.
Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cites were exceptional. I was wondering why, as I read through the thread, why A Christmas Carol hadn't been mentioned, until a post reminded me it was a novella. :oops:
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
Caliban, I've read all of the Dickens novels now, and Pickwick was by far the hardest one for me to get through; in fact, the only one it was hard for me to get through. For me, finishing it was a "completist" project to some degree, though I might return to it someday and have a more satisfactory experience. It sounds like it's the only Dickens novel you've attempted to read. Why not go to one of the others? When teaching Dickens in a British Novel course, I have usually used Our Mutual Friend or Bleak House as the selection, hoping my students will then want to read more. This time, the one I've selected is Great Expectations, which I just started rereading on Monday, and am relishing. I've also selected Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, and, if I remember rightly, David Copperfield. Dickens always seems to go over well.
 

Bick

A Member of the Forum
Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
1,983
Location
Auckland, NZ
Yes when it comes to classics like Dickens I think you need to read one of the best first, then if you read a stodgy one like Pickwick you will recognise it in context as weaker and not be put off. I like Dombey and Oliver Twist (both read this year) but I wouldn't suggest you go to them next. I'd agree with Great Expectations. Not only is it very readable but it's also shorter than most, so it's a perfect intro.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
Reading those early chapters of Great Expectations, this time I found myself reminded of some of the best of Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. I wonder if both of those later writers didn't learn a lot from Dickens regarding the evocation of the possibilities for humor and terror with a young orphan lad as main character.
 

Caliban

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2016
Messages
130
Location
UK
IMG_1961.JPG
I have lovely clothbound copies of the famous Dickens.

Thanks for the advice I'll start reading Great Expectations as soon as I finish what I'm reading currently.
 

soulsinging

the dude abides
Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
2,194
I'd go:

A Tale of Two Cities
Oliver Twist
Great Expectations
Hard Times

Oddly, the latter two I found most dull and also the only two that were required reading for me. Great Expectations almost killed my love of reading at 14. I would like to try it again though. I found Oliver Twist very engaging, and Tale of Two Cities to be a thrilling look into the French Revolution that has had me chasing down contemporary works (Dumas, Les Mis, War and Peace) ever since.
 

Cathbad

Level 30 Geek Master
Joined
Dec 9, 2015
Messages
8,778
Location
Everywhere.
Just downloaded a bunch of Dickens to my Kindle app, thanks o this thread! :D

Time to get reacquainted!
 

dask

dark and stormy knight
Joined
Nov 1, 2008
Messages
3,322
Location
Pacific Northwest
I've been getting the urge to reread GREAT EXPECTATIONS for awhile now and have two copies to choose from, one with and one without annotations. Is there a preferred way to read Dickens?
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
13,425
Location
California
Great Expectations almost killed my love of reading at 14.
We were assigned Great Expectations when I was in high school. (Not sure what year; I might have been 14 or 15.) I really, really disliked it, although I had read and enjoyed Oliver Twist years before, so it wasn't that I found Dickens heavy going.

Skip forward a few years to community college. I would have been 18 or 19. Again the book was assigned reading. And I loved it. It's the reason I went on to give his other novels a chance, which is something I might not otherwise have done. Maybe I would have, since when I married I discovered that my husband owned a complete set of the novels, and perhaps I would have gotten around to reading them eventually if not as soon as I actually did. But there is a chance that I would not have done had I not had that second experience of GE, and a great deal of pleasure would have been denied me.

I think I have probably said this before somewhere around the forums here—I've certainly said it often enough elsewhere—but I believe that a lot of books are spoiled for us by being assigned in school when we are too young to appreciate them. We may, if we are precocious and voracious young readers, be able to understand most books at an early age, but appreciating them is a different thing entirely. As a result, I think that many efforts to give students a love of classic literature has the opposite effect, and convinces them, perhaps forever, that they hate certain books and authors they might otherwise have enjoyed greatly if introduced to their work at a better time or in a better way.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
5,915
I really appreciate Teresa's candid comment about assigned books. I don't know what to do about it, though, if one is a teacher in a conventional public school (as I was for a couple of years). In an unconventional school, one may have a lot more flexibility -- not all the kids of a given age necessarily have to read the same things -- and of course homeschooling really opens things up, as my wife and I found. (So we had one daughter who wanted to read age-appropriate or slightly-above-age-level "books about Indians"; while one of her sisters was reading things like The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, and War and Peace at about age 12.) This isn't the place for a real discussion on "assigned reading"; but perhaps a thread on that would be appropriate elsewhere. I guess I will start it over at the Literary Fiction section, under the heading "The Bane (and Blessing?) of Assigned Reading."
 

