Deciding On Dickens
I've never undertaken reading an entire author's work in their entirety, from the first novel published to their last, and read them in order and one after the other. Yet the more I began to consider this idea, the more I became fascinated by the idea of what I would learn reading book by book as a writer develops and hones their craft, their storytelling ability, their themes, their narrative structures and how they weave together an intricate plot. I wanted to undertake this literary journey with an author whose works I had not read all of, which meant that Jane Austen was out of the running, and with whom I would enjoy spending and devoting so much of my time to. There are some writers that were automatically removed from my decision (yeah, I'm looking at you James Joyce). Yes, though I love some of Joyce's work, I was in no mood to slog my way through Ulysses, of which I have already failed to do many times previously, nor face the even more daunting Finnegan's Wake. I wanted this to be a delight not a punishment nor a chore. I wanted to look forward to reading the books I have never read by that author as well as those I would be re-reading (with some, more than one before). I wanted a novelist whose company I enjoyed and whose works filled me with pleasure and amazement. When it came down to it, Charles Dickens was the obvious choice.
I first read Dickens in elementary school. Since I was a bookish child, I was asked to join my school's Junior Great Books Program. Along with Aesop's Fables, The Wind in the Willows, some tales by Oscar Wilde (such as "The Happy Prince"), and The Jungle Book, we read Dickens' A Christmas Carol. From the moment I was introduced to this work, I have adored the novels and imagination of Charles Dickens. For me, he is on the Mount Rushmore of literature. This love for his writing was only fueled by encountering the characters and stories of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Bleak House. His novels have made me laugh and cry and feel the gamut of emotions with people who felt more real to me than those who often populate the world I am actually in.
This is a task that I don't plan to rush all whizz-bang through. I am not hurrying all slap-dash from one novel to the next in order to meet some Goodreads reading marathon goal. I want to spend time in Dickensian England, soaking up the atmosphere and the people who populate the city that he loved and critiqued and noticed as no other author ever has before or since. I want to write not only about the novels but about the novelist himself. How did his own life influence each of the novels? I want to explore the themes and characters and the language. I want to study more deeply the craft of his work: how we can so seamlessly interweave the narratives and plots and subplots of so many colorful and memorable characters. What inspired these creations?
I want to explore my own life as I am encountering each work. The seasons of the year as I am reading them. What rabbit-holes will researching lead me on? This is not about gathering information, but about doing what I had hoped to do when I began this blog: inhabiting the books that I'm reading and not just dashing off a review. I will, however, still be reading other books along with the Dickens novel I am inhabiting at the time and write about those as well. But I hope that there will be those who will follow this blog so that they can see what I believe will be an amazing experience of truly encountering one author's entire body of work.
First up: The Pickwick Papers. It's a work I've never read and I'm interested to see how Dickens turned the subject of the injustice of the justice system into a comedic work.
For those looking for a wonderful Dickens blog: