Ranking the Novels of Dickens

Teresa Edgerton

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Our Mutual Friend happens to be one of my favorites. I like Bleak House a lot, too, but you might find Esther's humility and low self esteem (part of the book is told in her first person point of view) a little trying.
 

Extollager

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One approach to the topic of Esther Summerson in Bleak House is, as Dr. Johnson would put it, to clear one's mind of cant -- in this case, to try to read the novel on its own terms, bracketing off for the time being the strong-woman paradigm currently celebrated, and to try to see (1) what Dickens is doing -- for its own sake and also in case there is something there that could be beneficial for us now, and (2) how Esther's sense of things works for other characters and for her; does her way of seeing herself and others conduce to the spiritual health of others and herself, or to their diminishment after all? Or to put it more concisely, to try to read the Esther material open-mindedly. (Not that I'm saying Teresa isn't doing so.)
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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I didn't say that I found Esther trying, but I know that a lot of readers do.

But I will say that I don't think Dickens was at his best in writing the female characters of his main cast in any of his books. I don't think he ever understood how women actually think, so using one as a viewpoint character was probably not his best decision.
 

Bick

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I'll second Extollager's first suggestions, Bleak House or Mutual Friend. Probably Bleak House is his finest work?

I'd also add that I really enjoyed Dombey and would recommend it highly. Also, Hard Times, which is often overlooked but is a relatively short treat (though in some ways not quite so 'Dickensian').
 

Avelino de Castro

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Dickens wrote fourteen completed novels plus a substantial fifteenth, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I will count as a novel in the simple ranking below. Missing from my list is Dombey and Son (1846-1848), which I haven't read.

I didn't care to attempt to rank each novel individually, but I figured I could make two lists, what I regard as greater Dickens (seven) and lesser Dickens (seven), or my favorite seven and my less favorite seven -- something like that. The novels below are listed in chronological order, not personal preference order. The dating is drawn from A. O. J. Cockshut's little book The Imagination of Charles Dickens.

Greater Seven:
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844)
David Copperfield (1849-1850)
Bleak House (1852-1853)
Little Dorrit (1855-1857)
Great Expectations (1860-1861)
Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865)
Edwin Drood (1870)

Lesser Seven:

Pickwick Papers (1836-1837)
Oliver Twist (1837-1839)
Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841)
Barnaby Rudge (1841)
Hard Times (1854)
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

I hasten to add that I like them all except that I found Pickwick tedious at times and something that it took determination to finish; and I don't remember that I was particularly fond of Hard Times. I have read those once each, also just once for Barnaby Rudge. I expect to try Hard Times someday for a second reading. It's fairly likely I'll read most of Nicholas Nickleby again someday, but I have no plans for now to do so, and I expect I will skip the tales told within the novel, which weren't much good, as I recall. Indeed I'm not certain I read all of them the first time. The other three in the Lesser list are ones I have read at least twice.

I've read all of the completed ones in the Greater list at least twice except for Chuzzlewit and Little Dorrit, which I would like to read again within the next few years. I've read Great Expectations, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend three or four times each. My records indicate I've read Drood just once, but I thought it was at least twice. Dickens is a rereading favorite of mine.

How about you, who have read at least two Dickens novels? I'm thinking unabridged editions here, but of course you can count an abridged edition read in school if you like. That was my introduction to Dickens's novels, as I remember, an abridged version of Great Expectations that was included in a ?9th? grade reader, and which we didn't finish, I think. The first unabridged Dickens novel I read was Oliver Twist, over 40 years ago. I remember that I thought I'd mark paragraphs that could be safely skipped should I reread the novel; I had the impression that Dickens was wordy. I think I ended up marking about two paragraphs -- something ridiculous like that!

Hoping for some discussion here.
I've only read Olover Twist, and was delighted with it. Also I read A Christmas Carol every year at Christmas time as a child. I defintiely have to delve into more Dickens before I can really offer an opinion, except to say that Oliver Twist was inspired writing.
 

Extollager

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Avelino, you might like to look around this thread and see if anything prompts the desire for a next Dickens novel to tackle. Dickens is great!
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I mentioned the Little Dorrit mini-series a while back. Seeing some of the same actors in another recent costume flick inspired me to start watching LD again last night. And being about halfway through I really am enjoying it, although it's probably the third or fourth time I've watched it. There are some very fine performances and though it doesn't include everything from the book it is unusually faithful for a television adaptation. I recommend it to anyone who loves the novel and has access to it through some video service.
 
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