soulsinging

the dude abides
Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
2,194
I think I have probably said this before somewhere around the forums here—I've certainly said it often enough elsewhere—but I believe that a lot of books are spoiled for us by being assigned in school when we are too young to appreciate them. We may, if we are precocious and voracious young readers, be able to understand most books at an early age, but appreciating them is a different thing entirely. As a result, I think that many efforts to give students a love of classic literature has the opposite effect, and convinces them, perhaps forever, that they hate certain books and authors they might otherwise have enjoyed greatly if introduced to their work at a better time or in a better way.
That pretty much sums it up. I was 14 and had moved from Hardy Boys to Grisham legal thrillers to Dragonlance/Star Wars... a slow-moving novel about some British street urchin stumbling into riches wasn't too complicated for me to follow, just terribly dull and totally disconnected from my experience. We read Animal Farm around the same time and its universal allegory at least made it feel relevant. Ditto for Huck Finn the next year, with its intricately American exploration with race. Even Hard Times in early college felt like a slog when being read alongside some of the more vibrant and immediate works I was reading at the time in my African-America lit class. It wasn't until I got out into the working world for extended periods that Dickens' takes on class and privilege and elitism started to actually be something I could appreciate... and accordingly I enjoyed Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities considerably more.

Not to entirely condemn required reading. Tackling Crime and Punishment as a hs senior reinvigorated my love of books and pushed me to becoming a lit major in college. But it again has universal themes (particularly of guilt, which was right in the wheelhouse of a guy in his 13th year of Catholic schooling) that I could connect to.

To bring it back to Dickens, I'll take the unusual stance of saying that as much as I love his characters and plotting, I actually find his writing to be pretty underwhelming. As a one-time attorney, it's very clear he's a lawyer, and sometimes he writes like one... a bad one at that. Why use 2 words when 20 will do? Why use clear, active voice, when you can assemble a dense and bewildering series of dependent, passive clauses to get there the scenic (befuddled) way? Sometimes he does hit gold, but there are a lot of times when reading his works that I want to revert to my old profession and scream "get to the freaking point counselor!"
 

Bick

A Member of the Forum
Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
1,983
Location
Auckland, NZ
A question for those who have read Barnaby Rudge. This was, I believe, the first or second book Dickens wrote, but publication was delayed until he released it in serial form in his own magazine. As such, its very early, having been written even before Nickleby or Twist an may have been rejected by a publisher initially. So, my question is, does it read more like Pickwick, and does it have the same sort of difficulties as his earliest work, or is it better than that? I have avoided it as I knew it was an early almost experimental work. Any view would be very welcome.
 

Bick

A Member of the Forum
Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
1,983
Location
Auckland, NZ
To bring it back to Dickens, I'll take the unusual stance of saying that as much as I love his characters and plotting, I actually find his writing to be pretty underwhelming. As a one-time attorney, it's very clear he's a lawyer, and sometimes he writes like one... a bad one at that. Why use 2 words when 20 will do? Why use clear, active voice, when you can assemble a dense and bewildering series of dependent, passive clauses to get there the scenic (befuddled) way? Sometimes he does hit gold, but there are a lot of times when reading his works that I want to revert to my old profession and scream "get to the freaking point counselor!"
He's no more verbose than any other author of the time, in my opinion, and the language and exactitude of expression in the prose is what I love about Victorian literature, personally. Austen could be even more verbose - a reflection of the even earlier time period she was writing in perhaps. Likewise, Trollope, Elliot, James, Collins, etc. All used 20 words when Tom Clancy would use 5. But they tend to be better words I think. If you're not a fan of the prevalent style of the era, perhaps 19th century literature isn't for you?
 

Similar threads


Top