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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Classics Challenge: January Prompt

For my first book in this challenge, I read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (reviewed yesterday). The prompt for this month is "The Author". That struck me as amusing to say the least. What do you say about Dickens that hasn't been said before, especially during his bicentennial year? Well, let me quote The Monthly Review on Oliver Twist from January 1839:

"We have already expressed an opinion in regard to the power and combining talent of Mr. Dickens, and of the easy yet artistic manner in which he can work up his pictures by a diffusive and copious command of a great number of accessaries. He seems to have made himself master of human feelings and actions in so far as they are developed in the lower or middling walks of London life; and what is more, he cherishes a good natured sympathy with all, entering as it were into the condition of his most immoral characters so as in his portraiture to give heartily a perfect image, a rotund flesh and blood embodiment of each, - becoming thus the creator of new personages; but yet in all respects so natural in their lineaments that one feels convinced he has actually met with them in the streets and had more or less intercourse with them. He is a humane satirist; he is free from all bitterness; he never indulges in invective of any kind. His language is natural and happily wedded to his vivifying conceptions; and last but not least, - he is quite unaffected and far above attempts at imitation, - that is, he is a true originalist."

A little wordy but the points are clear enough. Dickens seemed to write this novel as a true representation of people he had observed and he's content enough to observe and allow his characters to pass judgement. His narrator's voice doesn't impede much in the novel, aside from scene setting. The characters tend to speak for themselves, with limited interference, in a manner that adds to the realism of the story. The Monthly Review was right - Dickens shows himself to be a master of human feelings in Oliver Twist, which perhaps explains the novel's enduring success.


Debbie said...

That's a great quote that says it all.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Loved the quote. I really need to stick it out and read an entire Dickens novel someday. Is Oliver Twist horridly depressing?

Jillian said...

I found Dickens' narration quite intrusive to this story -- especially at the beginning. But, I am a newbie Dickens reader, and I think his style will grow on me. I definitely didn't see him as the keep-his-opinions-to-himself kind of writer though. He was pretty much in there puppet-mastering the reader through much of it, I think. :-)

I like how you handled the "everybody has already written about Dickens" angle.

CharmedLassie said...

Heather - It's not as depressing as I expected, aside from the obvious murder, squalor and misery parts. Oliver's happiness when he's removed from Fagin is referred to in great detail. Those parts make it a little lighter. And there are a good few comic scenes too.

Jillian - In comparison to some of the lesser Victorian authors I've been reading, Dickens's narrative style was far from intrusive! You're probably right calling him the puppet-master, but I think he was sufficiently manipulative about putting his opinions forward - he created characters specifically for the purpose.

Anonymous said...

I have a stack of Dickens' waiting to be read. :)
Here's my Classics Challenge post on Anne Brontë