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Ranking the Novels of Dickens

Bick

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I'm coming up toward the half-way mark or thereabouts in Our Mutual friend. Enjoying it very much. I have to keep checking the Dramatis Personae at the front to remind myself of the large cast, but that's fine. Its shaping up well anyway, and I like the use of dust as a symbol and feature of the books. Jenny Wren is terrific, and Sloppy reminds me of Toots from Dombey, in some ways. London is portrayed especially vividly in this book and it would be a good choice to read if you're a fan of Dickensian London; more so than some other novels perhaps.
 

Extollager

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It is a great London novel, yes -- and one of my favorite Dickens novels, currently at five readings. It seems to me to be a good first Dickens novel, though it wasn't the first one that I happened to read.
 

Caliban

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Never read it but through cultural awareness and being taught about Dickens I have generally been led to believe that Our Mutual Friend is one of the lesser more turgid Dickens novels. So hearing your perspective is very interesting.
 

Extollager

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Caliban, for what my opinion's worth, I don't think Dickens's prose, in the novels, is generally turgid. It is richer than what people are used to if they read current popular fiction. My experience is that accommodating oneself to what Dickens is doing is worthwhile, but you don't know me -- so maybe take up, say, Orwell on Dickens, or Nabokov on Dickens in his Lectures on Literature. Temperamentally and stylistically, these authors differ, but both enjoyed Dickens. Check out what they have to say & see if that helps -- ?
 

Caliban

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Caliban, for what my opinion's worth, I don't think Dickens's prose, in the novels, is generally turgid. It is richer than what people are used to if they read current popular fiction. My experience is that accommodating oneself to what Dickens is doing is worthwhile, but you don't know me -- so maybe take up, say, Orwell on Dickens, or Nabokov on Dickens in his Lectures on Literature. Temperamentally and stylistically, these authors differ, but both enjoyed Dickens. Check out what they have to say & see if that helps -- ?
Sounds really interesting. I have - as mentioned upthread - read Oliver Twist and I have a copy of Nicholas Nickleby ready to read as I enjoyed the former. I have just generally accepted the view taught to me that there are Dickens novels that are worth reading (Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Coperfield and A Tale of Two Cities) and others that are not worth reading (Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son, Old Curiosity Shop).
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I love Our Mutual Friend. It's got some of everything: mystery, romance, social commentary, complex characters. It's also got a number of faults, but they're the sort of faults you find in all his novels. But readers—and I don't think the folks who decide which novels are worth reading, which are greater and which are lesser are any different—tend to forgive faults in books they otherwise admire or like, and magnify them in those that don't appeal to them personally. I happen to find a lot that appeals in Our Mutual Friend and so I think it one of his better novels.

(As a writer, there are things that have grabbed my imagination and influenced my own writing, so there is that, too.)
 

Extollager

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Sounds really interesting. I have - as mentioned upthread - read Oliver Twist and I have a copy of Nicholas Nickleby ready to read as I enjoyed the former. I have just generally accepted the view taught to me that there are Dickens novels that are worth reading (Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Coperfield and A Tale of Two Cities) and others that are not worth reading (Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son, Old Curiosity Shop).
Dombey and Son was the last of the 14.5 Dickens novels that I read. I thought it was good, but not the one that people should start Dickens with. I liked The Old Curiosity Shop perhaps more than I'd expected to. The Dickens novel that I found it hardest to finish was his first, The Pickwick Papers. Some Dickens fans have loved it, perhaps more than any of his others -- Arthur Machen, G.K. Chesterton. Probably a deficiency in me, butu I wouldn't have finished it if it weren't that, eventually, I decided that I wanted to read them all at least once.

Two more that maybe should come late in one's reading of Dickens would be Barnaby Rudge, just not one of his best, and Little Dorrit, in which, as I recall, Dickens was trying to reduce the melodramatic element in his work. Anyway, I remember that I thought it was very good -- and it might be the next one I reread -- but that it probably shouldn't be someone's first-time choice.

Of course, you're not a first-timer with Dickens! Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist are both early books. Hope you'll tackle one of the later ones sometime -- though they might have other excellences than the comic bravado of early books. (I love the bit in Nickleby in which the enraged Fanny Squeers, who feels she was jilted, writes a letter in which she says "I am screaming as I write"!)
 

Bick

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I have just generally accepted the view taught to me that there are Dickens novels that are worth reading (Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities) and others that are not worth reading (Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son, Old Curiosity Shop).
I think this is probably quite a prevalent view, and I've read notable critics ranking Dickens novels in order of quality who have said more or less the same thing, rather dismissing less often read novels. However, these critics are probably being daft clever-clogs - the reality is different, in my opinion.

