You would not believe how hard it is to find a copy of the New Yorker in Northern Virginia. I tried my local Barnes & Noble, where the August 29 issue was all sold out within the first couple of days. (Who cleans a store out of New Yorkers in two days? Northern Virginians do, I guess.) And I couldn't find it anywhere else, either.
As you will have gathered from my post title, the reason I wanted the August 29 issue is that it had an article on Dickens. It's called "Dickens in Eden," by Jill Lepore, and it's about her experience at Dickens Universe, or, as she calls it, "Dickens camp." She went to the one where they were studying Great Expectations.
At long last, I gave up trying to find the issue and just downloaded the article online. You can do the same here, for $5.99. But after all that, I'm sorry to say that I didn't care for the article that much. As Lepore studies the behavior of her fellow Dickens campers, she has a little of that partly bewildered, partly condescending tone that writers sometimes get when they're writing about an enthusiasm they don't share. If the New Yorker was going to bother to send someone to Dickens Universe, I wish they had sent someone who could really get into the experience. An air of faintly amused detachment can be irritating in any number of circumstances, but it's particularly irritating when you're talking about Dickens, who was such a force of nature that, I think, the only way to understand or to capture anything of his appeal is to jump in and let yourself get swept away.
Still, there are a few things to like here. There are some observations on the irony of how much America still loves Dickens, when Dickens had so little love for America. There's this insightful bit of literary analysis:
Dickens always wrote this way, cleaving a man from his conscience by splitting one character into two and then locking them together in a prison, or a contract, or a marriage. His novels are cunningly arranged to appear all a-clutter, like a Victorian parlor, ottomans and mahogany card tables higgledy-piggledy with chintz-covered armchairs and marble columns topped with busts of Roman statesmen, a curiosity shop of characters, but somewhere, caped by heavy velvet drapes, there always hangs a pair of pendant portraits. Twain had his Huck and his Jim. Dickens had his Chuzzlewits and his Tapleys, his Pips and his Magwitches, locked in a cell, bound by a knot, fastened by a screw.
And there's this:
[Trude] Hoffacker told me about a camp regular who never said much and then, after he'd missed a year, and she asked him why, confessed that he hadn't been able to get the book on tape. It turned out that he didn't know how to read.
Come to think of it, the entire article was worth reading just for that passage alone.