The so called 'lesser' Dickens books are only less than his "great" books, in a relative sense. If you compare his works with those of less esteemed authors, they are all excellent. Having read several of his "lesser" books this year, I have to say I will treasure and remember much about them all. I very much enjoyed Dombey & Son and it may win the prize for least read of all his books (though I suspect that award may go to Barnaby Rudge). Nevertheless I'm sure it will vividly stick with me - so many great scenes and memorable characters. In short, I would recommend a re-calibration, upgrading your definitions as follows:

'Worth reading' revise to 'excellent';
'Not worth reading
' revise to 'very good and worth reading'.

(In any event, Our Mutual Friend surely belongs in the first category along with Bleak House, etc.)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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(I love the bit in Nickleby in which the enraged Fanny Squeers, who feels she was jilted, writes a letter in which she says "I am screaming as I write"!)
Fanny Squeers is a terrifically entertaining character, a brilliant combination of hilarious and horrifying. Her self-delusion (and general awfulness) make me laugh and cringe at the same time.
 

Bick

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Fanny Squeers is a terrifically entertaining character, a brilliant combination of hilarious and horrifying. Her self-delusion (and general awfulness) make me laugh and cringe at the same time.
Nickleby may have to be the next Dickens novel I have to read. I'm probably tossing up whether to undertake Nickleby or Curiosity Shop. I've not read his early farces - I'm thinking these are predominantly Pickwick, Nickleby, Curiosity Shop and maybe Chuzzlewit. (I may be wrong there). Dombey marked the start of more 'serious' work, while still containing plenty of humour of course.
 

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Reading through these and to me the top one is A Tale of Two Cities, what else do you need in a gripping yarn?

As for A Christmas Carol being a novelette? I don't care, those opening "Marley was dead" sentences let's you know right away that you're going to read something marvellous.

I've read a lot of Dickens over the years and these two are the zingers for me.
 

Bick

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I’m currently reading Hard Times. Generally considered to be one of Dickens lesser works, it would be more accurate to call it atypical. It’s certainly less ‘Dickensian’ in the usual sense, as it’s relatively short, set outside London, peopled by a smaller set of characters and less concerned with place or Byzantine plotting than his best loved works. That said, it has some very familiar traits, and if you like Dickens generally, there’s much to like here. I’m about two thirds the way through and will comment once I finish it.

After this I plan on reading David Copperfield (though not immediately).
 

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I've been looking over previous posts in this thread. I don't think I've ever seen a forum on which Dickens was put down more!

*in shock*
 

Bick

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I've been looking over previous posts in this thread. I don't think I've ever seen a forum on which Dickens was put down more
Really? My feeling is the main contributors here are lovers of Dickens who’ve commented positively. You’ll always get the odd comment from folk who are wrong but that’s a minority.
 

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No, I realize most of the posts are pro=Dickens... I've just never seen so many anti-Dickens in one forum. :-/
 

Bick

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I just finished Hard Times. I thought it was excellent. It’s less typical as a Dickens novel than Twist, but it is also far less flawed. My reason for comparison of these novels is that they are both relatively short, and probably both in the lower rank of Dickens books for me (and this thread did start out as a ranking thread).

I think overall I’d place Hard Times just above Oliver Twist but below, say, Dombey & Son, which I think I like rather more than many critics seem to. It’s a strange thing ranking Dickens though, his least effective work is very good, his best are first rate classics.
 

Extollager

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Bick, once upon a time F. R. Leavis was a name to conjure with -- say in the 1950s -- among those who concern themselves with literary criticism. I never delved into Leavis myself, being, for one thing, put off him, by C. S. Lewis's dismay over Leavis's intolerance. But Leavis possessed an international reputation, fwiw. And I have the impression that he regarded Hard Times as Dickens's masterpiece -- I think this is argued, or asserted, in a book called The Great Tradition.

For what, further, it's worth, when I read a clutch of Dickens novels together many years ago, including Hard Times, that one came out at the bottom so far as I was concerned. I've not read it again in almost 40 years, and probably should change that!
 

Bick

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Thanks Extollager - I think I may have read that about Leavis' opinion of Hard Times. I think it probably put him in a minority and was also his way of paying a backhanded compliment perhaps, as it implies a lower opinion of his quintessential, best loved novels. In fact he excluded Dickens from his book of criticism The Great Tradition, with the exception of Hard Times (I just looked that up on t'interweb). Leavis was probably one of those who was scornful of Dickens' 'sentimentality'. Hard Times certainly ain't that! It's quite grim, ultimately.
 

Extollager

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At any rate, that was back when academic criticism could be readable and interesting. I wonder if the day won't come for some of today's academic folk when they will realize that they spent a great deal of time, professionally, writing papers, attending conferences, and so on, and realize the activity was not

--what they ought to have done (obeying conscience)
--what they were compelled to do (e.g. as part of one's job)
--what they liked to do

Those are all reasons for doing something. It seems to me that, today, it's far too common, that one does things for other reasons, such as: because everyone else is doing it, or because it bolsters a self-image that never was true, etc.

One realizes one has been playing a tedious, pointless game, in which the real rewards were scanty or none, but the tokens with which one played were one's very valuable days and nights, which are of finite number and can never come again...
 
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